Vaccination Company Wins President's Challenge Grand Prize

Vaxess Technologies, a company working to increase global access to vaccines through harnessing silk technology, has won the grand prize in the President’s Challenge, a competition that looked to foster social entrepreneurship across Harvard’s campus, the University announced Monday.

The group of four Harvard affiliates received $70,000 dollars and a space at the Harvard Innovation Lab through August to commercialize cutting-edge research that uses a protein found in silk to eliminate the need for refrigeration in the long-distance transportation of vaccines.

In addition to Vaxess Technologies, three other teams—Revolving Fund Pharmacy, School Yourself, and SPOUTS of Water—were each awarded $10,000 of the Challenge’s prize money as runners-up.

University President Drew G. Faust announced the $100,000 President’s Challenge in February, inviting students from across the University to put forward plans for entrepreneurial projects to five pre-selected global problems: clean air, clean water, education, global health, and personal health.

From the 170 proposals submitted in April, the University selected ten finalists, who were awarded $5,000 and space in the I-Lab to develop demos of their ideas.

According to Michael A. Schrader, a 2012 graduate of Harvard Business School and the CEO of Vaxess Technologies, the new technology the team is working to promote could not only increase global access to life-saving vaccines but also provide jobs to struggling silk farmers in Southeast Asia.

“It’s a huge global, social good,” Schrader added.

The team—whose four members include recent graduates of the Business School, and the Law School, a student at the Kennedy School, and a former post-doctoral fellow in chemistry—met and began work on their project in a Business School class “Commercializing Science.”

This “head start” on formulating a concept and strategy for the project was a major factor in the team’s success in the competition, according to Schrader.

“We entered a number of other competitions,” he said. “We’d really been put through the gauntlet and forced to dive deep into our business and really, really understand the technology.”

Schrader also attributed his team’s success to their different backgrounds, saying that each member of the group has their own specific goal for their vision.

“The team is just, I think, perfectly put together to execute [this idea],” Shrader said.

The other winning teams proposed projects to address problems of global health, education, and clean water.

Revolving Fund Pharmacy plans to partner with the Kenyan government and local communities to increase affordable access to essential, basic medication. School Yourself seeks to develop interactive math and science textbooks. SPOUTS of Water, a project created by four undergraduates, hopes to expand sustainable clean water supplies in Uganda through the founding of a ceramic water filter factory.

Zachary D. Wissner-Gross, one of the founders of School Yourself and a Ph.D. candidate in physics, said it was the first $5,000 they received as finalists in the President’s Challenge that has helped them launch their first e-book book on trigonometry.

Wissner-Gross said he hopes that School Yourself’s materials will eventually be available in schools and have the staying power that some other educational innovations do not.

“You want any product you make to be long lasting,” he said. “There are lots of trends out there that are considered innovation that aren’t long lasting.”

—Staff writer Amy Q. Friedman can be reached at afriedman@college.harvard.edu.

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