A device toolkit that makes STEM education truly engaging, a mobile app for helping small businesses in emerging markets improve their performance, and a startup that’s revolutionising the treatment of ear infections were awarded the three top prizes in the seventh annual President’s Innovation Challenge showcase and awards ceremony at the Harvard Innovation Labs.
President Drew Faust of Harvard University awarded each of the three student ventures, STEMgem, OZÉ, and PionEar, with $75,000 in prize money from the Bertarelli Foundation to help them turn their ideas into impactful, real-world ventures.
Three runners-up, which received $25,000 in prizes, were FinWeGo, a workplace financial wellness platform that helps employers provide affordable and convenient credit to their employees; Jump Credit, helping nonprofits provide free, instant, personalized credit advice to economically vulnerable clients; and X-Cor Therapeutics, which is working on a cheaper and safer extracorporeal CO2 removal (ECCOR) therapy for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Based on an audience vote, the second annual Crowd Favorite prize of $10,000 was given to Mozambique School Lunch Initiative, which is investing in community-owned school lunch programs to improve childhood nutrition in Mozambique.
This year, prizes for the President’s Innovation Challenge were exclusively funded by the Bertarelli Foundation, which announced the President’s Innovation Challenge Fund in October 2017 to support the winners of the competition for the next five years. This gift extends the Bertarelli Foundation’s previous backing of student-led ventures at Harvard, which began in 2013 when the foundation funded the Deans’ Health and Life Sciences Challenge at the Harvard Innovation Labs.
Ernesto Bertarelli, co-chair of the Bertarelli Foundation said:
“Bringing students together from diverse backgrounds and industries to solve complex global challenges has the power to change millions of people’s lives. We’re therefore delighted to partner with the Harvard Innovation Labs and to have established the Bertarelli Prize Fund for the winners of the President’s Challenge. I look forward to seeing what the winning ventures from 2018 accomplish in the years to come.”
PionEar co-founder Ida Pavlichenko, winner of the grand prize in the Health or Life Science category, said on hearing the news:
“Winning the President’s Innovation Challenge will play a significant role in helping us commercialise our product.”
The President’s Innovation Challenge is open to any Harvard student or postdoc across the 12 Harvard Schools. This year, a record 460 teams entered the competition — more than double the previous year. Teams competed across three tracks — Social Impact or Cultural Enterprise, Health or Life Science, and Open Track for ideas that transcended categories. All 15 finalists showcased their products and services at the event, and gave one-minute pitches onstage prior to President Faust announcing the winners.