I was nervous this past Saturday morning. I’ve been nervous plenty of times before, but this time felt different. The moment was bigger, and the crowd was larger. Closing my eyes, I could feel two armies of butterflies battling inside me. One wielded fear and uncertainty, while the other championed excitement and optimism. Neither would give ground as the minutes ticked by.
I sat in the green room of the Marin Center in San Rafael, California. People milled around me, but I did my best to remain aloof as I reflected upon the remarks I would soon give. To my left sat the seven finalist teams in the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge. I should have been chatting with them, offering smiles and gratitude before we would be escorted backstage, but I couldn’t muster it. The butterfly armies wouldn’t let me.
I smiled as I thought of the months of hard work these young biomimics had put into their innovations. This was their moment, and they deserved to be on that stage. Then I bit the inside of my lip as the worry settled in again. What if the moment rang hollow and these teams left disappointed?
We took the short walk backstage, now listening in shadow as Janine Benyus mesmerized an audience of nearly 1500 Bioneers. As always, her words contained gentleness, hope, and unbridled awe of nature. The crowd met those words with waves of applause. And as their chorus waned, she looked at me hiding stage left and smiled. That smile sent my worry into full retreat, finally giving way to the joy of this moment, this celebration.
Taking the podium, I shared memories of Ray. I explained why we chose to partner with The Biomimicry Institute. I reflected on the meaningfulness of the Ray of Hope Prize, and I praised the teams for their extraordinary efforts and dedication. And then I ushered in a moment that had been 22 months in the making: I invited the teams out on the stage.
And oh, how the audience roared.
Rising to their feet, the Bioneers’ support soon became deafening. I looked to my right as the teams lined up across the stage. I could see smiles begin to bloom on their faces. I think they were as unprepared for this reception as I was.
After more than a minute (at least that’s how long it felt), the crowd took their seats. I explained the judging process and once more praised the teams, and then I awarded the first $100,000 Ray of Hope Prize.
If you are curious to know who won, you can read more here. I hope you do, because they deserved it. But I won’t name the winning team here, because that’s not the point of this story.
This story is about that moment. A moment when 19 people from as far apart as Thailand and Oregon stood side by side. A moment when we all witnessed young innovators with entrepreneurial spirit and a humility to see nature as teacher. A moment when seven teams were saluted and their dreams were validated.
It was a moment that exceeded every expectation. I wish you all could have been there to see it.