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Deans Launch New Contest

By Steven S. Lee, Contributing Writer

The 13 Deans of Harvard University announced two University-wide innovation challenges focused on culture and health on Thursday. Student teams in both challenges will win up to $75,000 in prize money to further develop their proposals.

One of the contents—the Cultural Entrepreneurship Challenge—focuses on the arts, seeking out students who can develop proposals that address solutions for supporting the arts and expanding its role in society. The other challenge—the Health and Life Sciences Challenge—seeks innovative solutions for improving health delivery across the globe.

According to the email announcement, these challenges are building on the highly successful President’s Challenge, which in its second year invites student-led teams to propose and develop solutions concerning broad global social issues.

“With over 500 Harvard students participating last year in the President’s Challenge and a lot of enthusiasm from students so far for [this year’s] President’s Challenge, the Deans recognized the opportunity to offer what are called Deans’ Challenges” said Gordon S. Jones, managing director of the Harvard Innovation Lab.

Harvard’s announcement mentioned the declining public and private funding for the arts as part of the impetus for the Cultural Entrepreneurship Challenge.

“You have a model today where funding from government or non-governmental agencies for the arts is drying up and there’s a lot of need for more interest in where are the innovative solutions,” said Jones. He added that more money is raised for the arts through Kickstarter, a funding platform, than through the National Endowment for the Arts.

According the Challenge’s website, The Health and Life Sciences Challenge focuses on four areas: redesign of health delivery: changing behavior: computation and data analysis in therapy discovery, personalized medicine and public health: and stem cell biology and regenerative medicine.

The cultural and health challenge proposals will be due in late February and early March of next year respectively. After facing evaluation by the judging committee, the finalists will be announced and given $5,000 to develop their proposals. In May, the winner and runner-ups of each challenge will be announced, with the winner and runner-ups of each challenge splitting a $75,000 prize.

The Cultural Entrepreneurship Challenge will officially begin on Dec. 6 with Yo-Yo Ma set to perform and speak at the kick-off event, while the Health and Life Sciences Challenge will launch on December 11 with a speech by Professor Richard T. Lee. Both events will be at the Harvard Innovation Laboratory.

Jones said that despite the presence of graduate and doctoral students in the challenge, he believes undergraduates have the chance to make a significant difference.

“I think they’re often willing to take risks in certain areas, for some reason, folks post-college may not be willing to,” Jones said, “I think there’s a mindset that says ‘how can I make an impact,’” said Jones.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:


An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the date of the Cultural Entrepreneurship Challenge kick-off event. It will be held on Dec. 6.

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