Laura Kelley holding a Hi sign.

Finalist Laura Kelley, M.B.A. ’19, representing Aikili Biosystems, an alumni-led venture.

Photos by Dan Pinnolis

Campus & Community

The best from the brightest

4 min read

President’s Innovation Challenge shows off Harvard community’s good ideas

Making public transportation more accessible to commuters across Africa, enabling children to break cycles of intergenerational poverty, and using technology to design zero-waste apparel are just a few of the 25 venture initiatives that will be showcased in the 2021 President’s Innovation Challenge Virtual Awards Ceremony.

Now in its 10th year, the President’s Innovation Challenge is a competition designed to bring the Harvard community together to work on solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems. Winning teams will receive a share of $510,000 in prizes from the Bertarelli Foundation, co-founded by Ernesto Bertarelli, M.B.A. ’93.

“Though circumstances have kept most of us apart for much of the year, I have never been prouder of our community,” said Harvard University President Larry Bacow. “Our students and our alumni have surmounted tremendous obstacles to work with one another and to collaborate and innovate together. The ventures highlighted in the President’s Innovation Challenge are turning extraordinary ideas into products and services that have great potential to improve people’s lives. I cannot wait to see where they lead — and what they inspire in the years to come.”

On May 5, the President’s Innovation Challenge Virtual Awards Ceremony will feature pitches from the 25 finalists, and live interviews with the winners as they’re announced. Five grand prize winners will receive $75,000; five runners-up will receive prizes of $25,000; and $10,000 “Ingenuity Awards” will go to teams advancing ideas with the potential to be world-changing, even if they are not yet fully formed ventures.

“Over the last year, more students have accessed Harvard Innovation Labs resources than ever before, with over 1,000 ventures engaging in Harvard Innovation Labs programming since we went virtual in March 2020,” said Matt Segneri, Bruce and Bridgitt Evans Executive Director of the Harvard Innovation Labs. “While our 25 finalists tackle a broad range of challenges, they all show incredible potential to make a meaningful impact on the world.”

The 25 President’s Innovation Challenge finalists across five tracks are:

Social Impact

GenUnity: A “civic gym” that provides structured, immersive, part-time civic experiences to help adults accelerate grassroots change in communities.

Rhymes with Reason: An e-learning app that helps students learn important English words by showcasing their existence in widely known music lyrics.

Shamiri Institute: A data-driven organization that develops and implements low-cost and low-stigma mental health interventions to help young people in Africa.

The Apprentice Project: Enabling children to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty through 21st-century skill development, exposure, and opportunities.

Thrive!: Helping local governments break cycles of poverty in communities of color and break the systems that create them.

Harvard Business School M.B.A. candidates Florian Schalliol and Nimisha Ganesh, and Jerren Chang, M.B.A. ’21, are the faces behind GenUnity.

GenUnity Group.

Health and Life Sciences

AcousticaBio: Advancing manufacturing for life.

Beacon Bio: Developing PhonoGraft, a novel device for repairing damaged eardrums with decreased procedure times and improved healing and hearing outcomes.

Grow Therapy: Enabling mental health professionals to launch and scale their own in-network teletherapy practice.

Karivez Bio: Developing a platform to enable oral delivery and amplified distribution of therapeutic peptides, proteins, and oligonucleotides.

Salvos Therapeutics: A T-cell therapy company on a mission to harness the immune system to cure cancer.

Open (ideas that transcend categories)

Adventus Robotics: Developing autonomous solutions for hospitals and airports.

Chaku Foods: Making better food for better outcomes.

My Dental Key: An online dental education platform transforming the way students learn dentistry to foster success in class, clinic, and beyond.

Reach AI: Developing an affordable AI-powered microscope for instant diagnosis of infectious diseases, such as malaria, from patients’ smartphones.

Shelly Xu Design: The first fashion-tech startup to make beautiful, accessible, 100 percent zero-waste designs.

Launch Lab X GEO (alumni-led ventures)

Aikili Biosystems: Using a next-generation single-cell analysis platform to develop new protein biomarkers for precision oncology.

Givz: Cost-effectively engaging consumers and driving sales by converting discounts into donations.

Matice Bioscience: Leveraging synthetic biology and nature’s power of regeneration for next-generation skincare.

Readlee: Elevating the power of voice to improve the quality of reading.

Tuverl: An app that seeks to make public transport cheaper and more accessible to millions of commuters across Africa.

Pagliuca Harvard Life Lab

Artus Therapeutics Inc.: Developing first-in-class therapeutics for barrier dysfunction disorders.

BioDevek: A medical device company that seeks to transform the field of surgical and topical adhesive materials.

Concerto Biosciences: Discovering microbial ensembles that benefit people and plants.

Manifold Bio: Building technology that exponentially increases measurement throughput at all stages of drug development.

SanaRx Biotherapeutics: Dedicated to improving the lives of children and adults with orphan diseases of the alimentary track.