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MindSumo: Problem-Solving for Students

A long week of typical, mundane work has just ended – even though you feel a desire to be productive, what is there to do? Your EECS assignment due next Wednesday looks boring, and you’re quite not ready to start brainstorming for your upcoming paper.

Keaton Swett, a recent graduate of Johns Hopkins University now living in Silicon Valley, believes he has found the solution. His startup MindSumo pairs the untapped and underutilized talent found in the students at various universities with the everyday problems companies want a solution for. As an example, Chegg.com posted a “challenge” on MindSumo for students to develop an algorithm that would allow them to avoid class conflicts, a common problem not only here at Northwestern, but across the nation. Challenges like these are posted from a variety of different companies, including Microsoft, IBM, and Hulu.

For the less capitalistically oriented, MindSumo also allows students to contribute fresh ideas to solve larger societal problems for various nonprofit organizations. For instance, a recently completed challenge from the Voter Equality Foundation asked students to, “Propose a method to increase voter turnout [and] describe what additional incentives your plan leverages…to persuade citizens to participate in elections.” Such challenges give a voice to many brilliant ideas that individuals otherwise might not know how to express. In addition, it allows for those outside of traditional competitive fields (such as programmers coding in Hackathon competitions) to also contribute and participate in a contest setting.

To sweeten the deal for students, monetary compensation is offered for whomever wins a particular challenge. Funding for the rewards comes from the challenge’s original sponsor, and the amount varies depending on a particular challenge. The aforementioned challenge from Chegg.com to develop an algorithm paid $150 to 5 winners and $50 for “honors,” all of who were judged internally by Chegg.com, while being one of 10 “winners” in presenting an idea to the Voter Equality Foundation would have made one $50 richer.

In addition to the monetary rewards, solving problems through MindSumo solves another challenge for many college students: resume development. College students everywhere would love to be acknowledged for their accomplishments, but don’t know how to display their talent in a way that can be tangibly recognized by companies. Meanwhile, companies have problems, but don’t know how to recognize and attract talent to solve them. As Swett himself remarks, “It’s hard for companies to get insights from millennials, and MindSumo uses crowdsourcing to allow companies to tap into this collective brainpower…MindSumo is taking advantage of this through its challenge platform.” Therefore, MindSumo’s solution truly acts as a win-win, with all sides benefiting from linking up students to companies.

Since its founding, by Swett and co-founders Trent Hazy and Rohan Puranik, both Stanford University graduates, the company has made enormous strides in winning accolades and recognition. As of January 2013, Google Ventures has announced that it would back the one-year startup, while Swett gained a spot as a mentor for Plug and Play Startup Camp, a prestigious program that immerses entrepreneurs into Silicon Valley’s friendly environment.

All of these accolades do one thing: it grants MindSumo publicity not only within the corporate world, but also in the public eye. Various news outlets, including the highly visible CNET, have had articles covering MindSumo’s many accomplishments. While the site remains under beta development for now, limited only to a narrow audience, the founders have expressed hope for the site to be “on our way to removing the ‘Beta’ stamp that adorns our current logo.”

So the next time you’re bored on a Friday night and tempted to start a League of Legends tournament from your dorm room – remember, you could instead be getting paid solving real problems for real companies out there; as a bonus, it can improve your resume as well!

Toby Lee

About Toby Lee

Toby Lee is a sophomore from Palo Alto, CA who focuses on NBR's Technology and Innovation section. He is currently majoring in Economics and Communication Studies with a focus on Digital Media, and is mainly interested in finding how improving communication in the business world can help organizations run more efficiently, as well as how to effectively market products in an increasingly digital-based world.

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