Larry Bacow at livestream event.

University President Larry Bacow giving his live remarks during the virtual ceremony.

Photo courtesy of Harvard Innovation Labs

Campus & Community

13 ventures receive top prizes in President’s Innovation Challenge

4 min read

Winners of the 10th annual challenge awarded $510,000 from Bertarelli Foundation

Developing new ways to treat chronic diseases, creating an equity-focused approach to local government budgeting, and using blockchain technology to provide unbanked populations with financial services were three of the ventures awarded top prizes in the 10th Annual Harvard President’s Innovation Challenge (PIC).

“Thank you for your creativity and your commitment, both to great ideas and to one another… Thank you for transforming flashes of inspiration and ingenuity into something that’s real and tangible and concrete,” said Harvard University President Larry Bacow during his live remarks. 

He added, “This year has underscored the power of knowledge to save lives, to save communities, and… to help lead us into what we hope will be a more normal future. I think the role of research universities around the world has never been more important. We empower people to pursue their interests, wherever those interests might lead, and we encourage people to tackle difficult and challenging problems, in some cases with just the kernel of an idea.” 

During the PIC Virtual Awards Ceremony, ventures founded by Harvard students and alumni pitched their solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems. During the one-hour live-streamed event presented by the Harvard Innovation Labs, finalists showcased their work, and winning ventures received Bertarelli Foundation prizes across five tracks: Social Impact; Health and Life Sciences; Open (for ideas that transcend categories); Launch Lab X GEO for eligible alumni-led ventures, and Life Lab for high-potential biotech and life sciences ventures currently in residence at the Pagliuca Harvard Life Lab.

A video of Concerto Biosciences founder Adil Bahalim pitching his project is projected onto the Pagliuca Harvard Life Lab.

Photo by Oscar Alvarez

Adil Bahalim.

This year’s five grand-prize winners, which each received $75,000, are:

  • The Apprentice Project for developing students in India into future leaders through choice-based learning
  • Chaku Foods for making snacks that are better for people and better for farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa
  •  Karivez Bio for transforming chronic disease treatment through improved drug delivery
  • Matice Biosciences for leveraging nature’s regenerative powers to flawlessly repair skin 
  • Manifold Bio for changing drug discovery into measurement-driven drug design

“This win…allows us to accelerate our growth strategy in the U.S., and get to market sooner. I feel so honored to have pitched and to have had this experience,” said Nikki Okrah, founder and CEO of Chaku Foods, after receiving the grand prize award in the Open Track. Okrah is an MBA candidate at the Harvard Business School.

Chaku Foods founder Nikki Okrah speaks after winning the Open Track grand prize.

Photo courtesy of Harvard Innovation Labs

Nikki Okrah.

The five winners of $25,000 are:

  •  Beacon Bio for improving hearing and healing by restoring eardrums with regenerative grafts
  • My Dental Key for advancing dental education via comprehensive, expert-verified dental education technology
  • SanaRx Biotherapeutics for developing live therapeutics to treat diseases of the alimentary tract
  • Thrive! for helping local governments budget for equity and root out racism
  • Tuverl for making public transportation more accessible for commuters in African countries

The President’s Innovation Challenge also awarded $10,000 as part of the Ingenuity Awards, for early-stage ventures with the potential to be world-changing. This year’s Ingenuity Award grand prize winner is CshFlow for using blockchain to provide financial services to the unbanked. The two runners-up are Morphology for developing smart, robotic lighting that adjusts to people’s needs, and ChalkEd for harnessing data to make online classes engaging and equitable for every student.

“At the Harvard Innovation Labs, we’re in service to our students so they can be in service to society,” said Matt Segneri, Bruce and Bridgitt Evans Executive Director of the Harvard Innovation Labs. “We’re lifting them up, so they can lift others up… Tonight is the culmination of semesters, sometimes years, of study and hard work. Seeing their visions for the future helps us envision new futures we want, as well.” 

The President’s Innovation Challenge prizes are 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.

To learn more about the President’s Innovation Challenge finalists and winners, visit