President's Challenge Finalists Selected

Ten finalist teams have been selected from more than 170 applicants to the President’s Challenge for social entrepreneurship, the University announced Thursday. Each finalist team will receive $5,000 as well as research space in Harvard’s I-Lab through August 2012.

“It is gratifying to see how fully these finalists have embraced the spirit of collaboration, of innovation, and of curiosity that is the hallmark of the i-lab,” University President Drew G. Faust said in a statement. “I am impressed with both their engagement with new ideas and their novel ways of enabling those ideas to reach the wider world.”

The Challenge, announced this February, seeks to encourage student social entrepreneurship by rewarding student groups with resources to develop innovative solutions to five pre-selected global problems: clean air, global health, education, clean water, and personal health.

The chosen projects range from creating a ceramic water filter plant in Uganda to launching a car-sharing business in India similar to Zipcar.

“The proposals are ambitious and have the potential to make a real difference in the world. It’s gratifying to see how the students develop their ideas at the i-lab,” said University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 in a statement.

Zachary D. Wissner-Gross, team leader for “Team School Yourself” and a fifth-year Ph.D. student at Harvard Medical School, plans to publish textbooks online with interactive tools. He described being selected as a finalist as a “temporary moment to celebrate” after working on the project for the past few months.

Though Wissner-Gross said he was grateful to receive monetary support, he noted that he was also aware of the more symbolic significance.

“I think that there’s no reason that entrepreneurship and invention can’t be a major part of not only the college experience or even the high school or middle school experience,” he said.

David N. Back, a third-year law school student who leads the car-sharing team, said that the benefit of winning the President’s Challenge extend beyond the monetary prize.

“The monetary prize, though it [is] nice, is definitely not sufficient,” he said. “There’s a lot of benefits that come beyond that. Harvard has intellectual resources. It has connections far beyond [the Challenge] that make the project much more likely to succeed.”

—Staff writer Justin C. Worland can be reached at jworland@college.harvard.edu.

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