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Introduction

In these difficult times, worldwide, more than 200 illustrious events were cancelled and 150 more were either suspended or postponed, without including the sporting events. But the pandemic never haunted the team of Techfest, IIT Bombay. Right from the beginning, they knew they were going to pull off the 24th edition of the very popular, our very own Asia’s Largest Science and Technology Festival. They fought against all the odds and made it happen. Let’s have a look at how they did it and take a glimpse of their grand show. 

Making it happen!

On the 20th of April, 2020, the managers for the 24th edition of Techfest, IIT Bombay were appointed. Just 7 months 18 days later, on the 8th of December, the fest commenced. Sadly, there was no SAC wall painting, no ambience props, no RoboWars. But despite the setbacks, the 24th edition of Techfest was as grand as it has always been. 

It was understandably not a typical Techfest. All events were to be held online, which called for a massive restructuring of the team. New challenges were to be tackled, and some departments were not relevant this year. Departments designated for specific events such as Technoholix and Robowars merged into a single “Events” department; Hospitality and FnB blended into Marketing. More workforce was diverted to the Web and Design department to handle the obvious increase in workload. It was the cohesive culture of the Techfest team that allowed for dynamic allocation of work and ensured efficiency till the very end. 

The come-what-may attitude of the team didn’t just drive them to organise a successful fest but has also inspired many college- ests across the nation. Techfest, IIT Bombay was one of the first student bodies to start the construction of virtual events. Their neoteric ideas to conduct remote competitions, virtual industrial and museum visits, virtual exhibition series was soon picked up by other fest organisers from colleges across the country. The portal built from the ground-up for the International Exhibitions made the virtual experience very much real by enabling participants to interact with the exhibitors who were demonstrating their exhibits in their virtual stall.

Also, the team’s innovative ways to reach out to their target audiences in the online mode paid off in the form of mind-boggling participation figures – over 2 Million people were impacted by the 24th edition of Techfest. We were told that this time they tried something out-of-the-box to maximise reach among their target audience. It’s one of their “trade secrets”, so we’ll never know! But this is an achievement team Techfest would cherish for a long time. 

All this success didn’t come easily, the virtual mode of the fest brought some unique challenges. Working remotely, the lack of personal interaction made it slightly difficult to get to know each other; surviving through a seven hours long meeting is naturally tough, but seven hours of virtual meeting before a computer was, they say, not for the faint-hearted. While planning the fest, the team had to take into account different time zones of their guests; event scheduling had to accommodate the guests as well as the participants.

The team not only navigated through these and many other challenges but also used the virtual mode to their advantage. It was now possible for them to do complete justice to their broader vision: providing a platform for the Indian student community to develop and showcase their technical prowess. Some of Techfest’s events started right from June, and the traditional three-day-long fest was now spread across two weeks in December to ensure that the events are happening in the “sweet spots” of the day when many students are generally not busy. Now, people who wanted to be a part of Techfest could be a part of it without the usual fatigue element. The Techfest team was certain that they didn’t want to become another stressful online lecture event and did everything that they could to make it the “Virtual experience of a lifetime!”. For many, it certainly was.

Let’s have a look at some of the highlights from the 24th edition of Techfest, IIT Bombay. 

Highlights 

The lecture series of this year’s Techfest witnessed a stellar lineup. Malcolm Turnbull, the former Prime Minister of Australia was one of the biggest highlights, along with the CEO of IBM, Arvind Krishna, and the co-founder of Coursera, Andrew NG. Nobel laureates such as His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Prof William D Philips and Prof Tasuku Honjo graced the virtual stage of Techfest. Vint Cerf, known as the father of the internet was another highlight, along with Juergen Schmidhuber, the father of modern artificial intelligence. Two of India’s biggest sporting icons – Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra, and former world chess champion Viswanathan Anand were also a part of the lineup. Actor Rana Daggubati added to the celebrity quotient of the festival.

Nobel Laureate His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama addressing a virtual audience at Techfest

Techfest’s International Media Summit was one of the most stellar events of the fest. The event was attended by a diverse panel including 4 Pulitzer Prize awardees, along with eminent Indian journalists such as Rajdeep Sardesai and Ravish Kumar. Gary Knell, the CEO of National Geographic, and Ivan Markman, the CBO of Verizon Media, were also part of the summit.

Coverage of Techfest’s International Media Summit in The Indian Express

The Techfest team organized WeCare, an initiative in support of animal rights, which has garnered around 45,000 signatories to date and led the government onto the path to amend the 60-year old Prevention of Cruelty to Animal Act. Techfest also hosted HEAL, an epilepsy awareness initiative, and HOPE, a mental health initiative.

As is the case every year, Techfest hosted a suite of competitions that witnessed over 10,000 participants. One of these was the Aerovaccine competition, where participants used 3D modelling software to design an aircraft capable of delivering the COVID-19 vaccine to inaccessible parts of rural India.

The virtual exhibit series hosted some of the top technological innovations from around the world including Daedalus Mark I, a jet-powered Iron Man-esque suit, Virgin Hyperloop, the future of mass transportation, Nadine Social Robot, the robot which has emotions and can play instruments, ALTER 3, the orchestra playing dynamic robot, and many more.

Conclusion

Although the “feel” of an on-ground fest was certainly lacking, an online mode of delivery certainly opened up new avenues for the Techfest team – such as more flexibility to arrange for guests, less budgetary constraints etc. A virtual fest certainly brought out the entrepreneurial spirit of this body, and we congratulate team Techfest to present us with a memorable experience.

 

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Chief Editors: Amogh Gawaskar and Suman Mondal

Mail to: insight@iitb.ac.in