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Harvard Names President's Social Entrepreneurship Challenge Winners

By Melody Y. Guan, Crimson Staff Writer

Three seniors who synthesized police software into a unified system to save time for law enforcement officers have won the 2013 President’s Challenge for social entrepreneurship, University President Drew G. Faust announced in a statement last week.

Team Nucleik, comprised of Scott E. Crouch ’13, Florian Mayr ’13, and Matthew N. Polega ’13, was awarded $70,000 to advance their fledgling company.

“In many ways winning the President’s Challenge is a vote of confidence for an up-and-coming venture tackling social issues,” Gordon S. Jones, director of the Harvard Innovation Lab, wrote in an email. “Nucleik’s online platform can have a huge impact in supporting law enforcement officers as they fight crime.”

The Challenge, sponsored by the Harvard i-lab, was launched by Faust in February 2012 with the purpose of helping “students develop and execute solutions to complex systemic problems by attacking and addressing truly important issues facing the world today,” according to the contest’s webpage.

Polega said that Nucleik will use the prize money to pay rent, living expenses, and hardware and software costs.

“[The prize] is definitely going to help out in a huge way,” he said.

Nucleik software has already reduced the time police spend on paperwork by 90 percent in Springfield, Massachusetts, where it is in use by the state police’s Special Projects Team. Crouch, who has deferred admission to Harvard Business School to focus on the social venture, said he foresees deploying the software in other cities and expects the team to expand to 10-15 people over the next year.

All three co-founders will work on the project full-time after graduation, according to Polega.

A total of 127 teams entered the Challenge, with focuses ranging from the arts to disaster preparation and relief.

“A really fun part of the Challenge was getting to meet other people doing similar types of things,” said Eric D. Kelsic, a Ph.D candidate in the Harvard Systems Biology Department and member of runner-up team Flume. “All the projects were very exciting to hear about.”

Teammate Ben S. Kuhn ’15 said that Flume aims “to collect all [biological] databases in one place...to make an up-to-date, easy-to-visualize map of everything we know about how the human genome works.”

“I’m very excited to be working on a startup that is trying to accomplish something useful for humanity at large,” he said.

The two other runner-up teams, each of which received $10,000, were Team PlenOptika, which produced a low-cost handheld device for prescribing eyeglasses in remote or low-income areas, and Team TerraTek, which works to secure land and property rights for individuals and communities in developing nations.

Polega said that he is grateful for the resources, mentorship, and workspace that the i-lab has provided his team. Crouch added that he appreciates the legitimacy that winning the President’s Challenge bestows to their project.

“I think the President’s Challenge is the one of the most unique things about Harvard’s startup ecosystem,” he said. “I really applaud what it’s doing for our entrepreneurial scene.”

“If you’re interested in [entrepreneurship] it doesn’t matter if you don’t have an idea—just join [a start-up],” Crouch said. “Boston has such a vibrant community of start-up jobs that are always looking for new people—go out there, find a team that has a problem that motivates you...and see what it’s like to build a product from the ground up.”

—Staff writer Melody Y. Guan can be reached at yguan@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter @MelodyGuan.

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