Science & Tech

Deans’ Challenges winners

4 min read

Five student teams awarded total of $220,000 to advance their innovative proposals to improve the world

Focusing on health and life sciences, cultural entrepreneurship, the food system, and innovation in sports, five student-led teams were named winners in the third annual Deans’ Challenges. Each of the four Deans’ Challenges awarded $55,000 to the winning teams and runners-up, for a total of $220,000.

Sponsored by five deans and the director of athletics, and hosted by the Harvard Innovation Lab (i-lab), the challenges give Harvard students and fellows opportunities to create and develop solutions that can make a meaningful impact on people around the world. This year’s event combined the individual challenges to align more strongly with the cross-disciplinary focus of the challenges and the i-lab, and to foster University-wide collaboration around innovation and entrepreneurship.

“The ideas, talents, and passion that the student teams from across the University bring to creating viable solutions have potential for significant global impact,” said Gordon Jones, the i-lab’s Evans Family Foundation managing director. “The i-lab has worked closely with the finalist teams to provide high-quality resources to support their ventures and help them make progress on bringing their ventures from idea to impact. The i-lab values its unique role operating at the intersection of entrepreneurship and innovation for students from across Harvard looking to further develop their ideas.”

The previous challenges expanded to include the launch of this year’s Innovation in Sports Challenge and the Food System Challenge, based on the strong student interest in these areas. The 20 student-led teams participating in this year’s Deans’ Challenges Demo Day were selected from 161 proposals from across 13 Harvard Schools.

“Each year as the Deans’ Challenges continue, we see a growth in participation, representing the desire of our community to have a worldwide impact in pressing areas of need,” said Dean Nitin Nohria of Harvard Business School. “The increased interest across these challenges highlights the boundary-crossing nature of our University, particularly within the student body.”

“I saw firsthand through our Food System Challenge this year how the challenge process ignites imagination, collaboration, and focused excellence, along with excitement and fun,” said Dean Martha Minow of Harvard Law School. Following is a breakdown of the winning teams:

Deans’ Health and Life Sciences Challenge

The Bertarelli Foundation Grand Prize winner of the Deans’ Health and Life Sciences, LuminOva, was awarded $40,000. LuminOva aims to increase in vitro fertilization success rates by monitoring the viability of embryos.

Two student teams were named runners-ups and awarded funding. Canary, a provider of ultra-sensitive point-of-care and home diagnostics, whose first product enables pregnancy detection hours after intercourse, received $10,000. Blue Therapeutics, a venture that is developing painkillers that relieve pain more potently than morphine but are not addictive, was awarded $5,000. Nohria and Dean Jeffrey Flier of Harvard Medical School are co-chairs of this challenge.

Deans’ Cultural Entrepreneurship Challenge

Ivory, a music education app that listens to you play an instrument, and then provides real-time analytics, targeted lessons, and “gamified” elements, was named the winner of the Deans’ Cultural Entrepreneurship Challenge and was awarded $35,000.

Runners-up include PACEE, a platform that connects artists and designers with the public needs and desires to sustain arts and promote arts education, and AREAL, a venue that provides alternate realities for people of all ages to indulge in a lot of fun and a lot of thinking.

The co-chairs for this challenge are Nohria, Dean for the Arts and Humanities of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Diana Sorensen, and the Silkroad Project, a nonprofit arts organization affiliated with Harvard and led by cellist Yo-Yo Ma ’76.

Deans’ Food System Challenge

Two teams were named co-winners of the inaugural Deans’ Food System Challenge, and both were awarded $27,500. The winners are Coolify, a micro-cold-storage solution that improves post-harvest agriculture supply chains and reduces spoilage, and FOCUS Foods, an urban aquaponics farm that will be a self-sustaining, symbiotic fish and produce system serving the Philadelphia community. Minow and Dean Julio Frenk of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health are the co-chairs.

Deans’ Innovations in Sports Challenge

The Deans’ Innovation in Sports Challenge, another first-time contest, named Nix, a real-time, in-field, dehydration biosensor sweat patch as the winner and awarded the team $40,000. EuMotus, a venture that develops innovative biomechanical technologies to help optimize physical fitness and human body performance, was named runner-up and received $15,000. Nohria and Nichols Family Director of Athletics Bob Scalise are co-chairs.