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Innovation Challenge Awards Funds to Social Enterprise Start-Ups

By Sahar M Omer, Crimson Staff Writer

Over $300,000 in prize money was awarded to seven winners of the President’s Innovation Challenge Award Ceremony at the iLab in Allston on Tuesday afternoon.

First held in 2012, the Innovation Challenge invites students across Harvard’s schools to submit ideas to solve “issues facing the world.” Over 400 students from Harvard’s thirteen schools made a declaration of interest last fall, ultimately producing 200 proposals. From those proposals, 15 were selected by a committee of over 150 judges to compete for the final prize.

“It’s always such an amazingly wonderful and exciting moment for us here at the iLab because the challenge gets to the core of who we are and what we are,” Jodi Goldstein, the managing director of the Harvard Innovations Lab, said.

After Goldstein’s opening remarks, each of the 15 teams gave a one-minute pitch about their start-up. School of Public Health student Anushka Mangharam said she enjoyed hearing from the various finalists.

“It is fascinating for us to hear about things like [Jane Diagnostics], which is promoting a pregnancy type-test for cervical cancer, because it’s such a barrier for women to get screened for cervical cancer,” Mangharam said.

After the pitches, University President Drew G. Faust announced the winners and the runners-up of the Challenge. Lightmatter, UrSure Inc., and Upsolve were named grand prize winners of $75,000 in their respective categories. AirCrew, C16, and Jane Diagnostics took home runner-up prizes, each receiving $25,000.

Two Rabbits, a startup focused on providing early childhood education via low-cost mp3 technology took home the “crowd-favorite” award of $10,000.

Rohan N. Pavuluri ’18, co-founder of Upsolve, a startup which seeks to provide bankruptcy advice to low-income Americans, said that while the prize winnings were certainly helpful, they were not how he measured his project’s progress.

“Funding is never a milestone of success, it is just something that keeps us doing our work. So this an opportunity that we see for us to continue our work and our mission,” Pavuluri said.

Pavuluri said he and co-founder Milton M. Syed ’18 plan to use the Innovation Challenge funding to start serving communities in the Bay Area.

“I am most excited about taking this opportunity across the country, taking something that was a dorm room idea, not more than a year ago to turn it into a national nonprofit,” Syed said.

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