I3 Innovation Challenge Awards Four $10,000 Prizes

i3 '14
Chi Zeng '14 presents his start-up at the Charles Hotel for the 7th Annual i3 Student Startup Showcase. Zeng collaborated with partners to create Grouptale, a collaborative decision making website, to reach the semi-final stage of the yearly competition.

Projects winning this year’s I3 Harvard College Innovation Challenge, which were announced Thursday night following a showcase, ranged from a cake-baking device to an online platform that addresses the polarization of Congress.

Now in its seventh iteration, the entrepreneurship contest attracted 80 student teams, a 20 percent increase from last year.

Sponsored by the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard, and Harvard Student Agencies, I3 offers student innovators the opportunity to receive feedback and mentorship from professional entrepreneurs while competing for monetary awards.

John C. McCallum ’16, co-founder of Spray Cake and winner of the $10,000 technology startup prize, said that his venture started last year in the popular class Science of the Physical Universe 27: “Science and Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science” and continued this year in Engineering Sciences 95r: “Startup R&D,” an innovation class. According to McCallum, I3 enabled Spray Cake to become “a solid and prepared business.”

Similarly, Jonathan A. Marks ’15, whose project won the $10,000 McKinley Family Grant for Social Enterprise, said that the contest required him to “answer a lot of questions” about his venture, which he said was “very helpful.” Marks co-founded Quorum, an online platform that allows its users to analyze and predict the factors that lead to bipartisan political success.

“We’re bringing big data analysis to politics,” he said.

The other two winning projects, which were both awarded $10,000, were HuePick, a device that enables restaurants and patrons with food allergies to test their food in a matter of seconds, and RapidSOS, a platform which allows people in emergencies to communicate with dispatchers quickly and reliably.

According to I3 co-president Homan Mohammadi ’14, this year’s substantial increase in participation can be attributed both to a simplified format and to Harvard students’ growing interest in entrepreneurship.

“One of the great things is that it’s not just a contest, it’s really an educational experience for all the students,” said Marcus Z. Comiter ’14, who chairs the I3 with Mohammadi. “Every year after you submit an application you get mentorship, you get advice and feedback from judges, and I think that really has given the competition a great reputation on campus.”

Paul B. Bottino, I3’s founder and executive director, said that the winning teams are usually able to take their ventures to incubator spaces around the country, where they keep developing them.

In addition to the four teams who won the $10,000 awards, three teams received an honorable mention, which came with a $1,000 grant.

The teams that do not win monetary awards also benefit from participation in the contest. According to Mohammadi, the participants take advantage of the mentorship they receive at I3 to turn their projects into real companies.

[The participating teams] are able to quickly scale up their projects much faster than if they had done it alone,” he said.

—Staff Writer Francesca Annicchiarico can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @FRAnnicchiarico.