University Announces 10 President's Challenge Finalists

Ten teams of finalists have been chosen from an initial pool of 127 applications for the 2013 President’s Challenge, a University-wide competition meant to encourage social innovation, Harvard announced in a press release Monday.

Each team that applied to the program proposed an idea in social entrepreneurship in one of five “issue areas”: learning, energy and the environment, health, disaster preparation and relief, and the arts. The finalists’ proposals span a variety of disciplines, ranging from a program to encourage blind youth to achieve their career goals to an artistic production focused on genetics and health.

The 10 teams of finalists will each receive $5,000, the guidance of an expert mentor, and space at the Harvard Innovation Lab to continue the development of their projects—a set of resources that finalists agreed would be crucial towards their success.

Each team of finalists will present their projects on May 6. Near the end of that month, the University will announce a winner, who will split $100,000 in prize money with up to three other teams.

Harvard Law School student John R. Bennett, a leader of one of the finalist teams, spearheaded the creation of Zen Way Inc., which plans to “destroy the [standardized test] book market.” The team's tool, which operates using an online algorithm that tells users what they need to study most, provides a virtual platform for students to access test prep materials.


Bennett said he and his team felt validated when they received news that they were among the finalists. While Zen Way Inc. has already developed a product for the LSAT, Bennett said his team plans to use the President’s Challenge prize money towards developing a version for the SAT.

“For what we need to do next, we need some serious financing,” Bennett said.

Harvard School of Dental Medicine student Gino Inverso, another leader of a finalist team, also said he was pleased by the judges' decision. Inverso’s team is developing a mobile app called Healio that will allow doctors to remotely follow their patients’ healing processes through time-lapse images.

Inverso said the benefits the finalists receive will allow his group to scale up and begin testing designs.

“The I-Lab has been the answer to entrepreneurs at Harvard who want to improve ideas and bring them to the market,” he said.

According to I-Lab Director Gordon S. Jones, it is the multidisciplinary nature of the issue areas that makes the President’s Challenge so compatible with the I-Lab’s commitment to cooperation across disciplines and University schools.

For Jones, the announcement of the finalists is the beginning of a new stage of development for each team.

“I’m excited about the 10 [finalists], and I’m anticipating being wowed by them come May,” Jones said.

—Staff writer Marco J. Barber Grossi can be reached Follow him on Twitter @marco_jbg.


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