Founders of Tomorrow 2019: A winner’s story

By Jeppe Rasmussen

This wasn’t my first Founders of Tomorrow bootcamp. Three years ago, I applied and got rejected. I only managed to snag a spot after a last-minute cancellation. This year, I applied again. Things went a little differently. They accepted my application, and I ended up winning a trip to Silicon Valley for a 5-week accelerator program.

FoT the first time around

Just before FoT 2016, I finished my master’s. While at uni, I’d worked with a youth empowerment startup in Nicaragua.  It was an amazing experience, and ever since then, I’d been looking for other social enterprises to channel my energy into.

I read a lot. Too much. My absorption-to-creation ratio was out of whack. I felt I like learned a lot but didn’t know how to apply my reading to something creative and productive. That was my mindset at FoT in 2016. I had a head full of new knowledge but no way to communicate it or put it into action.

That’s why I spent the next two years trying to flip that absorption-to-creation ratio. I focused on creating. I even learned how to code, an activity where learning and creating go hand in hand.

By the time FoT 2019 rolled around, my creative confidence was higher than ever, and I finally felt like I had something to contribute.

Getting started

I knew from 2016 that FoT would be an action-packed week with talks about mind-bending exponential technologies like quantum computing, biotech, AI, VR, and much more. This year, everything was focused on a theme: the 1.5°C Challenge. So, on the first day of FoT 2019, a cold, crisp February morning, I sprung out of bed and made my way to Rainmaking Loft. By the time I’d entered the building, hung my coat, and headed over to the registration desk, I’d already talked to creative people from New Zealand, Italy, Germany, and Denmark.

The day started with a round of introductions, which was a great way to get into the right frame of mind. A little later, we all went for a long walk around Christiania, chatting, reflecting, and sharing ideas. That’s when I realised how great the week would be.

The reflection walk

All 60 of us were divided into groups of four for the four-kilometre walk. Each kilometre had a specific topic we needed to discuss. Hearing my group’s reasons for joining FoT, and their ideas on how to tackle this year’s
1.5°C Challenge, was interesting but also intimidating.

After talking with a Chilean PhD researcher, a Dutch innovation student, and an Italian food lab owner, my insecurities started to kick in. They had amazing insights to share, and at first, I was hesitant to jump in. But their energy was infectious. And soon, I found I had a few insights of my own.

That walk showed me that being around a diverse group of passionate individuals can lead to uplifting and inspiring conversations.

The competition

The event had two competitions. Both with the aim of finding innovative solutions to the 1.5°C Challenge. The first was a group competition, where each group had to pitch an idea in just seven minutes. The second was an individual competition with a more developed personal pitch, where the winner was selected through a vote. The idea was to vote for a candidate we thought would best represent the class of 2019.

Group competition

On the first day of the group competition, we went through the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. We were asked to pick one and use it as a foundation for our pitch. I felt the strongest desire to do something about SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities.

Then we formed our groups. Suddenly, I found myself surrounded by five ridiculously intelligent girls. Scary.

We knew that we only had a few days to present an idea, so we immediately started brainstorming. 

Getting it done

It was amazing to see so many ideas blossoming. Many of them were new to me. Things like electromagnetic radiation. It was overwhelming. But, as we got more inspiration and did research after hours, our ideas evolved, and things became clearer.

Our work schedule was intense. We only got to work on our ideas for 30 minutes at a time. It was so difficult to decide on one idea. Luckily, everyone in the team understood that we had to settle on something. Otherwise we wouldn’t have enough time to research and prepare for the pitch.

Finally, we hit on an idea that got everybody excited. It was about reusing building materials by digitising them with sensors. I suspect we chose the idea because it meant building a prototype with Lego. Either way, it turned out to be a good choice. And the judges thought so, too.

We won!

The individual competition

After the winning group was announced, the five finalists of the individual competition were read out. 

I am not going to lie, when they announced the first few finalists, I was a bundle of nerves. Of course, I was happy and grateful for everything I’d learned throughout the week, but at the same time, I wanted the opportunity to do more.

I should note that this wasn’t my first competition. I’ve participated in many. In some, I was convinced I would win and then didn’t. So, though I was cautiously optimistic, I didn’t want to get my hopes up.

When my name was announced, I was flabbergasted.

The grand finale

After the thrill of being chosen wore off, the reality hit me. The next day, we would have to present our ideas and explain why we should be chosen as the winner of FoT 2019. All in front of a jury made up of the CEO of Industriens Fond, the Danmarks Grønne Investerings Fond, the Vice Dean for Innovation at UCPH, and last year’s winner,Lena Tünkers.

I spent the evening reviewing feedback on my idea. There was very little sleep that night. The entire following morning was spent improving my pitch. Even my team came to help me instead of taking a day off after four extremely demanding days.  

Finally, the moment arrived. I was the last person to pitch, so I got more and more nervous after each impressive presentation. When it was finally my turn, I tried to relax. It did not work. Instead, I focused on keeping time and making sure I didn’t miss anything. Luckily, it went great.

Once I was done, there was a break for the jury to deliberate and choose a winner. The butterflies I’d had in my stomach the day before were nothing compared to what I was feeling now.

It felt like an age had passed when the jury finally returned to announce the winner. They read out my name, and I was stunned. I couldn’t get out of my seat. After some time, I finally understood that I was supposed to get on stage. I went to the podium and, shell-shocked, mumbled some words that I have no memory of now. Before I knew it, we were all celebrating in the bar.

Now that it’s over

I still can’t quite believe it.

For some, the FoT experience might’ve been a cool, fun event. But for me, it was a much needed confidence boost. I quit my job in February to pursue my own impact projects, so FoT was the perfect transition to get me into that new mindset. Even before the event, I was so happy just to be selected. Now, I’m ecstatic and super grateful for everything: the prize trip to Silicon Valley, the bootcamp full of talks and technology, and the opportunity to work with so many amazing people and make an impact on issues close to my heart.

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