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Deans, Patriots Owner Kick Off Sports Innovation Challenge

The owners of the New England Patriots and the New England Revolution urged Harvard students to develop ideas that will improve the sports industry at an Innovation Lab event Friday afternoon.

The event marked the kickoff of the Deans’ Innovation Sports Challenge, which will span the remainder of the academic year. Winners will be announced in May.

Director of Harvard Athletics and co-chair of the challenge, Robert Scalise, laid out the five topic areas the challenge was designed to address in the sports industry: athlete and athletic performance, career and health before and after sports, improving the fan experience, rethinking the sports industry, and sport and social impact.

According to Gordon S. Jones, managing director of the i-lab, finalists will each receive $5,000 in seed money. The grand prize of $50,000 will be divided among the one or two winners.

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Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, and his son, Jonathan Kraft, who owns the New England Revolution, participated in a “fireside talk” to kick off the challenge Friday. The talk was moderated by Business School professor Anita Elberse.

Robert Kraft began by giving the audience words of encouragement.

“To all the young people here, who are living their dreams, don’t be afraid to fail, but really go after the things that you are passionate about and when it doesn't go your way keep coming back if you believe [in your idea],” Robert Kraft said.

Both Robert and Jonathan Kraft also outlined the issues the sports industry faces and how those problems have surfaced during their time managing the Patriots.

Dean of the Business School Nitin Nohria, who is a co-chair of the sports challenge, spoke about how powerful sports can be in an individual’s life.

“How do we bring more of these moments to peoples lives, these transcendent moments that become a part of people’s lives?” Nohria said. “In many ways this challenge is an invitation to the great imagination of those at Harvard to address what we can do with this great human interaction.”

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