Social Innovation Challenge

Grants for Harvard student entrepreneurs

President Drew Faust today announced a President’s Challenge to encourage student social entrepreneurs.  According to her e-mail message to the community, Provost Alan Garber and a panel of faculty experts (not yet announced) will later this month identify five important social challenges; the faculty panel, according to a separate news release, will be invited by Faust and organized by Garber and William Sahlman, D’Arbeloff-M.B.A. Class of 1955 professor of business administration and senior associate dean for external relations at Harvard Business School (HBS). Sahlman has long been a leader in the school’s entrepreneurial management unit.

As described in the challenge rules, the competition, hosted by Harvard Innovation Lab, invites teams led principally by Harvard undergraduate or graduate students to make proposals by March 19. On April 2, 10 teams (two for each of the global issues) will receive $5,000 awards to develop their ideas, and will be able to make use of mentors and space at the i-lab. After submissions and presentations on May 16-17, a winner and three runners-up will share $100,000 to further develop their ideas.

Further details on the program await the announcement of the faculty panel and their selection of the social challenges the entrepreneurs are expected to address—presumably at a February 22 kickoff event.

The effort is part of increased University support for student entrepreneurs, by means of not only the i-lab itself, but also through curricular developments such as an HBS-created course aimed squarely at undergraduates: United States and the World 36, Innovation and Entrepreneurship: American Experience in Comparative Perspective, held on the HBS campus and co-led by Mihir A. Desai, Mizuho Financial Group professor of finance, and Joseph B. Lassiter, M.B.A. Class of 1954 professor of management practice and faculty chair of the Lab. (See “‘Hi’ to the Innovation Lab” for much more extensive background on these and other entrepreneurship-focused programs across Harvard.) Two hundred students applied for the 95 slots in the class this past fall; those who were enrolled experienced HBS case-style teaching, guest lectures by faculty members from other schools involved in innovation in education and other areas, and a field-based innovation project of their own—a possible prelude, for some of them, to the new social entrepreneurship challenge.

Read the University news announcement here. President Faust’s message read, in part:

The world’s most pressing problems heed no borders, and to better address them we need to work across boundaries to formulate solutions. I can think of no place better prepared to take on such challenges than Harvard.

Today, I write to you to announce the launch of the President’s Challenge, which, in conjunction with the Harvard Innovation Lab, will encourage students from across the University to find entrepreneurial solutions to pressing social problems. By leveraging the resources available at the i-lab—from programs to mentors—the Challenge will give students concerned about global issues an opportunity to translate ideas into action.

The highlights of the program include a panel of renowned Harvard faculty, co-chaired by Provost Alan Garber, charged with identifying five areas of focus for this year’s Challenge; networking events; the selection of ten finalist teams (with awards of $5,000 each to help them develop their ideas); a “Demo Day,” and, just before Commencement, the selection of a grand prize winner and up to three runners-up.  These teams will share a $100,000 prize to help them make their plans a reality.  The grand prize team also will be awarded work space in the i-lab.…

I believe that the Challenge will spur new ideas and new ways of enabling those ideas to reach the wider world.  I am excited to follow the progress of the initiative, and I encourage you to get involved.




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