A bike-sharing program was one of 25 semifinalist projects on display at the showcase and awards reception of the Harvard College Innovation (I3) Challenge. Photo by Jon Chase, Harvard News Office.
Students participating in the Harvard College Innovation (I3) Challenge this year generated dozens of promising ideas to improve the quality of everyday life. For some teams, that objective meant tackling education, health care, poverty, or crime--for others, the more mundane challenge of buying a shoe that fits.
Drawn by the call to "imagine--invent--impact," a record number of students participated in the year-long I3 program, forming 78 teams with students from 34 different concentrations. Over the course of the year, the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard (TECH) and Harvard Student Agencies coached the teams through the process of developing a business plan and provided the students with mentors for legal advice and other needs. The semifinalists, 25 teams in all, gathered on March 29 to share their final projects at a formal showcase and awards reception.
"The student start-ups were really impressive this year," says Paul Bottino, Executive Director of TECH, which is based at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
"It’s inspiring to see the great range of needs and problems that these student-innovators are motivated to address," Bottino says. "They combine their education with creativity and technology to take on important social needs and discover compelling opportunities to pursue."
The I3 finale, held in the ballroom of the Charles Hotel in Cambridge, culminated in the presentation of six awards:
Public-Sector Innovation Award (presented by Accenture)
A new award category this year recognizes entrepreneurial projects that focus on opportunities for innovation in the public sector. With initial funding provided by Accenture, through a 3-year sponsorship of TECH, the Public Sector Innovation Award recognizes promising ideas that engage with challenges in government.
The winner of the $10,000 prize is Instiglio , an initiative that connects non-profits with government funding by encouraging private funding agencies to "bet on outcomes" through social impact bonds. Successful projects--for example, an effort that reduces the number of new HIV infections in a city--would have the initial, private funding repaid by the government. Instiglio plans to take this model, which has been used successfully in Massachusetts and the United Kingdom, to tackle social problems in developing nations.
The founding members of Instiglio are all enrolled at the Harvard Kennedy School, working toward master’s degrees in public policy or public administration and international development: Michael Belinsky, MPP ’12, David Bullon, MPA/ID ’12, Michael Eddy, MPA/ID ’12, Avinish Gungadurdoss, MPA/ID ’12, and Madalina Pruna, MPA/ID ’12.
"It’s been an amazing journey," says Gungadurdoss , reflecting on the experience of developing an idea under time pressure with his teammates. "You learn to remove your blinders and start seeing things you would normally see as barriers as new opportunities. It’s an incredible mindset change that is necessary for those who wish to improve the status quo. This is a skill that carries forward in any future activity."
McKinley Family Grant for Innovation and Entrepreneurial Leadership in a Commercial Enterprise
The McKinley Family Grant for Commercial Enterprise is awarded to underclassmen who exemplify creativity and entrepreneurial leadership and whose projects demonstrate great potential for impact as a business.
The $10,000 prize has been awarded to Shoesy, a biometric approach to shoe shopping that takes precise measurements of the buyer’s feet, creates a digital 3D model, and matches it electronically to the specifications of the available footwear.
The idea, developed by William Marks ’13 (biomedical engineering), Svilen Kanev ’12 (computer science), and Christina Chang, MBA ’13, is "to find the shoe that fits your foot individually."
"When you place an order [for shoes] online, you don’t have to worry whether they’ll fit when they get there," the team says.
McKinley Family Grant for Innovation and Entrepreneurial Leadership in a Social Enterprise
The McKinley Family Grant for Social Enterprise recognizes underclassmen with the same qualities as their commercial-track peers and who aim to achieve innovative impact through a mission-driven venture.
The winner of the $10,000 prize is Global Village Fruits , a project led by Annemarie Ryu ’13 (social anthropology) and Devon Ray Williams ’11 (computer science).
Global Village Fruits essentially aims to market organic and fair-trade jackfruit products in the United States. Ryu came upon the nutritious fruit during a trip to Bangalore, India.
"I’m in a totally new place, trying to get a new phone; there are cows sitting in the street, and there are these huge green things sitting in piles," she recalls. She tried one, and says, "It was the most delicious thing ever."
Ryu and Williams hope that the dried fruit and the gluten-free flour ground from the seeds may find a market in American specialty food stores and bakeries. They plan to reinvest profits in the processing infrastructure in India.
While receiving the McKinley Award, Ryu announced that she had received an email from the Whole Foods supermarket just 2 days before, announcing that the chain would like to put the team’s jackfruit products on its shelves in 28 northeastern stores.