President Drew Faust today launched the 2013 President’s Challenge, inviting Harvard students and postdoctoral candidates to create entrepreneurial solutions to pressing societal problems and introducing a new category, the arts.
The President’s Challenge was created last year in conjunction with the Harvard Innovation Lab (i-lab) to encourage students from across the University to find important high-impact solutions to the world’s most pressing social problems and to provide support and guidance as student teams develop their projects. In its second year, the challenge is offering a broader set of topics — learning, energy and environment, health, disaster preparation and relief, and the arts — to which student teams can apply their minds, diverse passions, and creativity in developing project proposals.
“Harvard is a place of extraordinary creativity. The knowledge created in our classrooms and laboratories sparks ideas that generate innovative solutions with real-world impact,” Faust said. “The second President’s Challenge broadens the opportunity for all students and postdoctoral candidates to apply their passion and creative ideas toward meaningful contributions to society around them.”
Selected by the provost and deans, who will administer the challenge through the i-lab, the topic areas provide opportunities for students to harness their interests as they develop projects. Students can develop a range of projects — anything from new products, distribution channels, or business strategies, to new ventures in the arts that can contribute to the lives of individuals and communities — and will have four months to advance their ideas.
“Last year’s challenge revealed that our students are eager to apply what they are learning at Harvard to the world’s most pressing problems,” said Provost Alan M. Garber, a co-chair of the judging committee. “This year, we expect to see an even wider range of creative, ambitious proposals bubbling up from classrooms and research labs across the campus.”
Last year, 170 student teams submitted project proposals to the President’s Challenge. Vaxess Technologies, a Cambridge-based company founded by students from across Harvard, was selected as the grand prize winner, receiving $70,000 last spring to support a plan to commercialize new technology that uses silk to stabilize routine vaccines and eliminate the need for refrigeration in transport and delivery. In addition to the Vaxess team, the student-led teams that received $10,000 as runners-up in the competition included SPOUTS of Water, which proposed creating a self-sustaining ceramic water filter factory in Uganda; Revolving Fund Pharmacy, which tackled issues involving delivery of lifesaving medications in western Kenya; and School Yourself, which develops interactive electronic textbooks in math and science.
The i-lab will host a kickoff event exploring the promise of social entrepreneurship on Oct. 18, featuring David Edwards, Gordon McKay Professor of the Practice of Biomedical Engineering and founder and director of Le Laboratoire in Paris, whose work spans the arts and sciences.
The i-lab will support participants throughout the challenge, equipping them with the skills and guidance needed to take on their projects. Mentoring and networking activities are planned through the fall, leading to the submission of project proposals from the student teams by February.
A panel of Harvard faculty and alumni organized by judging committee co-chairs Garber and William Sahlman, Dimitri V. D’Arbeloff – MBA Class of 1955 Professor of Business Administration, will select 10 finalist teams, which will each receive $5,000 to help develop their ideas in the spring semester and provide expert support and resources that will aid in developing their concepts. The finalists will showcase their progress in a “Demo Day” event in May.
Following Demo Day, just before Commencement, one grand prize winner and up to three runners-up will be announced and awarded a share of a $100,000 total purse. The grand prize winner also will be awarded dedicated workspace in the i-lab, mentoring, and access to expert resources in the i-lab through August.
Gordon Jones, managing director of the i-lab, said: “We help all students take their ideas as far as they can go, and are excited to support students’ personal and professional aspirations — whether those are in a social or artistic domain — in this President’s Challenge. This is a unique opportunity for any Harvard student to make an impact locally or globally, and we want to give them the tools to achieve that.”