It’s exciting to see where the young people of the world will lead us, as it is with each new generation. With new minds come new ideas and innovations to keep the world in a constant state of progression. Shopify Studios partnered with National Geographic and Disney+ to produce and distribute a documentary about five young entrepreneurs as they take part in the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards in Macau, China. These awards aim to find the next world leaders who express the self-confidence to stand in front of a crowd and make their voices heard in this pitch competition. The winner earns a $100,000 grand prize to make their dream a reality.
Directors Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster followed these students through their journeys to the awards ceremony where their projects will receive worldwide attention. The documentary elevates the students’ dreams and places them on a pedestal. We see the experiences of Daniela Blanco, Jason Hadzikostas, Henry Onyango, Santosh Pandey, and Alondra Toledo in their visit to Macau.
Blanco (United States and Venezuela) developed Sunthetics from her chemistry lab at NYU after escaping the civil unrest in Venezuela to take part in the chemistry Ph.D. program. Sunthetics is a startup focused on transforming plant waste into material goods such as nylon. We find the future of sustainability in businesses such as these, and Daniela’s efforts to reuse natural products to create materials are celebrated in this film.
Hadzikostas (Greece) developed iCry2Talk with his marketing background. His team has created an app that can determine the reason why your baby is crying – a parent’s dream. They hope to help parents uncover their babies’ needs without needing to question them.
Onyango (Kenya), a programmer, developed Roometo. He says, “If you can’t get through the door, break the wall.” Roometo is an online marketplace to help students in Kenya and other parts of Africa find alternative living accommodations while there. He learned how to code after seeing someone drag a folder across a desktop and wanted to know how that worked. He works in a “flow” and limits interruptions – he is a master at work.
Pandey (Nepal) developed Offering Happiness to add to the human capital in his corner of the world. They plan surprise parties and events for people including delivering gifts and experiences to customers. Their focus is on creating and maintaining connections between people in Nepal given the number of people who leave the country. People who have left can use Offering Happiness to surprise family members back at home with these personalized gifts and moments.
Toledo (Puerto Rico) developed UnderstHand to increase accessibility of medical consultations. UnderstHand came to be following the devastation in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. She has come to the high-stakes global finals for the competition trying to raise awareness for the deaf community and their limitations regarding medical access.
In a key moment, the filmmakers make use of music of build the tension of one of the presenters possibly missing their presentation time due to immigration problems when entering China. They choose not to linger on the issue, but they do give the individual a moment to reflect on why the incident occurred. As other subjects experience their own individual highs and lows throughout the trip, the filmmakers give equal weight to each of them.
They all saw increases in businesses after their time in Macau, which added to their platforms. Costantini and Foster’s film brings attention to the work of young entrepreneurs, and I would love to see their work continue in the documentary series landscape exploring even more young people. A spark of inspiration and innovation for the future is something we could all use now a year into the COVID-19 pandemic. I know there are young people out there today and yet to come making strides to build a brighter future for us all.
OWN THE ROOM is now available on Disney+
Disney+ Review – ‘Own the Room’
Reviewed online, March 8, 2021. Rating: TBC. Running time: 91 min.
PRODUCTION: A Disney+ release of a National Geographic Documentary Films, Saville Productions, Shopify Studios production. Producers: Rupert Maconick, Jeff Plunkett. Executive producers: Jason Badal, Carolyn Bernstein, Ryan Harrington, Tobias Lütke, Colin McRae.
CREW: Directors: Cristina Constantini, Darren Foster. Editing: Christian Glawe.
CAST: (self) Alondra Toledo, Daniela Blanco, Henry Onyango, Jason Hadzikostas, Santosh Pandey.