Tim Sanchez was among the grand prize winners at the 2015 Deans’ Challenge. This year’s winners will be announced at the conclusion of Demo Day on May 4.

Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva

Campus & Community

Two Deans’ Challenges garner 90 proposals

5 min read

Ten teams named finalists for their novel solutions to pressing issues facing society

Today, Harvard University announced the 10 student-led teams that will be finalists for the Deans’ Cultural Entrepreneurship Challenge and the Deans’ Health and Life Sciences Challenge.

The two competitions drew 90 proposals from across 12 Harvard Schools. Each venture selected novel proposed solutions to pressing issues facing society.

Sponsored by three deans and hosted by the Harvard Innovation Labs — which includes the i-lab and the Harvard Launch Lab — the competitions, along with the President’s Challenge, give Harvard students and fellows a unique opportunity to create and develop solutions that could impact health, the arts, and society for generations.

In its fourth year, the Deans’ Health and Life Sciences Challenge, co-chaired by Dean Nitin Nohria of Harvard Business School and Dean Jeffrey Flier of Harvard Medical School, provides a forum for innovators to develop technologies that can address issues in health and the sciences through ventures that have long-term sustainability.

“For many, this challenge is the first step toward testing and validating their ideas aimed at improving patients’ lives,” Flier said. “My hope is that our students and fellows will continue to exercise this spirit of innovation regardless of the path they take after their time at Harvard.”

The Deans’ Cultural Entrepreneurship Challenge, which is also in its fourth year as a venture competition, aims to support the entrepreneurial spirit in students creating businesses that leverage the arts to shift attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors for the betterment of society. This Cultural Entrepreneurship Challenge is supported 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 arts and culture are central to community life at every level, and with the Deans’ Cultural Entrepreneurship Challenge, students have been charged to source creative ideas and build sustainable organizations based upon artistic practices,” Sorensen said. “This year’s finalists show the breadth and depth of that charge, and I’m excited for where their journeys take them.”

“The Deans’ Challenges provide a platform to spark the great imaginations of people at Harvard and to unlock the full range of possibilities in these fields of innovation,” said Nohria. “Each year, I am amazed by the manifestation of the One Harvard spirit brought forth by the solutions that these cross-disciplinary students present.”

For each challenge, the i-lab hosted workshops and networking events designed to help students learn more about the their specific sectors, gain a better grasp of entrepreneurship, connect with like-minded students, and potentially find new team members.

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

Health and Life Sciences finalists:

Antera produces an all-natural solution formulated to safely reduce infants’ risk of developing peanut allergies.

Buoy creates a simple and safe way to understand symptoms, get answers to questions about illness, and assess possible causes.

Herald makes health care safer by offering clinicians real-time access to clinical data exactly when and how they want it.

Pykus Therapeutics develops a dissolvable intraocular device to make retinal surgery less painful and more successful.

Searna Technologies provides uniquely sensitive and affordable molecular diagnostics for the noninvasive detection of cancer.

Cultural Entrepreneurship finalists:

Docutribe Inc. is a crowdsourced multimedia initiative using film to drive social change for youth globally.

M.A.G.I.C. provides a subscription box — curated by women of color for girls of color — promoting career awareness, career exploration, and positive self-image.

Pilot is a film analytics platform using machine learning for box-office tracking, data visualization, and social-media analysis.

Songshark allows anyone, regardless of musical background or skill, to compose and record complete, rich, well-orchestrated compositions with a few clicks.

tradr is a mobile app to buy, sell, trade, and discover handmade and artistic goods by swiping right and left on a deck of data-driven curated products.

The finalists will join the Harvard Innovation Labs’ Venture Incubation Program for the remainder of the spring semester. They will also be matched with mentors and receive $5,000 to support the continued refinement and development of their projects in preparation for the Challenges’ Demo Day on May 4. At the conclusion of the Demo Day event, the deans co-chairing each challenge will announce the winners and distribute the two $55,000 awards for each category.

“The Deans’ Challenges are a tremendous opportunity for Harvard students to catalyze their ideas in the health and life sciences, and cultural entrepreneurship spaces,” said Jodi Goldstein, the managing director of the Harvard Innovation Labs. “This year’s finalist teams reflect not only the extent of ideas being developed around the University, but also the willingness of Harvard students to take risks and solve big problems in the world.”