Robyn Mussler knew she couldn’t tell her students to create innovative solutions for real-world problems if she wasn’t willing to do the same.
So when coronavirus concerns caused thousands of events to become cancelled essentially overnight, Mussler, the founder of Connect-IT 360, sought out an innovative solution.
The St. Petersburg-based organization holds an annual final presentation, where students present their projects in front of a panel of judges. There is also an awards ceremony held later to announce the winner.
“When coronavirus came up, I thought a big part of the Next Generation Tech program is resiliency, being able to pivot, and overcoming obstacles,” Mussler said. “So I said we’ve got technology and originally I knew we had the final presentations, but because of the time frame, we would have to do something virtual — so we prepared to do something via Zoom.”
However, Mussler had met Pooja Pendharkar in November 2019 at the Tampa Bay Inno on Fire awards, where both were fellow honorees. Pendharkar is the co-founder of Lunchpool, originally created to help employees set up lunch outings in a more streamlined manner but has recently gotten into the networking conference space.
Mussler reached out to Pendharkar before committing to Zoom and learned her event could still be held through Lunchpool.
“They might not be there in person, but we want to maintain interactions and the quality of interactions,” Pendharkar said. “Whether it’s table hopping, watching presentations, going to presenters, talking to them and you also have the ability to maintain sponsorships.”
The 12 teams of high school students will showcase their solutions to a panel of judges including Brian Kornfeld from Synapse Florida and Lakshmi Shenoy from Embarc Collective. In the past, the solutions have ranged from websites to apps.
For Mussler, the virtual event is not only an opportunity to show students how to be innovative, but also a way for many students, that have had a majority of other events in their life get cancelled, to still show off their hard work.
“I get it, it won’t have the exact same feel, but you get to have that socialization and that’s what they’re wanting so much.”
“These kids’ lives are being cancelled,” she said. “We owe it to them to be creative and show everyone these are hard times, but we owe it to each there to think creatively. It won’t be exactly what our expectations are, but it’s to pull together and say, ‘In times of need, we can do this.’ I get it, it won’t have the exact same feel, but you get to have that socialization and that’s what they’re wanting so much.”
And as the uncertain timeline of coronavirus stretches on, Pendharkar believes more and more entities will begin to turn toward online events — and eventually, create a hybrid version.
“We always talk about the difficulties of building a new habit and breaking the known way of doing things,” she said. “Because of coronavirus, everyone is forced to build this virtual competency — like how to do a virtual meeting. Now everyone is getting to the same kind of ground. I see a lot more virtual events happening and I think it will turn into a hybrid: people who are used to virtual will continue and those who weren’t will see what they were missing out on.”
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