One of the primary goals of the NATO Innovation Hub’s Innovation Challenge (IChall) is to collaboratively leverage cross-disciplinary expertise to solve real problems facing the Alliance. The current challenge is focused on “Building trust in Autonomous Systems” – with abstracts due November 17th and a best-solutions ceremony planned for December 10th.  Time is ticking!

But what does winning the IChall actually mean? And what drives people from industry, academia, non-profits, and the military to compete year after year? And, most important, why should you enter the competition?iHelp Logo

With these questions in mind, we thought we would share the experiences of one of our two first-ever IChall winning teams – composed of Old Dominion University (ODU) engineering management professors Mamadou Seck, Ghaith Rabadi and Jingwei Huang; and then Ph.D. students Hesamoddin Tahami, Chris Knight and Wael Khallouli.

The first IChall took place in the fall of 2017 and focused on addressing disaster responsiveness – with a scenario centered on post-hurricane logistics along the Atlantic coast of the U.S. This was something that was very much front-of-mind with hurricanes Harvey and Irma producing wide-spread damage in the late summer and early fall of that year.

With the support of ODU and the U.S. Department of Defense’s MD5, the first IChall resulted in 50 entries – ultimately selecting iHELP (the Intelligent Holistic Emergency Logistics Platform) as one of the best solutions to tackle the disaster response issue.

What iHELP demonstrated was novel: that NATO could leverage social media and big data algorithms to assign the best relief job to the right group of personnel and volunteers in the event of a disaster. The core of the product is a python-based simulation and optimization system that significantly improves efficiency of the logistics of relief and resources distribution to affected areas.

Not only did the ODU team win a cash prize for the development of iHELP, but it led to the creation of a tech start-up called POLARes. Founded by Prof. Ghaith Rabadi, POLARes is based Virginia and develops simulation and optimization models and methods for complex problems and systems and integrates them into software for data-driven decision support for a wide range of customers.

Of course, not every winner goes on to start a successful tech business. And not every winner walks away with a contract. But what all winners enjoy is the chance to substantively contribute to the peace and security of member nations – and the broader world – and showcase their innovative solutions and elevate the stature of their company, university, or organization; not to mention, demonstrate their unique problem-solving abilities in a global innovation arena.


This is your chance to help build a stronger Alliance and more collaborative global innovation community. Please join today!


Thank you and we look forward to seeing your abstract by November 17th!


For more information on the current IChall, please visit us at: