SMS support for the ill, an autonomous reef surveying robot and a fish stock app were three of the successful projects to win Australia’s second-ever Google Impact Challenge Wednesday.
At an event held at Google’s Sydney office, the top 10 non-profit ideas, all using technology to solve social and environmental issues, were whittled down to three winners along with two people’s choice awards. Each of the five received A$750,000.
Clara Chow, a cardiologist at Westmead Hospital, helps lead one of the winners, TEXTCARE. The service send personalised text messages to support people with chronic disease.
An excited Chow told Mashable the experience was “amazing.”
“This is something we’ve been working on for five years,” she said. “We think we’re just at that point where we can upscale it … This has given us, one, the confidence, and two, the means, to consolidate our partners to do that.”
The prize money will be vital. “I’m a pretty driven sort of person, I would have tried to find another way,” Chow added. “But, you know, you never know what’s at your door.”
While some winning projects focused on hardware, such as the Great Barrier Reef Foundation’s robot that will look for environmental threats, others were app-based.
Hello Sunday Morning, a vaguely “fitspo” mobile program to deal with alcohol dependency, presents more like a startup. That’s something one of the judges, the CSIRO’s CEO Larry Marshall, seemed particularly thrilled about as the winners were announced.
According to Google.org head Jacquelline Fuller, her team have been amazed by the level of social innovation in Australia.
Fuller was particularly impressed the finalists included startups as well as more traditional charities.
“Sometimes the big, global [non-governmental organisations] aren’t always the ones on the cutting edge of innovation. I think it’s really terrific that we saw the full range,” she said.
What’s also important, she suggested, is that the winners are willing to share their data, their innovation and their experiences. “We don’t want organisations all around the world to reinvent the wheel,” Fuller said. “So if what we have created is helpful, we want to give them that, and help them to localise it.”
As well as the cash, the winners will get mentorship from Google staff. “We hadn’t realised in the past how important it was to also get Googlers to volunteer to help make the projects a reality,” she said.
Jason Pellegrino, managing director at Google Australia and New Zealand, told Mashable it was very rare for Google to bring its Impact Challenge back to the same country twice.
The return was thanks to the impact of the first round in 2014, as well as Australia’s relationship with the tech giant. “This was our second international office outside of the U.S,” he said. “Right from the start, this has always been a country that has been technologically forward.
“It’s always an easy place to bring a competition like this, and know you’re going to get great support and great outcomes.”
The five runners-up will also receive A$250,000.