Peter Diamandis is the founder and executive chairman of the XPRIZE Foundation, which leads the world in designing and operating large-scale incentive competitions. If there’s one thing Diamandis understands about innovation, it’s that it needs to be incentivized.
Since 1994, the XPRIZE has launched over $140 million in prize purses, including the $15 million Global Learning XPRIZE, the $10 million Ansari XPRIZE, the $10 million Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE, and the $1.4 million Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup XPRIZE. As an entrepreneur, Diamandis has started more than 20 companies in longevity, space, venture capital, and education.
In mid-March of this year, when the COVID-19 pandemic was in full bloom, Diamandis received a call from two friends, Lou Reese and Mei Mei Hu, co-CEOs of United Biomedical, a synthetic peptide diagnostic and vaccine company. “They reminded me that their company had developed a SARS vaccine 20 years ago, but because SARS did not become a pandemic, it didn’t require production of a vaccine,” recalls Diamandis. “Our discussion quickly turned to COVID-19, and we decided on that call to attempt a COVID-19 vaccine. In early April, we started a company called COVAXX and capitalized it within 45 days.”
Their proprietary platform has developed 30 different vaccines using synthetic peptide vaccine technology, which is super low cost, safe, and extremely effective, and they’ve entered pre-clinical testing. Currently, they’re conducting human trials and plan to have 100 million doses manufactured in Q1 2021.
Being so close to the search for a cure, Diamandis feels hopeful at the speed at which they identify and solve problems. “People forget how rapidly we went from identifying a lack of ventilators to having companies and teams around the world design and manufacture ventilators at scale,” he says. “We went from having no vaccines for COVID-19 to more than 150 in development in less than four months. The rate at which entrepreneurs using exponential technologies can address and solve problems is staggering.”
Diamandis is also moved by how the world responded to the tragic murder of George Floyd. “People are using their voices and platforms to demand justice and equality, educate each other, and listen with an open mind,” he says. It may not be all of society, but the combination of COVID-19, the need for racial and social equality, getting our economy running, and the ability to discuss everything on social media, has awakened many people to no longer be silent. People are now standing up for what’s right.”
He feels it’s critically important that leaders inspire and guide people toward a compelling future. “For me, it’s about having a bold vision that inspires not only a person’s mind, but also their heart. I admire the ability of leaders to listen and hear the concerns of the people they lead with empathy. And to help those individuals imagine a hopeful and compelling future for themselves, their families, and their communities.”
Importantly, Diamandis also admires leaders with an ability to create the future, not just let it happen to them. “We need people who can bring the capital, the technology, the people, and the mindset to get results. Real leaders have a massively transformative purpose. They’re not doing something to make money. They’re not doing something just to sell a widget. They have a meaningful purpose in their life that is bigger than themselves, inspiring them to wake up every day with determination. Through that sense of purpose, leaders inspire their teams and their companies to do extraordinary things: dream the biggest dreams to make a dent in the universe.”