Student entrepreneurs at Harvard have won $50,000 in grants to support further development of innovative ventures in the Harvard College Innovation Challenge (I3).
Five teams were selected as winners and runners-up from an applicant pool of 84 teams — double the number of hopefuls in last year’s contest — for projects ranging from social web applications to a new environmental engineering technology.
“This was our most competitive year ever,” says Paul Bottino, co-founder and executive director of the Technology & Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard (TECH), which is based at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). “We had 222 students from over 30 concentrations submit outstanding proposals, which makes for a very difficult selection process. All the semifinalists should be proud.”
The grants were announced at the I3 Student Startup Showcase and Awards Reception on March 8 inside the Radcliffe Gym, where 26 semifinalist teams discussed their nascent projects with a mingling crowd of students, family members, entrepreneurs, and potential investors.
The I3 competition, presented by TECH and Harvard Student Agencies Inc. (HSA), awarded grants in three categories this year:
McKinley Family Grant for Innovation and Entrepreneurial Leadership in a Commercial Enterprise
One winner, Newsle, is a web application that aggregates news and status updates from friends or public figures on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other sites. Developed by Jonah Varon ’13 and Axel Hansen ’13, both concentrating in computer science at SEAS, the app uses an algorithm that can distinguish between people with the same name and prioritize the most important news.
The other winner in the commercial category is Hollre, an application that helps people connect online about their activities in the real world. Focused on action rather than just location, the app is designed to help users find new things to do, whether they’re interested in parties, knitting, protests, or study groups.
McKinley Family Grant for Innovation and Entrepreneurial Leadership in a Social Enterprise
Aid Aide, a website that guides prospective college students through the process of applying for federal financial aid, won the $10,000 prize this year. The site, created by first-year Zachary Hamed ’14, is designed to work like tax software, simplifying the questions on the FAFSA and PROFILE application forms. It can also translate the content for students or parents who don’t read English, and it can support live chats with financial advisers.
TECH Prize (sponsored by North Bridge Venture Partners)
Bynamic Edge’s Multi-functional Microbial Reactor, an environmental technology that uses electricity to manipulate the metabolism of bacteria so that they break down harmful chemicals in wastewater or natural gas supplies, won the $10,000 prize this year. Created by George Ye, a Ph.D. candidate in bioengineering, and his teammates Brock Forrest, Raffi Mardirosian, Pierce Schiller, and James Wang, the project currently exists as a theoretical model backed up by laboratory data. The team hopes to build a prototype next and then scale it up, and will work with a local landfill to test it.
The runner-up for the TECH prize was W.I.S.E. Words Magazine, which will receive a $2,500 grant. The magazine, run by Julia Tartaglia ’11 (human evolutionary biology), Amy Tai ’13 (computer science), and Fiona Wood ’13 (computer science), provides articles, advice, videos, and information on job openings to women embarking on careers in science or engineering.
Read more about the projects.