Big Ideas Contest Has Launched for Duke Students


Deadline: November 16, 2016

Big Ideas is an innovation contest that provides funding, support, and encouragement to interdisciplinary teams of undergraduate and graduate students who have creative solutions to address important social challenges. Since its founding in 2006, the competition has inspired over 1,300 student-led projects aimed at solving the world’s most pressing problems. Duke’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative is helping with outreach so that Duke students are aware of this tremendous opportunity.

Big Ideas supports students at the very early stages of developing their ideas. Often, students who compete in Big Ideas have never entered an innovation contest or written a real-world proposal. The Contest challenges students to step outside of their traditional university-based academic work, take a risk, and use their education, passion, and skills to work on problems important to them.

Unlike traditional business plan competitions which are designed to vet for-profit companies, the ultimate goal of Big Ideas is to support students in making social change—whether through for-profit endeavors, non-profits, or small ad-hoc teams. Critically, Big Ideas promotes autonomy, initiative, and teamwork early in students’ careers, broadening their understanding of how they can use their education and interests to improve society.

Universities in US Agency for International Development’s Higher Education Solutions Network (College of William and Mary, Duke University, Makerere University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Michigan State University, Texas A&M University, University of California, Berkeley) are eligible to compete in the following 5 categories:

Students Receive:

  • Chance to win up to $18,000
  • Extensive feedback from judges
  • Access to proposal writing, budgeting, and skills development workshops
  • Networking opportunities
  • Exposure to topic area experts
  • 6-week mentorship period for finalist teams

How Big Ideas Works

The Big Ideas contest is split into two rounds: a pre-proposal round in the fall and a full proposal round in the spring.

Round 1: Pre-proposal

Eligible students are invited to submit a single PDF document no more than 3 pages (max. 1,600 words) by Wednesday, November 16, 12:00pm noon PT (note that teams applying for the Scaling Up Big Ideas category have an additional requirement that is detailed on the category page) . Failure to follow these instructions may result in disqualification. References and citations are permitted in the pre-proposal round and are not included in the 3-page pre-proposal limit. Appendices are not allowed in the pre-proposal round, but will be permitted in the final round if your team is selected to participate.

Judges will select approximately 5 to 8 teams in each category to continue on to the full proposal round of the contest in the spring. All pre-proposal teams will receive detailed feedback from the judges, regardless of whether or not they are selected as finalists. Pre-proposal entrants will be notified the mid-December 2016 if they have been selected as a finalist.

Round 2: Full Proposal

Finalist teams will have the opportunity to develop and refine their pre-proposals into 10-15 page “full proposals” due on March 8, 2017 at 12:00pm noon PT. In this full proposal, finalists will expand on the ideas presented in their pre-proposals, edit their proposals based on judges’ feedback, and refine their project ideas through collaboration with a Big Ideas mentor (an industry professional matched to the finalist team based on the mentor’s content knowledge and areas of strength). From the finalist pool, judges will select between two and five award winners in each category.

Pitch Day & People’s Choice Awards

Student teams can earn additional prize money via two avenues:

  • People’s Choice Video Contest: All non-finalist and finalist teams will be invited in the spring to submit a two-minute video about their project to the People’s Choice Video Contest. Voting for this contest is open to the public, and one winner will receive a $2500 award.
  • Grand Prize Pitch Day: Select finalist teams will be invited to attend the Big Ideas Pitch Day on April 26, 2017, where teams will pitch their project ideas to a panel of judges. Judges will then select Pitch Day winners to receive an additional award.

3 page pre-proposal submissions due November 16, 12pm PT