Campus & Community

President’s Challenge finalists announced

4 min read

10 teams given seed capital, support for quest to win entrepreneurial award

Ten early stage, student-led teams were announced today as finalists in the third President’s Challenge at Harvard University, a competition created to foster cross-disciplinary entrepreneurial ventures that will have profound social impact.

“Among the great benefits of being part of the Harvard community is the opportunity to exchange and develop ideas with creative and passionate individuals. This year’s finalist teams represent the strengths that exist across the University and the capacity to draw on them to develop solutions to challenging problems,” President Drew Faust said. “I look forward to seeing how the teams’ ideas evolve over the next six weeks and to attending ‘Demo Day’ to learn about their work.”

A panel of judges evaluated 133 applications from 12 of Harvard’s Schools. The ideas ran the gamut from a platform that increases access to oral care by virtual consultations to a sustainably sourced coffee company that aspires to bring jobs and revenue to Yemen’s flagging economy.

Faust launched the challenge three years ago to encourage and support students who were eager to engage in entrepreneurial action while continuing their studies. Of the eight winners and runners-up from the past two years, six teams have continued on, raising almost $6 million in post-challenge funding.

As in past years, the focus of the teams varies broadly across the health, education, and environmental sectors. This year the challenge adds new categories for government and economic development and sustainable employment.  The entries were judged by an expert committee co-chaired by Provost Alan M. Garber and Professor William Sahlman.

“The caliber of the entries was as impressive as the breadth of ideas. These teams brought imagination and a range of expertise to bridge the divide between deeply entrenched social problems and novel technologies or business models,” said Garber on behalf of the judging committee.

The finalist teams are:

  • Anamiv, a Healthier World is a sustainable mobile health model that will enable frontline health workers to identify, manage, and monitor the health status of large patient populations in India or other resource-restrained locations with strong telecommunication networks.
  • Elementa harnesses solar power in a cost-effective thermo-electric process to bring energy to the world’s most underserved populations.
  • eLab uses low-cost technology to provide high-potential youths around the world with access to a curated entrepreneurship education program.
  • Giant Otter Technologies accurately assesses users’ social behavior from their interactions with human-like 3-D simulated characters and minimizes the stressors of bullying and other conflicts by helping users relate to others in their scholastic or professional settings.
  • Mokha Origin is importing coffee from Yemen, encouraging growth and stability in the country.
  • One Summit helps children with cancer build courage and self-confidence by partnering them with Navy SEALs as mentors for problem-solving and physical activities, which promotes resilience that will help them in treatment and recovery.
  • OpportunitySpace is a platform that helps communities find the best uses for public land using data and technology tools.
  • Virtudent is a telehealth solution for dentistry, expanding access to oral-health experts and improving the quality of dental care.
  • VACU Scan is a point-of-care, smartphone-based prognostic test for assisting in treatment of diabetic foot ulcers.
  • Sawubona Health will improve adherence to HIV treatment by digitizing patient records in developing countries, allowing health clinics to provide further support to their patients, such as text-message reminders to take medications.

The 10 teams from 10 Schools will spend six weeks on an accelerated path to building their ventures, supported by $5,000 in seed money, insight from expert mentors, and resources the Harvard Innovation Lab has to provide.

On May 8, the teams will participate in a “Demo Day” event, where members of the community can visit an exhibition and hear the founders explain their ventures and progress.  At the event, Faust will announce the judging committee’s decision, naming one grand-prize winner and up to three runners-up to take home shares of the $100,000 grand-prize purse.

The President’s Challenge is one of four hosted by the i-lab.  The Deans’ Challenges for Health & Life Sciences, Cultural Entrepreneurship, and Design seek applications in more narrowly defined areas, awarding a grand prize purse of $50,000 each to their winners. Six finalists for each of those challenges will be announced later this spring.

“At its core, the i-lab challenges are more of a launch pad than a competition, since we think every one of these teams exhibits potential to bring substantial impact in the markets they target,” said Gordon Jones, managing director of the i-lab. “We see teams from many disciplines. But no matter their focus, we’ll be bringing resources from across Harvard to help these teams go further, faster. And we are excited to see what they can do.”