Happy almost-summer from the Harvard Innovation Labs. It’s hard to believe that graduation season is already behind us, and there was no more fitting way to cap off the academic year than with Mark Zuckerberg delivering a truly inspiring Commencement speech.
Listening to one of Harvard’s most impactful entrepreneurs served as a reminder of how the university’s students and alumni have tackled some incredibly challenging problems over the last five centuries, from shaping the Declaration of Independence to curbing climate change. If you look at what students and alumni are working on today at the Harvard Innovation Labs, it’s clear that the amount of world-changing ideas that are coming out of the Harvard community will only continue to grow.
At the beginning of the spring semester, we said that the Harvard Innovation Labs would expand its resources significantly. Our goal was to better support students and alumni from all 12 Harvard schools in exploring innovation in any industry and at any stage. It’s only when you focus on inputs – bringing together and nurturing the broadest possible group of students and alumni – that you discover truly innovative ideas.
Five months later, it’s incredible to see the progress that so many of these entrepreneurs and innovators have made. Here’s a brief overview of some of their biggest accomplishments:
The ventures that stood out during Harvard Innovation Labs events
Each spring we host one of our largest annual events, The President’s Innovation Challenge. For this year’s competition, we saw a record 200 student teams enter business proposals. Judges selected 15 finalists in March, and President Faust joined us in announcing the winners and runners-up in May.
The three $75k grand prize winners were Lightmatter for its AI computing technology, UrSure Inc. for its HIV prevention solution, and Upsolve for taking some of the pain out of filing for bankruptcy. Judges also selected three $25k runners-up: AirCrew for its air purification systems, Jane Diagnostics for a better solution to detect cervical cancer, and C16 for the environmentally conscious palm oil. You can read about the Audience Choice winner in the Team news section below.
This spring we also hosted The Rise of the Quantified Athlete, where we partnered with the Sports Innovation Lab and the NFL OneTeam Collective to explore the fast-growing sector of sports technology. During the event, former Harvard Innovation Labs venture WHOOP demoed their wearable recovery technology. Of course, we were thrilled to see later in the semester that WHOOP became the official wearable of the NFL Players Association.
Students and alumni making a global impact
WHOOP wasn’t the only company from the Harvard Innovation Labs that made headlines this semester. Since the beginning of 2017, it’s been incredibly inspiring to see so many ventures move forward with their ideas to solve some of the world’s most challenging problems across a variety of industries.
There were dozens of incredible announcements from our teams, but for the sake of brevity, here are ten examples that represent the diversity of ideas being worked on at the Harvard Innovation Labs. I also noted the schools that the founders came at the end of each entry.
- Aldatu Biosciences received a $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for its HIV diagnostic solution. (Harvard Business School, Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Public School of Health)
- Climacell launched its technology for more accurate weather forecasting. More here. (Harvard Business School, Harvard Kennedy School)
- Flare Jewelry won first place in the Harvard Business School’s New Venture Competition for its jewelry that helps to keep women safe. More here. (Harvard Business School)
- General Biotechnologies took home a top prize at the annual Rice Business Plan Competition for working on a small molecule kinase inhibitor for treatment-resistant cancer. (Harvard College)
- miniPCR got the opportunity to send one of its machines for conducting DNA analysis to the NASA space station. More here. (Harvard Business School, Harvard Graduate School of Education
- Parachute Teachers won the Public Sector Innovation Award for its online marketplace that alleviates the nationwide shortage of substitute and part-time teachers. More here. (Harvard Graduate School of Education)
- Shield AI closed a $10.5 million Series A Funding to build artificially intelligent products that will protect service members and innocent civilians on the battlefield. (Harvard Business School)
- Tvar EdTech launched the Read Read, a breakthrough tool that allows visually impaired & blind people to independently learn phonics and braille. (Harvard Business School, Harvard College, Harvard Graduate School of Education)
- Two Rabbits won the $10k GoFundMe #GoBeyondGiving Challenge at the end of 2016 for developing a solution to give children around the world a high-quality pre-school education. The company also won this year’s $10k Presidents Innovation Challenge Audience Choice prize. (Harvard Graduate School of Education)
- Vaxess received $6M in grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to advance the development of vaccines for polio and measles-rubella using the company’s sustained release microneedle patch. Fast Company profiled the company shortly after its announcement. (Harvard Business School, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Law School, Harvard Department of Chemistry)
Beyond these announcements, it’s also been extremely encouraging to see former Harvard Innovation Labs teams continue to excel. A few notable pieces of news from the spring included:
- ArtLifting Founder Liz Powers was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 for empowering artists living with homelessness or disabilities through the sale of their artwork. (Harvard College, Harvard Kennedy School)
- LovePop’s 3D cards made a special appearance at the Billboard Music Awards. More here. (Harvard Business School)
- RapidSOS secured $21M in funding for its emergency response platform. (Harvard Business School)
- RumiSpice landed a deal on Shark Tank for creating a market for selling Afghan saffron in the US. More here. (Harvard Business School)
Adding people and resources to the Harvard Innovation Labs
The core mission of what we do at the Harvard Innovation Labs is to help Harvard students and alumni nurture their ideas. In order to support our mission, we must keep a close eye on emerging trends and technologies across all industries, and ensure that students and alumni have the necessary resources to succeed in these industries.
This is the catalyst that led us to open the AR/VR Studio this spring. We had so many entrepreneurs and innovative thinkers asking for resources to support AR/VR startups that we made a dedicated effort to make these augmented, mixed, and virtual reality entrepreneurs feel at home at the i-lab. You can read more about why we opened the studio here, and lessons learned from building it here.
Over the last five months, we’ve also seen a significant transformation of the Harvard Life Lab, which opened in November of 2016. The majority of the 17 teams that were chosen to work out of the Harvard Life Lab have moved in, and it’s been thrilling to see what they’ve already accomplished. In May, Bloomberg did a segment that illustrates the work being done in the Harvard Life Lab. You can watch it here.
We also expanded our team that’s focused on supporting and resourcing Harvard Innovation Labs ventures. This spring, we were thrilled to have Peter Gladstone join us as the Associate Director of Consumer Goods and Services. Peter has over 20 years of consumer marketing experience having held marketing jobs of varying responsibilities for Gillette, P&G and The Boston Beer Company. He is leading programming and mentoring for all consumer-facing ventures at the Harvard Innovation Labs, and has already contributed immensely to helping consumer ventures nurture their ideas.
In the coming months, we’ll continue to expand the resources that we offer students and alumni, and look forward to working with them all on their world-changing ideas. Stay tuned for our next announcement later this month, when we’ll announce our summer Venture Incubation Program class.