The Deans’ Challenges, along with the President’s Challenge, give Harvard students and fellows an opportunity to create and develop solutions that have meaningful impact for people around the world.

Photos by Evgenia Eliseeva

Campus & Community

Twenty team finalists named in Deans’ Challenges

5 min read

Competitions drew 161 proposals tackling solutions to global issues

Harvard University announced 20 student-led teams today as finalists in four Deans’ Challenges focused on cultural entrepreneurship, health and life sciences, the food system, and innovation in sports.

The competitions drew 161 proposals from across 13 Harvard Schools, each articulating a plan to tackle a pressing issue facing society. Sponsored by five deans and the director of athletics, and hosted by the Harvard Innovation Lab (i-lab), the competitions, along with the President’s Challenge, give Harvard students and fellows an opportunity to create and develop solutions that have meaningful impact for people around the world.

In its third year, the Health and Life Sciences Challenge, co-chaired by Dean Nitin Nohria of Harvard Business School and Dean Jeffrey Flier of Harvard Medical School, provides an opportunity for inventors and entrepreneurs to evaluate how different technologies can be applied to address issues in health and its delivery and be built into sustainable ventures.

The Cultural Entrepreneurship Challenge was created to support and engender an entrepreneurial spirit in students to develop venture-based solutions that provide the organizational infrastructure necessary for artists and the arts to thrive. This is the third year of this challenge, with support being driven by the competition’s co-chairs — Nohria, Diana Sorensen, dean for the arts and humanities of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and the Silkroad Project, a nonprofit arts organization affiliated with Harvard and led by cellist Yo-Yo Ma ’76.

The Food System Challenge and the Innovation in Sports Challenge, created this year to bolster student activity in untapped entrepreneurial communities at Harvard University, generated 79 applications.

“The four Deans’ Challenges tackle different arenas of innovation in which our students show growing interest; they serve as great complements to the President’s Challenge,” said Nohria. “The robust participation in all the challenges from around Harvard reflects not only deepening cross-disciplinary engagement within the University, but also our community’s collective desire to create lasting impact in the world.”

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, to wearable technologies that monitor hydration levels, to new pain-killing drug candidates that are not addictive, the applications presented myriad solutions to societal issues.

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

Health and Life Sciences
Blue Therapeutics is developing painkillers that are more potent than morphine at relieving pain but are not addictive.

Canary provides ultra-sensitive point-of-care and home diagnostics with its first product enabling pregnancy detection hours after intercourse.

FLEEThealth is creating an interoperable application programming interface (API) for medical data to bring health care into the Internet age.

LuminOva aims to increase in vitro fertilization success rates by monitoring the viability of embryos.

Poly6 Biotechnologies is creating a new biomaterial to be used in local drug delivery to treat inoperable tumors.

Cultural Entrepreneurship
AREAL is a venue that provides alternate realities for people of all ages to indulge in a lot of fun and a lot of thinking.

Ivory is a music education app that listens to you play an instrument, and then provides real-time analytics, targeted lessons, and “gamified” elements.

Karv is much like Flattr plus Pocket plus Spotify. Users subscribe to support content producers and get access to high-quality content.

PACEE is a platform that connects artists and designers with the public needs and desires to sustain arts and promote arts education.

TOTO Express is a platform that supports the livelihoods of India’s rural artisans through intensive design training, working capital, and market linkage.

Food System
BioFarMarket will bridge the existing distribution gap between organic farmers and consumers in Central and Eastern Europe and beyond.

Coolify is a micro-cold storage solution that improves post-harvest agriculture supply chains and reduces spoilage.

FOCUS Foods is an urban aquaponics farm that will be a self-sustaining symbiotic fish and produce system serving the local Philadelphia community.

Icebox is a system of modular networked cold storage for healthy, sustainable food distribution.

Waste to Feast repurposes commercial leftovers to feed homeless children and families.

Innovation in Sports
BairSKIN is an oxygen- and CO2-embedded wet suit that provides a surfer with protection against drowning.

EuMotus develops innovative biomechanical technologies in the pursuit of optimizing physical fitness and human body performance.

GritQ increases grit, willpower, and resilience in students by leveraging sports techniques and mindsets to reduce school dropout rates.

Nix Inc. is a real-time, in-field dehydration biosensor sweat patch.

Scheduling AD is a Web-based platform for generating, executing, and managing college sports contracts between teams.

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 Day in April, when the deans co-chairing each challenge will announce the winners and award a $50,000 purse for each challenge.

“The 20 finalist teams from across the four Deans’ Challenges are a reflection of the breadth of talent and ideas being developed around the University,” i-lab’s Evans Family Foundation Managing Director Gordon Jones said. “We are excited to have the sponsorship of deans from five of Harvard’s Schools plus the director of athletics, which highlights the cross-disciplinary nature of these challenges.

“We look forward to supporting this year’s finalists as they continue to build on their innovative proposals and prepare for Demo Day, and we welcome all participating teams to continue utilizing the i-lab in developing their ideas,” Jones added.