Klarman Hall full for President's Innovation Challenge.

Attendees from around the world gathered at Klarman Hall for the President’s Innovation Challenge, which featured an immersive audio visual display.

Photos by Oscar Alvarez

Campus & Community

Celebrating cross-University innovation

5 min read

Harvard President’s Innovation Challenge awards $515,000 to winning ventures

Restoring vision for blind patients, using AI to generate visual assets for creative teams, and providing mentorship and scholarships to minority students pursuing medical degrees, were three of the winning startup initiatives recognized during the Harvard President’s Innovation Challenge Awards Ceremony.

“One of the things that is really wonderful … is the ingenuity, the creativity, the collegiality that brings you all together,” said Harvard University President Larry Bacow. “It’s really impressive, and it furthers so many interesting, good causes and opportunities, to make the world a better place. This is actually … a big part of Harvard’s mission, and I think you embody that very well.”

More than 2,000 people watched the President’s Innovation Challenge Awards Ceremony on May 3, which drew attendees at Klarman Hall and a virtual audience from around the globe for a dazzling display of creativity and entrepreneurship. During the event, ventures founded by Harvard students, alumni, and affiliates showcased a broad range of projects, from climate solutions and novel uses of AI to emerging brain therapies and hair-braiding automation.

The President’s Innovation Challenge is open to students and alumni from any and all 13 Harvard Schools, encouraging cross-disciplinary collaboration. Winning ventures receive a share of $515,000 in Bertarelli Foundation prizes, and six of this year’s winning ventures have founding members from two or more Harvard schools.

Winners onstage.
President Larry Bacow (far left) and Harvard Innovation Labs Executive Director Matt Segneri (far right) greet the winners of the President’s Innovation Challenge Ingenuity Award.

The $75,000 award recipients

  • InConfidence (Harvard Medical School): Treating urinary incontinence and overactive bladder with smart patch technology.
  • InGel Therapeutics (Harvard Business School and Harvard Medical School): Leveraging stem cell and tissue engineering to rescue and restore vision for blind patients.
  • Patient First.AI (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health): Creating a digital health card to address all of a patient’s healthcare needs.
  • Penguin.ai (Harvard Business School and Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Science): Helping creative and marketing teams create visual assets, such as images and videos, using generative AI models.
  • RockFix (Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School): Using rock mineralization to decarbonize the mining industry and increase operational safety.

“This award can help us scale to around 100,000 patients over the next year and a half,” said Fiza Shaukat, founder of Patient First.AI. I’m really excited for the impact we can create with this. Thank you.”

The $25,000 winners

  • Aperture Bio (Harvard Business School and Harvard Medical School): Commercializing an analysis technology for serial tumor immunoprofiling.
  • BonePixel (Harvard Medical School): Building a fully-automated, AI-powered platform to assess hip pathology in 3D, using routinely collected clinical data.
  • Melanin Doc (Harvard Business School, Harvard Medical School, and the Harvard Kenneth C. Griffin Graduate School of Arts and Sciences): Supporting minority students interested in medicine with scholarships and mentorship opportunities.
  • Stochastic (Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences): Creating an enterprise platform for businesses to build, customize, and control their own AI.
  • Thermaband (Harvard Law School): Making a smart bracelet that provides cooling relief and health insights to menopausal women.

Additionally, the President’s Innovation Challenge awards $15,000 in Ingenuity Award prizes to teams advancing ideas with the potential to be world-changing, even if they are not yet fully formed ventures.

Ingenuity Award winners

  • Halo Braid (Harvard Business School and Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences): Reducing hair-braiding from six hours to just 60 minutes through automation.
  • Pacto Medical (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health): Creating a compact, resource-saving design for prefilled syringes.
  • S.A.L.Tech (Harvard Graduate School of Design): Producing seaweed fabrics to help decarbonize the fashion industry.
  • Webquity (Harvard Graduate School of Education): Providing visually impaired students with equitable access to online learning.

“Tonight truly is our best night of the year because we get to shine a light on our amazing teams,” said Matt Segneri, Bruce and Bridgitt Evans Executive Director of the Harvard Innovation Labs. “We’ve worked with 4,000-plus ventures. They span dozens of industries and create change in the private, public and nonprofit sectors.”

The President’s Innovation Challenge prizes are funded by the Bertarelli Foundation, which announced the President’s Innovation Challenge Fund in 2017. This gift extends the Bertarelli Foundation’s support of innovation and entrepreneurship at Harvard, which began in 2013 when the foundation funded the Deans’ Health and Life Sciences Challenge.

“From small startups to large corporations, entrepreneurs are the visionaries who shape the future and drive change in the world,” said Ernesto Bertarelli, M.B.A. ’93. “They are the ones who disrupt traditional industries, challenge the status quo, and find solutions to complex problems — that is why I look forward to seeing who has entered the President’s Innovation Challenge each year. Every competition surpasses my expectations and 2023 is no exception.”

To learn more about the President’s Innovation Challenge finalists and winners, and watch a recording of the May 3 awards ceremony, visit the website.