This year’s ninth annual President’s Innovation Challenge (PIC) Awards ceremony on Thursday marked three significant milestones for the event: the first virtual celebration of the finalists and winners; the largest number of attendees; and the biggest prize pool.
“Since the pandemic began, I’ve been asked one question over and over again by our students, our faculty, and our staff; by our alumni, and friends all over the world, ‘How can I help?’” said President Larry Bacow in his introductory remarks.
He added, “It’s a question you’ve been asking since the President’s Innovation Challenge kicked off this fall, and you’ve answered it in ways that continue to inspire and uplift me … This year is far different than any of us wanted it to be, but it has underscored the power of knowledge to save lives, to save communities, and let’s face it, to save our future.”
Thousands of people tuned in for the PIC Virtual Awards Ceremony to see ventures founded by Harvard students and alumni showcase their solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems across industries. During the one-hour livestreamed event presented by the Harvard Innovation Labs, 25 finalists showcased their work, and 10 ventures received $500,000 in Bertarelli Foundation prizes across five tracks: Social Impact or Cultural Enterprise; Health and Life Sciences; Open, which transcend categories; Launch Lab X for eligible alumni-led ventures, and Life Lab for high-potential biotech and life sciences ventures accepted into the Pagliuca Harvard Life Lab.
This year’s grand-prize winners, each receiving $75,000, are Umbulizer for building a reliable and low-cost device that can provide continuous ventilation to patients; Coding it Forward for empowering the next generation of technology leaders to create social change; Fractal for developing a solution for streaming Windows 10 desktops to macOS or Windows devices; Vincere Health for using real-time incentives and behavioral nudges to motivate people to live healthier lives; and Tectonic Therapeutic for transforming the discovery of novel drugs addressing targets in the G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCR) family.
“The world needs ventilators now more than ever, and this award will directly fund the production of additional devices that we can then deliver to patients in need,” said Sanchay Gupta, chief medical officer and co-founder of Umbulizer, after receiving the grand prize award in the Health and Life Sciences track. Gupta is an M.D./M.B.A. candidate at Harvard Medical School and Harvard Business School.
The four runners-up, who each received $25,000, were Concerto Biosciences for discovering functional microbial communities for human therapeutics using a patented screening platform; Tang for its international mobile payment app that makes paying and sending money easier; Change The Tune: The Studio for providing impactful learning opportunities for young people and innovators; OZÉ for its platform connecting small business owners in Africa to data, cash, clients, and each other; and Day Zero Diagnostics for combining genome sequencing and machine learning to modernize infectious disease diagnosis and treatment.
The President’s Innovation Challenge also awarded $10,000 as part of the Ingenuity Awards, for ideas with the potential to be world-changing, even if they are not yet fully formed ventures. This year’s Ingenuity Grand Prize winner was Foresight for empowering people with vision impairments with a novel wearable navigation device using soft actuators and computer vision. The two runners-up were 1,000 More for facilitating crowd-funding lobbying efforts so that average Americans have access to that part of our democracy; and Datacule for developing molecular data storage technology.
“I am so proud to be a part of this diverse and incredibly talented Harvard Innovation Labs community,” said Matt Segneri, Bruce and Bridgitt Evans Executive Director of the Harvard Innovation Labs. “This year is our ninth year hosting the PIC and over 1,500 teams have now passed through this community that we are building together. We are excited to be a hub that connects, supports, and inspires students and alumni across all Harvard schools, and we are dedicated to nurturing the endless curiosity of these entrepreneurs and innovators.”
The President’s Innovation Challenge prizes are exclusively funded by the Bertarelli Foundation, which announced the President’s Innovation Challenge Fund in October 2017 to fund the competition for the next five years. This gift extends the Bertarelli Foundation’s support of student-led ventures at Harvard, which began in 2013 when the Foundation funded the Deans’ Health and Life Sciences Challenge at the Harvard i-lab.
To watch the President’s Innovation Challenge Virtual Awards Ceremony and learn more about the winners, visit https://pic2020.innovationlabs.harvard.edu/.