Building a digital Red Bull Basement

by Tim Wade

21 September 2021

A robot alongside a person

Building on a culture of innovation

Sometimes we don’t understand the limits of our comfort zone until something or someone comes along and asks us to go beyond business as usual and change quickly. There have been many times when, in my role at NTT, that I’ve been challenged to find solutions to problems that we may not even have contemplated at the outset. Working with Red Bull Basement is one of those times.

This isn’t the first time we’ve collaborated with Red Bull. A few years ago we delivered a technical solution at a mountain bike event in the Zion National Park. When you have to sign an indemnity form before they’ll let you ride the jeep to get on site and you end up climbing up precarious mountains or standing on the roof of a trailer connecting network cables all while watching out for the rattlers, you have to be able to think on your feet.

Stepping out of our comfort zone

Red Bull Basement is a completely different environment, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less complex.

The program challenges student innovators to drive positive change and brings together people from across the world to exchange ideas and explore creative, technology solutions, which is a little different from extreme mountain biking.

Working in a real-time environment means there’s little room for error

We started working on this project at the end of 2019, exploring ways to inject a digital element into the global series of events, which had been based around physical interactions.

For us, this was unfamiliar territory. While we have extensive experience in creating and running digital events, as well as blending physical and digital interactions, the audience for Red Bull Basement is quite different to our normal audience. What a university student considers an engaging and fun digital experience is very different from what a CEO or CIO expects, and this needed to guide our approach.

Last years winners, Lava Aqua X, who developed a portable, sustainable washing machine for students

Then, at the beginning of 2020 the landscape fundamentally shifted. With COVID-19 restricting the ability of people to meet in person, the digital component took on a more prominent role. Once it became clear that COVID-19 wasn’t simply going to disappear, the team realized that their objective of blending physical and digital events needed to be revisited.

This year, we continue to enable participants to co-innovate by providing our mentorship, hybrid event services, and insights into the world of technology. NTT Disruption will enhance the Global Final by transporting students into a 3D space using VR/AR technologies as an innovative, hybrid workshop for attendees to engage in a virtual world.

Going digital – in fast forward

Taking an event that has always been ‘real-world’ and making it a fully digital experience meant that we needed to work quickly. We needed to find ways to create a digital experience would still be Red Bull Basement, but also matched up to the best digital experiences out there. Working with our Cloud Communications division, who have the platforms and expertise to deliver this, meant that we had the foundation we needed.

Business professionals looking at the ipad

Our 2020 NTT Wildcard team, ROBOCEAN, whose idea regenerates ocean seagrass using a subsea robot

We also had to ensure that we could enable Red Bull to ramp up the excitement over the whole program building anticipation for the Global Final..

These interactions have highlighted some valuable lessons that allow us to respond rapidly to almost any dynamic environment.

Someone has to ask the hard questions

When you’re working in a dynamic environment you need to have someone willing to anticipate issues and call them out. When an event, such as Red Bull Basement, operates in real-time there is very little room for errors. In this high-pressure environment people need to be willing to point out potential weaknesses, even it doesn’t make them popular.

Business professionals pitching in a workshop

Participants pitching at the 2020 Global Workshop

Take the time to know your audience

In order to understand the expectations of Red Bull Basement participants we needed to look at how they were consuming media and interacting online. We live in a hyper-connected, instant gratification world, and to keep university students engaged over a three day period we needed a deep understanding of what they considered the benchmark for digital engagement.

Understand your partner’s strengths

We’re an organization that has world-beating expertise in making technology work, and Red Bull have created one of the greatest modern consumer brands. In order to make this partnership work, it was critical that we are able to tap into the areas that make us leaders, but still be open to new ideas.

We’re a company that’s built on a foundation of innovation and collaboration. Be it a global consumer brand, like Red Bull, or any one of our clients, the same principles of working together to deliver the desired goals still apply.

I just hope there aren’t any rattlesnakes.

Read more about our partnership, or apply for the Red Bull Basement program.

Tim Wade

Tim Wade

Vice President, Advanced Technology Group, Sport