If you are trying to spot the next noteworthy local start-up, a good place to look might be the third annual Harvard President's Challenge for entrepreneurship, which kicks off next week.
The record so far is impressive: The first winner of the Harvard Challenge, Vaxess Technologies, has raised $3.75 million for its effort to preserve vaccines without cold storage — a potential breakthrough for immunizations in the developing world. And last year's champ, Mark43 (formerly Nucleik), got almost $2 million over the summer for software that neatly aggregates previously disorganized criminal information for police.
The President's Challenge is open to all Harvard students and postdoctoral fellows. The only real requirement is that entrepreneurs work on what the school calls "pressing social problems" — education, economic development, energy and the environment, affordable health care, and efficient governing. Producers of viral online cat videos need not apply.
"Harvard has been and continues to be a seedbed for innovation," university president Drew Faust said in a statement. "Here, it is possible to meet talented individuals who are tackling the world's greatest problems and to contribute to the important work of improving the world. The challenge is a great way of encouraging and supporting students as they explore how to make a difference."
The Harvard Innovation Lab will host workshops and networking events leading up to the Feb. 9 submission deadline for all three challenges.
Finalists will receive $5,000 apiece and workstations in the i-lab during the spring semester.
The winner and as many as three runners-up in the President's Challenge will share a $100,000 purse. Each dean's challenge offers $50,000 in total prize money.