You may be familiar with “Shark Tank,” the American reality TV show on which aspiring entrepreneurs pitch business ideas to a panel of investors—but have you ever heard of “Dolphin Tank”? In December, seven high school students taught by Teach For Malaysia alumni became well-versed in the concept when they headed to Silicon Valley, California, to take part in the Digital Maker Global Exchange program (DMGX), a joint-initiative with the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation and the Ministry of Education of Malaysia. The seven teenagers were among 10 students selected from Malaysia’s most promising young inventors to present their innovations to representatives from the U.S.’s leading technology hub (the other three students attend some of Malaysia’s highest-performing schools).
The students’ journey to Silicon Valley began as participants in two after school programs launched by Teach For Malaysia alumni. Chumbaka Cyberjaya, co-founded by alumni Nigel Sim and Chong Zhi Xiong, and Arus, co-founded by alumni David Chak Shan Chun, Alina Amir, Felicia Yoon and Daniel Russel, are designed to give students from high-need schools and communities meaningful learning experiences by encouraging them to use their knowledge and critical thinking skills to create their own innovative projects. Guided by the vision that all kids can and should be “thinkers, problem solvers, and inventors,” Chumbaka Cyberjaya works across five Teach For Malaysia schools where Nigel and Chong work with roughly 120 students each week. At Arus, students come to the space to take part in after school classes such as coding or to work on their innovations or do their homework.
Chong Zhi Xiong (left) and Dakshayanie
From Chumbaka Cyberjaya, students Shi Qi, Min Han, Kok Wei, Guan and Dakshayanie were selected to take part in the Dolphin Tank session. Kok Wei and Guan were part of a team that developed a concept for a selfie device that can take photos of different people in the same position. “Dolphin Tank was really helpful for getting feedback and ideas, and to expand the potential of our projects,” Kok Wei explained. “We also got training on our presentation skills, and managed to present to very successful entrepreneurs from across a variety of industries, such as engineers, angel investors, and venture capitalists.” He added that “Chumbaka has helped us develop our skills because we have the chance to take part in a lot of different innovation competitions, exhibitions, and camps—experiences that help us communicate and present our ideas to different types of people.”
Dakshayanie, who pitched the a smoke detector that warns teachers, via an internet alert, when a student is secretly smoking in the school restrooms, also found the Dolphin Tank experience to be valuable. “I really liked the people we met in Silicon Valley—the way they lead, and their very positive attitude,” she shared. “And the thing that I loved the most is that they like it when people make mistakes or fail. Because, in life, when people fail that is when you learn. They really admire teenagers who try.”
Gayatri (left) and Badrul
Gayatri and Badrul from Arus were chosen to take part in the Dolphin Tank for their Intelligence Steering Wheel idea — a device designed to ensure that drivers keep both hands on the steering wheel as a safety measure. “We had the opportunity to meet inspirational people, including Tesla engineers and Google designers,” Badrul raved. “And we learned about their stories and insights into their careers, and what we too can achieve.”
Gayatri explained that Arus has given them the opportunity to enter competitions by encouraging them to think critically about problems they want to solve, and then to use their skills to prototype solutions, test their ideas with their target audience, and refine their prototypes. Arus has also helped them improve their English, which is critical in the tech world, and their presentational skills, which they also apply at school.
There were no winners or losers of the DGMX Dolphin Tank — the event itself was the reward for the 10 students chosen from the 33 who participated in a pair of junior accelerator labs earlier in the year. It’s clear from their reflections, however, that what the Dolphin Tank participants have taken away from the experience is much greater than any prize.
Congratulations to all seven inspiring students and their teachers, Nigel, Chong, and David, for the hard work and creativity that led them to be selected for such an exciting event! We look forward to learning about many more ingenious innovations developed by students like these in Malaysia and around the world.
Learn more about these young innovators and the Teach For Malaysia alumni who encouraged them to think big, and watch the video where Chumbaka students share their reflections on the trip to Silicon Valley.