Hosted by the Harvard Innovation Lab and sponsored by 13 deans from the University’s Schools, the Deans’ Cultural Entrepreneurship Challenge and the Deans’ Health and Life Sciences Challenge will call on undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral candidates across the University to tackle social issues head-on.

Campus & Community

Deans announce new challenge

6 min read

Cultural entrepreneurship and health and life sciences to be tackled

Thirteen deans from Schools across Harvard today announced $150,000 in new entrepreneurship challenges, expanding Harvard support for student innovation and cross-School collaborations with broad social and cultural impact.

Sponsored by the deans and hosted by the Harvard Innovation Lab, the Deans’ Cultural Entrepreneurship Challenge and the Deans’ Health and Life Sciences Challenge call on undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral candidates across the University to tackle social issues head-on. Students are encouraged to build cross-disciplinary teams and apply their diverse interests, knowledge, and expertise as they create innovative solutions to challenges in the fields of culture and health.

“The President’s Challenge has demonstrated how faculty and students from throughout the University can apply their creative energies to address pressing societal problems,” said Provost Alan M. Garber. “These two new challenges sponsored by the deans will build upon that experience. They will show how the same entrepreneurial spirit can be brought to bear on cultural imperatives and seemingly intractable problems in the life sciences.”

Both challenges, supported by friends and alumni of Harvard, offer a grand prize of $75,000 to be awarded to the winner and selected runners-up to support their projects. Finalist teams selected in March and April will also receive financial support to further their projects before the Demo Day, where they will showcase their work. Winners and runners-up will be selected in May.

“I am proud to join the deans of Harvard in ushering in these new opportunities for students to get experience in making a real-world impact while applying the concepts they are learning in Harvard classrooms,” said Nitin Nohria, dean of Harvard Business School. “I’ve no doubt that these aspiring future leaders will develop unique solutions to take on social issues in these two very important sectors, the arts and health care.”

The challenges build on the President’s Challenge for social entrepreneurship launched last year by President Drew Faust. It was Harvard’s first call to action to all University students and postdoctoral fellows interested in developing entrepreneurial solutions to the world’s most important social problems. The second President’s Challenge, launched this fall, expanded the topics of engagement and introduced a new category, the arts, encouraging students to explore how the arts could be used to address social problems in the world.

The Deans’ Cultural Entrepreneurship Challenge
The Deans’ Cultural Entrepreneurship Challenge focuses on support for cultural ventures and innovative partnerships between artists and entrepreneurs. With public and private funding declining for the arts, the challenge encourages student groups to embrace cultural entrepreneurship by establishing organizations that create and maintain the infrastructure necessary for arts and artists to survive and thrive. Students will develop solutions for expanding the role of the arts in society and supporting arts and artists in a sustainable manner.

“The arts enrich our lives individually and collectively,” said co-chair Diana Sorensen, dean of arts and humanities and James F. Rothenberg Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and of Comparative Literature. “I celebrate this partnership with the Harvard Business School because it will allow us to imagine new ways to support lives in the arts.”

Developed in partnership with Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Project, the challenge is backed by a multifaceted partnership that makes the most of the extraordinary talent, ambition, and passion on Harvard’s campus and outside to promote cultural enterprises that will address the problem of declining funding and limited career opportunities in the realms of art and culture.

The challenge draws on the combined expertise of the Harvard Business School, the Division of Arts and Humanities in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and the Silk Road Project, Ma’s nonprofit arts organization affiliated with Harvard University. The Silk Road Project collaborates with leaders in the cultural, academic, and business sectors to promote the work of cultural entrepreneurs who seek to create an impact beyond the traditional boundaries of their art forms.

Ma and his traveling Silk Road Ensemble will make an appearance at the official launch of the Deans’ Cultural Entrepreneurship Challenge on Dec. 6 at the i-lab.

The Deans’ Health and Life Sciences Challenge
The Deans’ Health and Life Sciences Challenge recognizes that the delivery of affordable health to the global population is one of the world’s most pressing problems. The challenge calls upon students who are concerned about global health and interested in translating their ideas into action.

The challenge is encouraging students to develop innovative and entrepreneurial solutions by advancing new cures and therapies, changing behaviors, developing new ways to apply information technology, engineering and computer science, and designing new health care systems to deliver affordable health.

Four focus areas for the challenge are redesign of health delivery; changing behavior; computation and data analysis in therapy discovery, personalized medicine, and public health; and stem cell biology and regenerative medicine.

The challenge draws upon health care expertise from each of the Harvard Schools. “Access to and the delivery of affordable health is a global issue. To make progress, we must work together across boundaries, bringing together people, ideas, disciplines, and perspectives from throughout the world,” said Jeffrey S. Flier, dean of the faculty of medicine. “Harvard is optimally positioned to address this challenge through the creation of cross-disciplinary teams of students who embody an entrepreneurial spirit.”

“The Deans’ Challenges are designed to showcase the innovative ideas and creative output of students across Harvard to make meaningful impact,” said Julio Frenk, dean of Harvard School of Public Health. “The challenges are an important opportunity for students to tackle the pressing issue of making health care affordable, accessible, and acceptable to all.”

The Deans’ Health and Life Sciences Challenge will kick off on Dec. 11 with a talk at the i-lab by Richard Lee of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

“These Deans’ Challenges offer more support and invaluable entrepreneurial experiences for students and build on the momentum of innovation at Harvard,” said Gordon Jones, managing director of the i-lab. “This is a unique opportunity for students to test entrepreneurship in a supportive environment while bringing meaningful contributions to society.”

For more information, visit the i-lab website.