Hosted by the Harvard Innovation Lab, the deans’ innovation competitions, along with the President’s Challenge, give Harvard undergraduates, postdoctoral students, and clinical fellows an opportunity to create and develop solutions that have meaningful impact for people around the world.

Photo courtesy of the Harvard i-lab

Campus & Community

Meeting the challenges

6 min read

Deans name 18 student teams as finalists in three annual innovation challenges

Harvard University announced 18 student-led teams today as finalists in three deans’ innovation competitions focused on cultural entrepreneurship, health and life sciences, and urban design.

Sponsored by the Office of the President and the Provost, the competitions drew 124 proposals from across 12 schools, each articulating a plan to tackle a pressing issue facing society. Hosted by the Harvard Innovation Lab (i-lab), the competitions, along with the President’s Challenge, give Harvard undergraduates, postdoctoral students, and clinical fellows an opportunity to create and develop solutions that have meaningful impact for people around the world.

This is the second year the i-lab has hosted the deans’ challenges. The Cultural Entrepreneurship Challenge was created to bolster student activity in the nascent discipline.  It was first run last year, offering resources from the competition’s co-chairs, Dean Nitin Nohria of Harvard Business School, Dean Diana Sorensen of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and the Silk Road Project, a nonprofit arts organization affiliated with Harvard and led by cellist Yo-Yo Ma ’76.

The Health & Life Sciences Challenge, co-chaired by Nohria and Dean Jeffrey Flier of Harvard Medical School, also held last year, was designed to support the development, validation, and execution of innovative health solutions.

Their success last year spurred the addition this year of the Design Challenge, which prompts students to reimagine urban life in the future by developing ideas that address issues arising from population growth.

“With urban populations expected to grow by more than 50 percent in the next 20 years, now is the time to start designing solutions to existing problems that will continue to improve quality of life over the years. Safety, food, water, waste, and transportation are among many pressing issues that we expect our students to address for the future,” explained Mohsen Mostafavi, dean of the Graduate School of Design and co-chair of the Design Challenge.

“There is no better place than right here at Harvard to start developing the solutions to these problems,” added Cherry A. Murray, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and co-chair of the Design Challenge. “Tackling big, systemic challenges requires both technical expertise and an understanding of cultural and societal contexts. I’m excited to see how our students will apply their knowledge and creativity to propose new ideas for improving the lives of urban dwellers.”

For each challenge, the i-lab hosted a number of workshops and networking events to help students learn about the topics, dive deeper into understanding entrepreneurship, structure their ideas, meet like-minded students, and find potential team members.

From platforms that help artists tell their stories through images and music, to urban insect farming to create an alternative source of protein, to creating medical devices that lower costs and improve patient care, the applications presented myriad solutions to societal issues.

Drawing from the expertise and experience of entrepreneurs, industry experts, faculty, and investors, the judges for each contest reviewed dozens of applications to determine finalists.  The finalists are:

Health and Life Sciences

Aldatu Biosciences is working to improve access to effective HIV patient care worldwide through innovative and affordable diagnostic tools.

Disease Diagnostic Group is creating a handheld device that provides an accurate malaria diagnosis in less than 60 seconds from a finger prick at a tenth of the cost of other methods.

FlowLight is a building a device that provides real-time, continuous measurement of blood flow for post-surgical monitoring for lower costs and improved patient care.

Platelet BioGenesis is developing technology to produce the first donor-independent human platelets from human-induced pluripotent stem cells.

Recon Therapeutics is offering a low-cost, easy-to-use, “one-stop shop” for drugs requiring reconstitution.

Voxel 8 is using proprietary functional inks and 3-D printing technology to lower manufacturing costs and increase the functionality of hearing aids for the aging.

Cultural Entrepreneurship

Gapelia is a long-form publishing platform that lets storytellers — journalists, artists, scientists, scholars, and innovators — create their own digital publications and connect directly with paying subscribers.

Iconic Energy Consulting transforms renewable energy projects into cultural icons, creating a public dialogue through art and civic engagement.

PIVOT (Palestine Israel Visual Optimization Tool) is an interactive mobile application that reveals to users images, videos, and information based on a specific location in a specific time period within modern and ancient Palestinian history.

SPOUTS of Water aims to create a sustainable workspace for Ugandan potters to carry on the long tradition of making pottery in Uganda, and be part of a mission to increase access to clean water by sustainably producing and supplying effective and affordable ceramic water filters.

Worldi is a local discovery interface that helps urbanites explore music and dance from around the world.

YapZap lets people record, share, and play up to 10 seconds of audio and create a mosaic of conversation on any topic (gallery, song, plays, television).

Design: Urban Life 2030

CAPA seeks to be the global leader in innovative building components and sustainable materials in the developing world.

Carewrite is a mobile website that works to empower individuals to better coordinate the healthcare of loved ones.

Cloudcommuting creates the first bike-sharing service that would replace trucks and employees with paid users who would redistribute bikes as needed.

MateriaLEASE offers temporary ownership of building components to help young ventures create better workspaces, while protecting the environment.

Shipster is a mobile platform that connects deliveries with people heading in similar directions, saving up to 60 percent on shipping costs and providing a more sustainable alternative to current delivery services.

Six Foods uses urban insect farming as an alternative source of protein to soy, whey, and eventually livestock.

The finalists will join the Harvard i-lab’s Venture Incubation Program for the spring semester. They will be matched with mentors and receive $5,000 to support continued refinement and development of their projects before they present their ideas at “Demo Days” in May, when the deans co-chairing each challenge will announce the winners, and award a $50,000 purse for each challenge.

“The 18 finalist teams from across the three Deans’ Challenges are a reflection of the breadth of talent and ideas being developed around the University,” i-lab managing director Gordon Jones said. “As with past years, we are excited to see so many high-quality applications proposing innovative solutions to this year’s challenge areas. We are excited to work with and support this year’s finalists as they continue to build on their ideas and prepare for the ‘Demo Days.’ ”