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Second Annual President's Challenge Announced

By Marco J. Barber Grossi, Contributing Writer

Prospective entrepreneurs gathered at the Harvard Innovation Lab Wednesday evening to kick off the second annual President’s Challenge, a competition meant to foster a culture of socially-minded innovation on campus.

This year’s Presidential Challenge will focus on five “issue areas”: learning, energy and the environment, health, disaster preparation and relief, and the arts. The winning team and up to three runners-up will share a prize of $100,000 to make their project proposals come true.

The President’s Challenge was created last academic year as “an investment in a new form of education,” David A. Edwards, a professor of biomedical engineering and the keynote speaker at the kickoff event, said in an interview.

“It is incomplete to frame a Harvard education around a definition of our understanding in opinions that is anything other than contemporary,” he said.

Edwards said that the President’s Challenge is an attempt on the University’s part to ready students for the fast-paced, ever-changing technology sector.

“The rapidity of change is so great.”

Edwards said.

The President’s Challenge, he said, is meant to “help [students] learn in a way that is fundamentally relevant to how we learn today.”

Last year the Challenge’s five issue categories were clean air, clean water, education, global health, and personal health. This year’s focus is intended to make the Challenge more pertinent to undergraduate students.

“This is both an educational and socially-focused initiative,” I-Lab Director Gordon S. Jones said at the event.

Edwards said he hopes this year’s Challenge will exhibit “a diversification of the kinds of students that are pursuing the Challenge; not just grads but undergrads.”

“Students should view this as an incredible learning opportunity,” he said.

Proposals for social entrepreneurship projects in any of these five areas must be submitted by Feb. 3rd.

Last year’s winner Vaxess Technologies uses silk proteins to develop vaccines that do not need to be refrigerated. Their project will increase access to vaccines around the world while simultaneously supporting rural silkworm farmers in Cambodia.

The group of graduate and undergraduate students gathered at the I-Lab hopes to follow in Vaxess’s footsteps.

Zachary L. Wong ’16 called the event “very inspiring.” He said in the future he hopes to approach social entrepreneurship thorough social media and web design.

Edwards ended his speech telling students that this event is just a starting point.

“The way you all are going to make the world a better place is by not stopping here,” he said. “You need to exploit this incredible moment.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:


An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the winner of the President’s Challenge will receive $70,000 and three runners-up will each receive $10,000. In fact, one winner and up to three runners-up will share a $100,000 prize, but the division of the money has not yet been determined.

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