British Airways Ungrounded Hack Took 100 Innovators Over the Atlantic

Reporter with Silicon Hills News

Photo courtesy of Whurley

Photo courtesy of Whurley

When Whurley of Chaotic Moon learned he was one of 100 innovators chosen to participate in British Airways Ungrounded, an 11-hour hack over the Atlantic Ocean to find a solution to the problem of unbalanced STEM in the world, he said “I literally almost cried.” Imagine what would have happened if he’d known his team—Team Altitude– was going to win, that their idea would be presented at the (DNA) Decide Now Act Summit as well as the G8 Innovation Conference preceding the G8, and that the Secretary General of the International Telecommunication Union would make a video talking about Whurley’s team’s solution.
Ungrounded Thinking was British Airway’s idea, to put 100 innovators on a plane from San Francisco to London in teams, each of which was asked to solve a problem around STEM: How to meet the growing demand for STEM workers; how to use global pools to meet the U.S. demand; how to grow STEM in emerging economies and Team Altitude’s problem—How to foster STEM among women.

The Women’s STEM Team

photo courtesy of Whurley

photo courtesy of Whurley

The night before the flight, Whurley said, four of the seven team members met for drinks to get to know each other and understand each others’ backgrounds and what they each brought to solving the problem. His team members included founders and students:
Sue Black, Founder, The goto Foundation
Kimberly Bryant, Founder & Executive Director, Black Girls Code
Lauren Hasson, iOS Software Engineer, Bottle Rocket Apps
Kelly Hoey, Co-Founder & Managing Director, Women Innovate Mobile
Cindy Padnos, Founder & Managing Partner, Illuminate Ventures
Cassidy Williams, Student, Iowa State University
They knew they would have no wifi on the plane, so before they took off the next day, Whurley said, they decided on a name, bought up domains, started social media groups and enlisted 400 women as participants. They built AdvisHer, a foundation and online community by women and for women to advise women in STEM and women interested in STEM. Men will only be welcome to advise through AdvisHer as second parties who have been vetted by AdvisHer members.
Onboard the Plane
“Some of the teams had very formalized methodologies,” Whurley said. “We really wanted an open source conversation where everybody has an equal voice. ‘Yeah, we should do that and what about this?’” The perspective of Cassidy Williams, the Iowa State student, was given weight because she’s living the problem, Whurley said. The same weigh that of Kimberly Bryant who founded BlackGirlsCode, created to introduce the world of STEM to young black women in underrepresented communities and of Whurley himself, the only male team member.
“We were very lucky to have Cindy and Kelly and Kimberly…the entire team were women who have been through this (discrimination in STEM jobs). They’re subject matter experts, they’ve suffered from not having this.”
Teams were given only paper and markers to create their projects. Then, after about eight hours, teams went around “grading” each other’s projects with sticky dots. Then the participants had about two and a half hours to sleep. When they awoke, Team Altitude learned they had won.
But it wasn’t over. They wanted the project as perfect as possible before presenting it at the G8 Innovation Conference. So after they arrived in London, they got back to work. At an unspecified date, Team Altitude has been invited to Geneva, Switzerland, to present their project—which they’ll continue to develop—before UTI.
“These weren’t just the best of the best on the plane, they’re the best of the best there are,” Whurley said. “And the best part of it was it was just we’d decide something that had to be done and it was like ‘You’re going to kick ass and do this, right?’ Every issue that came up, everybody was super awesome at solving it. These were amazingly talented, amazingly respectful people. It was literally a life-changing experience.”


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