Two teams of undergraduate entrepreneurs were each awarded $15,000 on March 31 to realize their respective commercial and social projects this summer as winners of the largest i3 Harvard College Innovation Challenge grant.
The i3 Innovation Challenge—an annual competition that began three years ago as a partnership between Harvard Student Agencies, the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard, and the Harvard College Entrepreneurship Forum—encourages business ventures across all disciplines, and challenges students to “imagine, invent, and impact,” according to the competition’s Web site.
The Challenge’s sponsors offer grants of differing amounts to the winning teams, finalists, and semi-finalists of each of several categories.
Of these various awards, the McKinley Family Grant for Innovation and Entrepreneurial Leadership in Commercial Enterprise is the largest, with a total $15,000.
A panel of 13 judges chose the two winning projects—a “for-profit commercial venture” called NaviTOUR and a “not-for-profit social venture” called DigiLit—according to the i3 Web site.
Steven N. Maheshwary ’12, Nicholas J. Navarro ’10, Sheng J. Pan ’11, Dana J. Platt ’10, and MIT graduate student Sean Liu created NaviTOUR, a virtual game that enables its users to learn and practice foreign languages.
NaviTour was the brainchild of Maheshwary, who said he was unsatisfied with the speaking component of his Spanish language class at the College. Maheshwary added that he hopes to offer the program free of charge to users in order to provide “all students and language instructors of the world with an equal opportunity to study abroad online.”
Mackenzie Sigalos ’10 also tackled the issue of accessibility in her team’s winning social venture project DigiLit. She said she was inspired by the non-profit organization One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), which aims to provide inexpensive laptops to children throughout the developing world in order to eliminate poverty through education.
Sigalos said that despite OLPC’s initial popularity, it garnered “negative press” because it failed to consider teachers’ potential lack of technological savvy.
To overcome this roadblock, Sigalos said that DigiLit aims to provide accessible curricula and training for both teachers and students.