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How To Win The Conrad Challenge

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Background of a woman talking to a set of students.

How To Win The Conrad Challenge

If you are an aspiring innovator, entrepreneur, or just simply wants to change the world one innovation at a time, the Conrad Challenge provides a perfect opportunity to showcase your talent. This competition offers a space for students to apply scientific and innovative thinking to real-world challenges, encouraging them to make an impact even before they step onto a college campus.

In this blog, we will discuss what the Conrad Challenge is about, how it works, and how to win this prestigious competition.

What is the Conrad Challenge and how does it work?

The Conrad Challenge is an annual competition that encourages students to innovate and build solutions that address real-world problems. It was established in 2007 in memory of Charles “Pete” Conrad, a NASA astronaut and the third person to walk on the moon. The challenge honors his legacy of exploration and innovation.

Students are invited to use their scientific, social, and economic knowledge to make a positive impact on society. Co-founded by the Conrad Foundation and Conrad’s wife, Nancy, the challenge inspires creative thinking and the application of STEM skills.

The Conrad Challenge offers students the chance to hone vital skills such as critical thinking, creativity, business development, public speaking, and teamwork. Participants receive mentorship and resources to support their projects throughout the competition. Winners are awarded cash prizes and other recognitions.

Robotics engineer students teamwork on project

Additionally, the Conrad Foundation provides a network of alumni and partners, helping passionate students take their ideas further and potentially develop them into actual businesses. This support system encourages participants to expand on their innovations and make meaningful impacts.

What are the categories in the Conrad Challenge?

The Conrad Challenge features several themes aligned with different fields of study. Here are common categories from past competitions:

  1. Aerospace & Aviation: This theme dives into space exploration, aviation technology, and aerospace engineering, focusing on innovative solutions for the aerospace industry.
  2. Energy & Environment: Participants address renewable energy, sustainability, environmental conservation, clean technologies, and climate change mitigation in this category.
  3. Cyber-Technologies & Security: This category covers cybersecurity, data protection, network infrastructure, privacy, and the development of secure technological systems.
  4. Health & Nutrition: Here, participants tackle challenges in healthcare, medical technology, nutrition, public health, disease prevention, and enhancing individual and community well-being.

Each team selects a category and develops a product or service aimed at solving a specific issue within that field. Additionally, teams must create a business plan, marketing strategy, and a prototype of their solution.

These components are then presented to a panel of judges at the final competition, showcasing not only the innovation but also the practical application and potential marketability of their ideas.

Who is eligible to join the Conrad Challenge?

The eligibility criteria for joining the Conrad Challenge can change every year. We always recommend that you check the challenge’s official website to be in the loop for any updates and changes.

Here’s the list of the general requirements to join the Conrad Challenge:

  1. Age and Grade Level: Students generally need to be between the ages of 13-18 and enrolled in grades 8-12 at the time of the competition.
  2. Team Formation: Participants must form teams of 2-5 students. Teams must have at least two members. Once your team has submitted the Lean Canvas Stage, you can remove members but cannot add new ones.
  3. Adult Coach/Advisor: Each team is required to have at least one adult coach or advisor. This could be a teacher, parent, or another mentor.

Note that the challenge is open to students worldwide, not just those in the United States. You can form a team with classmates, siblings, camp friends, or any other eligible students you know.

If you’ve competed in previous years, you can participate again if you still meet the eligibility requirements. To resubmit a similar innovation, you must show significant improvements or changes to the product. Additionally, you need to fully disclose your prior participation in the Conrad Challenge when you submit your Innovation Stage entry.

A student on a classroom. STEM

As of now, applications for the challenge are closed. However, for the 2024-2025 edition, they are set to reopen in August 2024. You can check here for updates.

How can you join the Conrad Challenge?

Throughout the year, you and your team will go through the entrepreneurial process step by step, designing an innovation that addresses a significant problem. This is your chance to turn a creative idea into a practical solution.

Typically, the entire challenge is made up of four different stages:

  1. Activation Stage
  2. Lean Canvas Stage
  3. Innovation Stage
  4. Power Pitch Stage

Phase 1: Activation Stage

This is the first part of the entire challenge. Form a team of 2-5 students. Invite members from different schools, cities, states, or even countries to promote teamwork without boundaries. Take note that each member will play specific, important roles in your team’s success.

Additionally, get your team a mentor—someone who could be a teacher, parent, subject matter expert, or any qualified individual over the age of 18.

Finally, all team members and your coach must register through the Conrad Portal using one account. During registration, you and your legal guardian must review the Student Guide, Rules & Regulations, and Terms & Conditions that apply to all participants.

The activation stage is typically held between October and November. This changes every year so always check the challenge’s official website.

Phase 2: Lean Canvas Stage

This is where the actual work begins. In this stage, you’ll brainstorm ideas, decide on your innovation, and start building your canvas. According to the Conrad Challenge’s website, here are the three steps involved in this stage:

  1. Ideate – work with your teammates to brainstorm various existing challenges to take on  and draft probable solutions. You’ll find excellent resources on generating ideas in the website’s Student Resources Library.
  2. Accomplish your Lean Canvas – a Lean Canvas is a popular tool used by the challenge’s founders to outline the essentials of a new innovation or venture in its early stages. In the Lean Canvas, you’ll respond to 12 questions that cover your innovation, market, and business model. Keep it concise: most questions have a 40-word limit.
  3. Choose a name and category – it’s now time for your team to finalize a name for your innovation and select a Challenge category in your Conrad Portal. If your team has changed its name since the Activation Stage, return to the “Getting Started” tab and update it. Ensure your team name is consistent across both tabs.

The Lean Canvas stage also takes place typically between October and November.

Phase 3: Innovation Stage

This is the phase where you design, create, communicate, and submit your plan. This is also made up of 3 distinct stages:

  1. Complete your Innovation Brief – The Innovation Brief is probably the most important submission to be evaluated by judges during the Innovation Stage. It includes answers to 10 crucial questions that outline the story of your project, detail your innovation and its impact, summarize your progress, identify your target market, and present your proposed business model.
  2. Create your Innovation Video – your Innovation Video should be a 3-5 minute presentation that demonstrates your innovation. In this video, you’ll guide everyone through an Innovation Model using sketches, 3D models, storyboards, wireframes, physical prototypes, or any other visual aids to effectively illustrate your concept.
  3. Create your team’s website – Each team is required to develop a website that details your team, your innovation, and its intended impact for the general public.

The deadline for submissions typically falls in mid-January. This year, the deadline closed on the 12th of January.

a college debate team talking

Lastly, during this stage, each submission will be assessed according to the following criteria:

  • Innovation – 30%
  • Story Telling – 20%
  • Practicality – 20%
  • Financial Understanding – 10%
  • Marketing Strategy – 20%

Phase 4: Power-Pitch Stage

The Power Pitch Stage is your opportunity to present your innovation on a global platform and win the Conrad’s highest awards and recognitions.

This marks the final phase of the Conrad Challenge, happening at the Innovation Summit held at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. The top teams from the Innovation Stage are named Finalists and invited to pitch their innovations at the 2024 Conrad Challenge Innovation Summit. This multi-day event brings together judges, alumni, and members of the Conrad Community for dynamic workshops, tours, community sessions, and speaker events.

If your team scores highest in your category, you’ll be heralded as a Pete Conrad Scholar. You’ll receive prizes like scholarships, pro-bono legal and consulting services, and Dell Latitude Laptops! Winners will receive various rewards, including academic scholarships and entry into entrepreneurial accelerator programs.

This year’s Power Pitch phase was celebrated on April 23-26, 2024.

How do you win the Conrad Challenge?

The Conrad Challenge is not a walk in the park. Although it is an enjoyable, once-in-a-lifetime experience for those who have joined but the competition every year is tight. You will be competing with teams who are equally talented and potentially have more access to opportunities and resources.

Winning the challenge is not impossible. In this section, we will provide scalable and practical tips on how you can rise above the competition and get the top spot.

1. Innovate with a clear purpose

While your solutions need to be innovative, they must also be practical. If your plan isn’t clear, including the reasoning behind each aspect, submitting a compelling Innovation Brief will be challenging. So, think creatively but keep your ideas rooted in reality. Remember that practicality comprises 20% of the evaluation criteria; this should be one of the things that you heavily take into consideration.

2. Maximise the use of available resources

The Conrad Foundation provides a comprehensive and extensive set of resources for each stage of the challenge, color-coded for easy navigation. With your coach’s guidance, reach out to industry experts or mentors who know your subject area and the problem you’re tackling. They can offer invaluable insights and advice. There are also countless resources available online. YouTube channels and niche websites are a great source of information that can help you with your innovation.

3. Use the Lean Canvas to your advantage

The Lean Canvas is arguably the most essential tool in your project, designed to test the validity of your idea. Spend time with your team reviewing it, applying the 12-question evaluation to various pairs of problem-solution. Reviewing it thoroughly will give your team a clear understanding of the problem you’re addressing as you move to the next stage. Do not cram this process!

4. Focus on the storytelling too

A significant 20% of your final submission’s evaluation comes from effective presentation. You should be able to tell a compelling story about your innovation, from the core problem you’re addressing to the impact you aim to achieve and the probable solutions.

Make sure it’s engaging, relatable, and easy to understand. Using tools like videos and websites can greatly enhance your storytelling, offering innovative ways to guide viewers through your journey. Consider adding elements like gamification, simulations, 3D prototypes, animations, and other creative tools to captivate your audience.

5. Play with everyone’s strengths

You and your teammates being smart isn’t the only key to your success as a group in this challenge. Work with your coach to build a cohesive and cooperative team, drawing on each member’s strengths and addressing weaknesses. While different perspectives improve brainstorming and ideation, detailed planning requires a focused, evenly distributed effort to ensure that every aspect of your plan ends up as thoroughly as possible.

6. Practice your Power Pitch

The Power Pitch at the Innovation Summit is your final chance to shine, where delivering a strong performance is necessary to win. It’s important to practice your pitch thoroughly and hold mock Q&A sessions with your coach or available mentors. Your final pitch needs to be clear, concise, and compelling, leaving little room for error.

male student studying

7. Review the previous winners’ innovations

Look at past successful Conrad alumni entries to understand what the judges are looking for and the level of effort needed. Analyze the innovations that have won top prizes. This process helps identify the key elements of a winning pitch and evaluate how much room you have for any changes to your innovation while keeping it feasible.

This will also help you pick up on what they’ve done that you have initially planned on doing too. Remember that each year the judges are looking for ingenuity. You would not want your project to be similar to previous innovations.

8. Don’t forget to show your passion and commitment

Make sure to enjoy the journey leading up to the podium, letting your enthusiasm and passion shine through authentically and consistently. Judges are naturally drawn to genuine enthusiasm and dedication. Commit to your project at every stage, but also show them that you are passionate in what you are doing.

Frequently Asked Questions About The Conrad Challenge

1. What is the cost involved?

The Conrad Challenge has an entry fee of $499 to be paid during the Innovation Stage.

2. What are the Conrad Challenge Stages?

The entire challenge is made up of four different stages: (1) Activation Stage; (2) Lean Canvas Stage; (3) Innovation Stage; (4) Power Pitch Stage. We have a thorough discussion above that details what goes on in each stage.

3. Is the Conrad Challenge prestigious?

Yes! The Conrad Challenge is one of the most prestigious STEM competitions both in the United States and globally. It draws over 2,800 students from 50 countries, highlighting its international appeal and acclaim. Support from prominent sponsors like Space Center Houston, NASA, DELL Technologies, the Battelle Organization, and the RISE Program further elevates the exposure and prestige of participating in the challenge.

Alumni of the Conrad Challenge have achieved remarkable success in the STEM industry, winning prestigious entrepreneurship competitions, launching their brands and products, and securing patents. This highlights the Challenge’s important role in developing future leaders. The competition offers a lot of opportunities for networking, mentorship, and exposure to industry experts, particularly during the Innovation Summit. With over 500 participating teams, only one claims the coveted Conrad Innovator distinction. Winning this honor would be a prestigious addition to your profile.

4. Does the Conrad Challenge help in boosting college applications?

Yes! Participating in the Conrad Challenge can greatly enhance college applications by demonstrating valuable skills and experiences. Recognized globally as one of the top STEM competitions, involvement in the said competitions shows leadership, initiative, and teamwork—qualities colleges and universities highly value.

Students gain practical experience in identifying real-world problems, developing innovative solutions, and presenting their ideas to judges, showcasing their problem-solving abilities and creativity.

The networking opportunities and mentorship available throughout the competition also allow students to connect with industry professionals and receive guidance, taking their learning experience further.

Winning awards or distinctions, such as the Conrad Innovator distinction, highlights dedication and success in a competitive environment.

Overall, participation in the Conrad Challenge highlights a student’s academic capabilities and also shows their commitment to innovation and leadership, making them stand out on college admissions committees.

Reasearch project for students

If you want your college admission portfolio to look impressive, we highly recommend that you consider the Conrad Challenge.

5. Where does the Conrad Challenge take place?

The most parts of the competition are done virtually. However, the final phase, the Innovation Summit, is typically held at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Innovations submitted in previous Conrad Challenge

The following teams earned the highest scores in their respective categories during the Innovation Stage of the previous years’ challenges, as determined by the judges. Looking at these projects will give you an idea of the type of innovations the judges are looking for.

Innovation/Projects Description
Aerospace and Aviation
Bloomx2FM
Valley Christian High School
Aarna Nair & Allaire Fahy
Coach: Dmitry Kulshitsky
During deep space missions, it’s essential for astronauts to grow their own fresh food due to limited space and resources. The BloomX2FM device addresses this need by using controlled radio and sound waves to stimulate plant growth in space.
HUBRIS (Halbach Universal Brain Resonance Imaging System)
Bentonville West High School
Nayana Swain & Sangamitra Reshmy
Coach: Ean Nebel
Significant changes in brain structure have been observed in astronauts after extended periods in space. To monitor these changes in real-time aboard space stations, the portable, affordable, and lightweight MRI device HUBRIS was developed specifically for use in space.
Xena Airspace
Baldwin School of Puerto Rico, Lake Belton High School
Meghna Pramoda, Siona Pramoda, Jillian Webb, Rachel Kim
Coach: Krupa Srinivas
Airlines worldwide currently emit around one billion tons of CO2 annually, a figure expected to triple by 2050. To combat this, real-time route optimization software like Xena Airspace can reduce both emissions and operational costs without sacrificing safety. Xena Airspace is a cloud-based engine that calculates optimal flight paths between specified cities and integrates these routes directly into customer flight systems.
Cybertechnology and Security
Drive Drippy
Hamilton High School, Basis Mesa
Chloe Zhan, Baochan Fan, Rachel Kan, Andy Ma, Vinesh Kothari
Coach: Vinay Kothari
Each year, over 500,000 accidents involve trucks and buses, with about 52% attributed to driver fatigue or drowsiness. To combat this issue, Drippy’s NeuroDrive offers a noninvasive solution with a wearable monitor that quickly detects and alerts drivers to signs of drowsiness within seconds.
NeuLit
Evergreen Valley High School, Presentation High School, Silver Creek High School
Tvisha Irigi, Amulya Dussa, Neha Parthasarathi
Coach: Srinivasa Irigi
Literature holds a vital role in enriching the lives of young people, offering a wealth of knowledge both academically and creatively. Despite its importance, there are few platforms that offer a sustainable and secure way for users to publish or access literary content. Neulit addresses this gap by providing a marketplace for literature where users can publish their works as NFTs and purchase published works from other creators.
Energy and Environment
Bee-Bot
Van Nuys High School
Tyler Chiu, John James, Trenton Ayson, Connor Chiu, Hovhannes Narinyan
Coach: Ben Chiu
As bee populations decline and with 80% of global produce depending on pollination, Bee-Bot offers a critical solution to support agriculture and address food insecurity in communities reliant on gardens and farms. This drone enhances crop pollination and can boost yields by 25% to 50% through its advanced technology, which includes proprietary systems and computer vision driven by machine learning to optimize its flight paths for better efficiency.
BioWear
North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics & Green Level High School
Adithi Radhakrishnan and Manya Bhagat
Coach: Kat Cooper
As fashion trends rapidly evolve, companies are producing low-cost, low-quality clothing using cheap materials, often harming the environment. BioWear is tackling this issue by creating sustainable fashion from bio-waste. Using under-utilized jackfruit waste, BioWear produces biodegradable fabrics, offering an environmentally friendly alternative that reduces waste.
Smart Trash Station
American Heritage School
Zetian (Zion) Xu, Ke (Kirk) Chen, Jiajing Tu, Xinyue (Betty) Ying, Xujie Cheng
Coach: Mark Ma
The Green Station modernizes waste management in shopping centers by integrating advanced smart technology and advertising. This not only keeps shopping centers cleaner but also enhances the overall shopping experience.
Health and Nutrition
Connected Crosswalk Assistance
Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
Rohith Yelisetty, Arnav Bhalla, Anirudh Mantha, Adithiya Balaguru, Tanush Kallem
Coach: Sumeet Bhalla
Visually impaired individuals face a 46 percent higher risk of vehicle-related pedestrian accidents than those with perfect vision. The Connected Crosswalk Assistance system enhances safety by enabling remote activation of crosswalks and alerting users to potential hazards while crossing the street.
GumShield
Mills Park Middle School
Jamie Cheng, Kashika Paul
Coach: Jiaming Liu
Team GumShield’s innovation targets the harmful impacts of gingivitis and periodontitis, which are gum diseases that lead to tooth loss and can negatively affect overall health. Periodontitis is notably linked with increased risks of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
UltraGrasp
Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
Shaurya Jain and Anish Suvarna
Coach: Muralikrishna Suvarna
Current prosthetic technologies can be costly and typically require invasive procedures. UltraGrasp is a prosthetic forearm designed to be affordable and non-invasive, while also being comfortable, autonomous, and environmentally friendly. It operates independently without the need for electromyography, simplifying the process of attachment and removal for users.

The Conrad Challenge has profoundly impacted many by encouraging students to think critically about global issues and create innovative solutions. As the competition grows and evolves, it will continue to inspire future generations of innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders. Participants gain invaluable experience and skills, forge connections with like-minded peers, and make significant contributions toward a brighter future for humanity.

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