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The Fishbowl Challenge: How it all began

When Tom Siegel - former Vice President of Trust and Safety - left Google in 2019 after 15 years, he knew the time had come for him to find a new challenge. Although he knew he wanted to empower entrepreneurs, he never quite expected that his trip to a small island in the Indian Ocean would catalyze the birth of a global organization that would reach thousands of aspiring changemakers in +80 countries across the world.

Tom’s trip to Mauritius began as an opportunity for him to learn more about the African Leadership University, and share his knowledge, experience and lessons as an Expert-in-Residence. However, everything changed when, in one of these career counselling sessions, Tom met ALU student Mubarak Osman. Their shared passion for creating impact and belief in the opportunity gap between entrepreneurs on the ground in many emerging markets and access to resources and mentorship led to the beginnings of what would become the Fishbowl Challenge.

But the dream didn’t stop there. Halfway across the world in California, Vandana Bharvani, Tom’s co-worker and Director at Google, led each of her days with a desire to build, and help companies grow from the ground up. When Tom came back and shared more about the Fishbowl Challenge, she was excited to come on board and translate her experience growing tech teams and investing in early-stage social ventures to support young social entrepreneurs from around the world.

So, with the tech industry veterans, the passion of an ambitious college student, and shared love for the show “Shark Tank” came the origins of a nonprofit organization that would support young entrepreneurs in their social technology ventures—all over the world.

Inspired by its founders’ diverse and unique cultural backgrounds, the Fishbowl Challenge was set up to seek talent and great ideas beyond just Silicon Valley. In a world where “talent is evenly distributed and opportunity is not”, the founders believed it was important to open up the Challenge to students from around the world and capitalize on the power of cross-border collaboration. So regardless of where one was based, students took advantage of the latest video conferencing and messaging technology to connect with each other, be mentored by industry experts and receive resources and support from the Fishbowl team.

How does the program run?

Simply put, the Fishbowl Challenge consists of teams of 3-5 college students from around the world who work together to create innovative technology to solve healthcare, agriculture, education, economic empowerment, renewable energy, and sustainability problems. Over the course of 6 months, they work together to ideate, research, prototype and finally pitch a solution to a panel of industry-leading judges for a chance to win up to $50,000 in seed funding.

Since its inception three years ago, the Challenge has reached over 2,000 students from over 90 countries and invested +$150K in pre-seed enterprises. The internal team has also grown from 3 co-founders to 15+ team members located in Africa, America, Europe and Asia. Despite our unique backgrounds and often have full-time jobs beyond the Challenge, we are all brought together by one vision to change the world one step at a time.

Here at Fishbowl, we believe that everyone has a talent that can be used for good in our world that seems to be plagued with problem after problem. We want to not only be the support system for young global entrepreneurs, but also the inspiration for students all over the world who have an idea or a desire to make even a tiny difference.

There is a place for everyone at Fishbowl to dream big, take a risk, and dive into the deep end. You can join our movement as a volunteer, Challenger, donor or mentor. Email us at and we will get back to you soon.


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