Pioneer's Holiday Tournament

tl;dr: Pioneer winners now get $100,000 in Google Cloud credits, apply now!

Just a few days ago we announced the winners of our first Pioneer Tournament. In a few days, our second Tournament will be closing. Today, we’re excited to announce that the third December Tournament is now open!

Quick Primer

Pioneer’s mission is to scalably identify and nurture the creative outsiders of the world.

Traditional institutions like the Ivy League try to solve this problem by relying on a small set of individuals to screen thousands of applications. This doesn’t scale. And it leaves many geniuses (especially those from non-traditional backgrounds) undiscovered.

We’re trying something radically different. We’re trying to find these “Lost Einsteins” by building an online game. Fortnite, for productivity. Players are rewarded based on the progress they make on their project. Every month, we fund the best with a $1,000 grant and up to $100,000 in follow-on investment.

What’s New

During our second tournament, we added more leaderboards, improved our peer voting process, and worked on our selection algorithm. We also grew the grant size: the winning Pioneers get $6,000 in Stellar lumens, in addition to the cash grant of $1,000.

Like the iPhone, we hope to improve with every release. The December Tournament comes with an epic feature: $100,000 in Google Cloud credits via Google Cloud for Startups to the winning applicants. This is a big deal. Not all of our applicants need Cloud Credits, but many do. Stellar is re-joining us for the tournament as well. Winning applicants receive:

  • $1,000 in cash (check out our FAQ for more info about this).
  • $100,000 in Google Cloud credits.
  • $6,000 in Stellar lumens.
  • A potential $100,000 follow-on investment.
  • A ticket to Silicon Valley.
  • Mentorship from experts.

It’s the perfect package to kickstart a genius.

We believe the world has thousands -- maybe millions -- of ambitious people that have the talent and creativity and just need a nudge of support to unlock their potential. If you know someone who fits that bill (it could be you!), tell them to apply!

Applications close Sunday night. That's in five days. Get started here: https://pioneer.app.


Meet the Pioneers

We’re excited to announce the winners of the first Pioneer Tournament.

In the short 3 months since its launch, Pioneer has garnered a global reach. Our first tournament featured applicants from 100 countries, ranging from 12 to 87 years old. Almost half of our players hailed from countries like India, UK, Canada, Nigeria, Germany, South Africa, Singapore, France, Turkey, and Kenya. Projects were spread across almost every industry -- AI research, physics, chemistry, cryptocurrency and more.

We started this company to find the curious outsiders of the world. We think we’re off to a good start. Meet the winners of the first Pioneer Tournament:


James Gallagher (16, Scotland, @jamesg_oca)

James is working on Open Commit, a marketplace for code review. It pairs developers with expert code reviewers who provide actionable feedback on their code, covering everything from style adherence to best practice implementation.

Noteworthy: James has been coding since he was 8 years old. He decided not to attend university so he could pursue the startup path. He’s a true child of the Internet and learned how to code on Udacity. The community also loved that he’s working on a project with a very clear value proposition.


Emma Salinas (18, USA, @emmalsalinas)

Emma is designing and engineering a new kind of digital watch. It’s minimalist and can be read by both sight and touch. It is a beautiful and unique timepiece for the blind, but its aesthetic can be appreciated by anyone.

Noteworthy: In her application, Emma came across as extremely curious, learning at an impressive rate. She spent her last two years of high school taking classes at a local college, and is currently self educating herself.


Leonard Bogdonoff (29, USA, @rememberlenny)

Lenny is building a digital genealogy of street art. He’s scraping Instagram and making a searchable database of street art around the world. This project might amplify the voice of “protest art” against the constraints of censorship from autocratic governments, but it is also a new way to glean usable information from Instagram.

Noteworthy: Lenny has an impressive history of doing lots of stuff. He also demonstrated rapid week-over-week progress, with actionable goals and metrics (“Labeled +58,255 images from 191 street artists from around the world”, “Built an iPhone app”).


Clark Urzo (23, Philippines)

Clark is making a programming language for physics. The idea is to enable anyone who can code to contribute to serious physics research (for example, simulations of gravitating systems). This opens up the field to the wondrous forces of open source and promotes open and accountable science along the way.

Noteworthy: Clark has an insanely impressive trajectory. He learned to code when he was 12. By 16, he was doing Laplace transforms, tinkering with Arduinos, reading Marx and Nietzsche, and taught himself conversational German. He co-founded a VR company by 19.


Harsh Sikka (23, USA, @harshsikka)

Harsh is building AI that’s inspired by biological principles from neuroscience. The algorithms will be applicable in disease diagnosis, robotics, synthetic biology, environmental sensing and other complex problem spaces.

Noteworthy: Harsh is a graduate student studying Biocomputation and AI at Harvard and Georgia Tech. His work is a long shot. But if it works, it stands to provide a dramatic breakthrough in computing, enabling us to better prevent the outbreak of diseases by doing better forecasting. Harsh also has a long standing history of making stuff. He built a kind of Pinterest for ML models and an automated reading assessment tool. This mixture of researcher and hacker is a rare and powerful combo.


Hunter Scott (28, USA, @hunterscott)

Hunter is making engineered plants and microbes optimized for growth on Mars as a sustainable food source for the first astronauts there.

Noteworthy: Hunter has experience with engineered food, as a co-founder of what would become Soylent. More recently, he founded a company to develop a new kind of battery and works at Reach Labs, where he builds high-frequency phased arrays for long-range wireless power transfer.


Bhav Ashok (25, Singapore & USA, @bhavashok)

Bhav came up with a way to train a neural network to compress other neural networks. The compression process produces a faster and smaller network without sacrificing accuracy. This has the potential to vastly improve response time in self-driving cars, satellite imaging, and mobile apps.

Noteworthy: By age 12, Bhav was programming and making money selling graphics add-ons for games. At 16, he started doing research in machine learning for bioinformatics. He left Singapore for Austin, where he created TexteDB and founded a company. Bhav later enrolled in the Masters program at CMU, earned the highest GPA in his program, founded a computer vision club, and worked on various research projects.


Atsu Davoh (23, Ghana, @atsudavoh)

Atsu is building a way for Africans to easily acquire and spend crypto-currencies in everyday life. He built a service for buying Bitcoin via phone texts (without the internet) and is currently building the equivalent of Alibaba for Bitcoin in Africa (out January 2019).

Noteworthy: Atsu dropped out of college in the US and moved back to Ghana to work on this idea. “I pursued this path instead of going to work at a tech giant like my friends because I wanted to do something impactful. I strongly believe that smart Africans should stay in Africa to solve the continent's problems; and this philosophy motivates every decision I make.”


Harshu Musunuri (18, USA)

Harshu is creating synthetic materials to improve the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of sepsis, a leading cause of death in hospitals around the world. Unlike other approaches, these materials don't require refrigeration and enable low-cost toxin capture in resource-poor settings.

Noteworthy: Harshu comes from a humble background: she was born to an electrical engineer and an elementary school math teacher in a small village in South India. But her work is anything but humble. In her short career, she’s done research with NASA’s JPL, built a seizure detection app for epileptic patients and is now working on a project with the potential to save thousands of lives. She’s also a hacker at heart: when she lacked the formal lab tools to braze at high temperature, she used the exhaust vent of a ceramic kiln.


Neelay Trivedi (17, USA, @neelay_trivedi)

Neelay is building PlaySafe, a wearable that predicts if and when someone will have a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). It costs under $40 and works by analyzing variations in a person's heart rate, providing up to 8 minutes of prior warning before SCA occurs.

Noteworthy: Neelay has been prolific despite his young age. Despite being just a high school senior, his work on AI-assisted disease diagnosis, computational cancer genomics, and health wearables has already been recognized by Intel, Maker Faire, Conrad Foundation, the US Army, and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy.


Julia Wu (23, USA & Brazil, @thejuliawu)

Julia is making a game where one collects and trades elements of renewable energy on the Ethereum blockchain. She’s leveraging the surprising power of crypto-kitties to address climate change. The values of the tokens fluctuate with the performance of clean energy in public markets.

Noteworthy: Coming from China to Brazil at a young age and speaking only Chinese, Julia grew up as an outsider. She graduated from Brown last year, where she was a CS teaching assistant, and founded Lean In at Brown University. She interned at Microsoft and currently works at Apple.


Caroline Oluka (28, Uganda)

Caroline is working on RideUp, an eco-friendly bike delivery service for corporate offices in Kampala that aims to empower girls from the streets.

Noteworthy: Caroline is a testament to the human spirit. She had an incredibly tough home environment that would have crippled most. She ran away from home and grew up on the streets of Uganda. She’s now decided to start a business that’s aimed at helping girls in similar situations. The world has taken note, too: she won a Ugandan social innovation award during the Pioneer Tournament and has been relentless about fundraising to grow her business.


Pranay Prakash (21, USA, @pranaygp)

Pranay is making Windsor, a programming assistant for web developers. Developer tools are static today. They don’t understand what you’re trying to accomplish and why. That shouldn’t be the case. If Windsor changes that, it might become the most important company in the world. Nell’s Primer, for coding.

Noteworthy: Pranay got started early, learning to code at age 8. He interned at Facebook on the GraphQL team, then at ZEIT where he worked on a lot of experimental tooling. Voters loved the potential of his project. He also managed to hit his goal of getting Windsor in the hands of real users with a real codebase by the end of the tournament.


Lucas Gleba (18, Spain, @lucasgleba)

Lucas is building a set of ML APIs that enable ordinary businesses to take advantage of machine learning without being subject experts in the matter. Just like Oracle enabled anyone to use a database, Lucas’s platform will enable any business to use ML.

Noteworthy: Lucas is an untraditional polymath. Before working on machine learning, he designed a chemical process to transform atmospheric carbon dioxide and water into fuel. He’s also done work on artificial neural networks and computational flock behavior.


Thomas Uhlenbruck (23, Canada, @pulseindustrial)

Thomas is building sensors for industrial equipment that will reduce CO2 emissions and improve safety. Industrial equipment is often inspected by hand today with manual audits. This is exactly the type of the world software has yet to eat. Their sensors provide operators the information they need to keep their system optimized and safe at all times.

Noteworthy: Thomas is an undergrad at Waterloo. He’s worked in water treatment, lake modelling, and municipal engineering, but left his research group because he wanted more practical work experience. Over the course of the Pioneer Tournament, he managed both to work on engineering and secure multiple prototype installations at different plants, which is no simple feat.


Pavle Goloskokovic (28, Serbia, @pgoloskokovic)

Pavle is building a VR Adventure Game for the blind. Yep, VR for blind people. It’s a narrative-driven adventure game that completely relies on audible and tactile feedback to guide players in a role of a protagonist through an interactive story driven by exploration and puzzle-solving.

Noteworthy: Pavle’s a risk taker: he left his job at a startup to start his own gaming studio. He’s already built several projects and games. He also had a conscientious habit of submitting actionable status updates early. He’s working on the type of unusual project the Pioneer community seems to love.


Amulya Balakrishnan (18, USA)

Amulya is creating a wearable device that provides real-time, continuous ECG heart rate monitoring data. There currently exists no FDA-approved solution that can monitor ECG data in real time. Amulya is going to make it.

Noteworthy: Amulya recently graduated high school. Her friends and family expected her to go the standard collegiate route, but she decided to charter her own course. Her earlier project, an ADHD diagnosis tool, won the Disrupt NY 2017 Hackathon Grand Prize.


The Road Ahead

Pioneer is constantly evolving -- click here to read more about the latest in our product.

Applications for the December Tournament open today. If you’re eager to become a Pioneer yourself, click here to apply.

The Road Ahead

We originally thought Pioneer was a search engine. Our main effort would be finding the creative outsiders. It turns out we built something... slightly different:

  • “Hugely appreciative of Pioneer for the sense of urgency it created for me last month. I highly recommend you to participate in the next cohort if you have a side-project, but are burdened with inertia... For me, even the positive feedback was socially reaffirming. It spurred my creativity and excitement to do more.
  • “I would highly recommend everyone with an idea in mind to apply for this tournament as the voting and the positive feedback will help you in developing the idea into a better version and get closer to converting your idea into a reality.
  • "The video-game aspect of the tournament further incentivizes you to complete your goal to get a higher ranking, much like you’d want to happen if you were playing a game, and this might be my favorite feature of Pioneer.
  • “By having to submit weekly progress updates, you feel more accountable for your actions which acts as a key motivator during the week. Throughout the week, I was constantly thinking about what to include in my update which helped me work as hard and as efficiently as possible."

And many more. People really enjoy the the motivational aspects of Pioneer and the encouragement from other players. It helps them accomplish what they couldn’t have done alone. Pioneer seems to be a kind of digital Ivy League campus, where the virtual surroundings motivate you to get stuff done.

As a result, we’ve been working on making Pioneer a really fun game. Something that people come back to play month after month (even when they win). The leaderboard has been upgraded to show regional positions, so that you have a better sense of peer camaraderie. Applicants receive both positive and constructive feedback from their peers. And other new features. We're constantly iterating and thinking about how to make this an amazing experience for everyone.

We hope to make the Pioneer Tournament the ultimate multiplayer game for productivity. Click here to start playing.

Pioneer Interview: Tyler Cowen

Tyler Cowen is an American economist and professor at George Mason University, where he holds the Holbert C. Harris chair in the economics department. He also hosts the economics blog Marginal Revolution. In 2011 poll by The Economist, Cowen was included in the top 36 nominations of "which economists were most influential over the past decade".

Tyler is also a Pioneer Expert.


Hi Tyler! Tell us a little about yourself in a sentence or two.

I am a Professor of Economics. I run a research center, try to build my school into an intellectual center, and direct various projects (most of them online), catalogued at marginalrevolution.com. I’ve tried to redefine what the career of an economist can be. Often I’m known as a polymath or infovore.”

How old were you when you decided to do what you’re doing right now?

Ages 13 to 14. For a while, I pondered being a philosopher. But soon, I realized that was less practical than studying economics. But I still view myself as somehow sitting between those two disciplines.

What were you like back then? Tell us about a day in your life.

I would wake up before seven, read the New York Times, walk to school, suffer through the day, do enough work to get A minuses, leave school at 2:46, and then come home and read as much as I could for as long as I could. Or hang out with my few smart friends, two of whom also went on to become professional economists. We had a great group.

Who were you in high school?

Recognizably the same Tyler Cowen. But back then I liked listening to Bruce Springsteen, and today not so much. My perspective today is much less nation-centered. I also have much broader and better taste in food — not just hamburgers and pizza.

What’s a decision that seemed small at the time, but led to a big impact in your life today?

Meeting various people who led intellectual lives and seeing and learning that this was possible.

What “happy accidents” did you have in your youth? Things you didn’t plan on doing that lead to a positive outcome?

My path has been pretty linear. I have always felt in control, arguably a bad thing! Yet it is true. I thought that the compound returns from learning in a steady environment could be really high, if only I would stick with it.

What are some behavioral mistakes you made early on in life?

I was always too impatient. But that also helped me get things done, and I meant I did not really waste many days. Arguably, I should have spent more time cultivating contacts at Harvard when doing my Ph.D. But would that really have put me on a better path? Hard to say.

If you were applying to Pioneer today with a fresh project, what would you make?

Something like Pioneer itself?

If you became really good at something (physics, programming, art, music), how exactly did you first get hooked?

Learning is fun. I found that social sciences are a good vehicle for learning things all the time. That got me hooked. It made my travel more salient, and it enriched the time I spent with music and the arts. It helped me make sense of people, too. All that at once. That was a pretty potent brew, and it still is.

What are some weird things you worked on or did as a teenager?

These days, what’s weird? I play chess intensively for four years, ages 10 to 14. Then I studied economics for the rest of my life. Arguably I was less weird as a teenager than I am today. What’s weird is that I haven’t matured into a less intensive course of study.

What books, movies, or music do you like?

Favorite books are Moby-Dick, Proust, Bleak House, and Shakespeare.

Favorite movies are Scenes from a Marriage, Rear Window, some Kubrick, Tarkovsky, and The Empire Strikes Back, and don’t forget Asian cinema.

Music? Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart and Brahms. Indian classical music, performed live. Classic rock, the usual stuff starting with the Beatles.


If you were inspired by this post, consider applying to Pioneer! Applications for our October Tournament close in a few days. Click here to apply.

(If you'd like to send us your own Pioneer Interview, click here.)

Pioneer + Stellar

tl;dr:

We're air-dropping cryptocurrency to Pioneers. The Stellar Development Foundation will award winners of our second tournament $6,000 in lumens in addition to the Pioneer investment ($5,000 with the possibility of a $100,000 follow-on).

Apply for the October Tournament here: https://pioneer.app.

Background

Pioneer is an experiment in building an online game for productivity. We launched this August.

The Harvard campus is a wonderful place to nurture and grow. It affords its inhabitants a network of other like-minded people, an invaluable stamp on their resumes and encouragement to take their passion more seriously. We want to instill those virtues in an online game that anyone can play — not just the elite that make it to the Ivy League.

By funding the best players of our game, we hope to surface and support the millions of "Lost Einsteins" around the world — creative outsiders who have tremendous creativity and energy but lack opportunity. Each month we start a fresh tournament of our game. We just closed our first.

Partnership with Stellar + October Tournament

As we grow, a surprising challenge we face is getting money to our Pioneers. Turns out sending small amounts of money around the world is hard. Which is why we're really excited about our new partnership with Stellar.

The Stellar foundation is joining us in funding Pioneers. Winners of the October Tournament will get $6,000 in lumens in addition to the Pioneer investment ($5,000 with the option of a $100,000 follow-on). $1,000 lumens will be completely unlocked and $5,000 locked up for two years.

Excitingly, Pioneers will get their lumens before the dollars arrive. This really speaks to the power of the Stellar network.

Human potential is one of the world’s most underestimated resources. With the start of the October Tournament, we hope to amplify the work of extraordinarily talented people and accelerate the progress of pioneering ideas.

The October Tournament opens today. Apply here: https://pioneer.app.