Over the past two years, the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute has made concerted efforts to foster innovation on campus through the introduction of two new award incentives designed to tackle real world problems such as health care reform and climate change: the Yale College Dean’s Challenge on Social Innovation and the Miller Award.
In a campuswide email on Oct. 9, Dean Jonathan Holloway announced the Yale College Dean’s Challenge on Social Innovation, a new program out of the YEI. The initiative will give undergraduates an opportunity to develop their ideas and innovate for social change.
The YEI will select a team of students to participate in its 10-week summer fellowship — an honor that also comes with a $15,000 grant. Students can apply for the challenge starting in December but have until Jan. 28 to submit their applications.
“This initiative is really a challenge to the Yale College community to think about serious global issues in health, food and water scarcity, climate change and other concerns, and to put together a business plan that will address one of those problems and which, one day, could affect a million lives or more,” said Jim Boyle, managing director of the YEI, in a press release.
Margaret Lee, program coordinator of the YEI, said the challenge is open to passionate students of all backgrounds who are “interested in tackling the world’s biggest problems.” According to Lee, the institute would be excited to see interdisciplinary teams including students with complementary skill sets. The competition coordinators are hoping for teams of two to five students, but teams of all sizes may apply, she added.
Although the application requires students to have a project proposal that they have already started working on, the YEI will host events prior to the application deadline to support students in their project goals. In addition, students can take advantage of YEI office hours.
Lee advised interested students to “get out” and “start talking to people.” She said it is critical that students make products and services that people want, and to do so they need feedback from community leaders, community members, experts and potential partners. Most importantly, she noted, students need the feedback of the people they are hoping to benefit.
Eileen Johnson ’19 said she was excited to receive the dean’s email, adding that she has long been interested in how entrepreneurship can be used to solve educational problems, and has been wondering how to get more involved at Yale.
“This challenge seems like the perfect opportunity,” Johnson said.
The University’s recent expansion in innovation has also resulted in initiatives such as the Miller Prize. The award, first offered last year by the YEI, aims to encourage innovation in growing topics in the venture community. The award is funded by Brian Miller, a YEI advisory member and chief investment officer of North Sound Partners.
Teams applying for the prize must present a startup featuring technology thematically related to “The Internet of Things,” “Big Data” or “Materials Science.” Eligibility requirements include acceptance to one of three cohorts of the Venture Creation Program at the YEI, and up to five Miller Prize contestant teams may participate in each of the cohorts, according to the YEI website.
The winner will earn $25,000 and automatic acceptance to the YEI Summer Fellowship. $15,000 of the prize money will go toward the fellowship slot, with remaining money to be used as working capital, according to the program’s website.
“The demand [for awards like the Miller Prize] has been growing, and the Miller Prize fits in nicely with the other thematic prizes offered on campus,” said Erika Smith, deputy director of the YEI, in a Sunday email to the News, referring to the Thorne Prize and the Sabin Prize. Those prizes are offered for ventures with a focus on health or education and sustainability, respectively.
Smith added that she expects students’ interest in the Miller Prize to grow, since winning the prize has been linked directly to the YEI Summer Fellowship this year. She added that students are encouraged to get involved with the Venture Creation Program, as well as other workshops, to refine their ideas.
The interdisciplinary nature of the prize has resulted from students who are interested in merging their talents in entrepreneurship and other fields. Ikenna Nzewi ’17 said he sees fields such as technology and computer science as media through which to pursue his entrepreneurial interests, and that Yale is making the “right commitment” to entrepreneurship.
He clarified, however, that he does not see the various prizes as incentive enough for students to become involved in ventures.
“Entrepreneurship is too difficult that you shouldn’t be getting involved just because someone’s throwing your business a check. A check’s not going to make your business float,” Nzewi said.
The winning team of the Yale College Dean’s Challenge on Social Innovation will be notified by March 4, 2016. Winners of the Miller Prize will be notified in the late spring.