As someone deeply invested in the financial prosperity of Africa’s middle class and the diaspora, I often find myself immersed in the world of asset management, social enterprise and entrepreneurial finance. My role as co-founder of Volition Cap and Volition Blue often sees me navigating through business plans and financial strategies. However, my recent experience as a judge at the Chicago Student Invention Convention [CSIC] revealed a different yet equally inspiring and motivating facet of innovation – young minds’ impeccable creativity and inventiveness. (The program is now known as Illinois Student Invention Convention).

One of the city’s largest programs focused on student-led invention prototypes, the CSIC helps students from Kindergarten to eighth grade hone their creativity, problem-solving skills and invention capabilities. From the onset, I was awestruck by the energy, passion and innovative ideas of the 2,500 students who participated in the convention. With children involved, one would incorrectly assume that these projects and solutions would be interesting but basic; however, these were well-thought-out innovative solutions produced by the children – the next generation of inventors.

With my experience of being a fund manager and venture capitalist, I am exposed to evaluating ideas. However, the experience of examining these students’ ideas and seeing their passion and energy shine through was completely mind-blowing. The ideas presented were raw and they approached problems from multiple perspectives often overlooked by adults. For example, the impressive Smart Recycler brought to life by 5th graders at North Shore Country Day School, and the eco-conscious No Littering Saver innovated by a 3rd grader at Jungman STEM Magnet School were stand-out projects that captured my attention.

This freshness of angles and perspectives has reinforced my belief in fostering innovation and creativity from a young age. Engaging with these young inventors also reinforced my belief that judges from all walks of life should participate in such conventions that put youngsters in the spotlight. The diversity of perspectives from my fellow judges not only benefited the children but provided me with fresh insights.

Serving as a judge for the convention was not just about selecting winners for the event. It was about mentoring these young minds as well as nurturing and applauding their innovative spirit. The convention is a testament to the potential that lies within our children – from their capacity to identify problems,  come up with solutions and bring their ideas to life.

I am filled with hope and excited about the years to come; the future is in capable hands. However, we have a responsibility to equip them with the right tools and resources so that they can reach their full potential. This is why I call on educators, VCs, social entrepreneurs, and all industry professionals to get involved in conventions such as CSIC. Invest in tomorrow’s leaders by giving your expertise, time and support. 

Let’s commit to cultivating these young innovative minds – and together, we can make a difference. Congratulations to the innovators of the 34 outstanding projects that will be advancing to the national competition later this year.

Subomi Plumptre

Co-founder, Volition Blue