Harvard Startup Competition Yields Winners in Computing, Fintech, Health

The full range of student entrepreneurship at Harvard University was on display Tuesday. The sixth annual President’s Innovation Challenge awards drew several hundred people to the Harvard Innovation Lab to meet the 15 finalists of the yearlong competition. At stake was $310,000 in prize money.

You might think if you’ve seen one student-startup contest, you’ve seen them all. But what struck me about this group was the breadth of sectors and ideas represented. And how it speaks to Harvard’s efforts to unify entrepreneurship across all of its schools and departments. (This competition is separate from Harvard Business School’s annual New Venture Competition.)

The winners of the day, as announced by Harvard President Drew Faust, were:

—Lightmatter ($75,000) and AirCrew ($25,000) in the open division.

—Upsolve ($75,000) and C16 ($25,000) in the social impact or cultural enterprise division.

—UrSure ($75,000) and Jane Diagnostics ($25,000) in the health or life sciences division.

—Two Rabbits ($10,000) in the “crowd favorite” category.

To give you a sense of the range of things these companies are working on: Lightmatter (not to be confused with a New York company with the same name) is developing an “optical A.I. accelerator and framework” that it claims is faster and more energy efficient than existing electronics; this is an effort to use photonics to speed up A.I.-related computing. Upsolve makes software that automates and streamlines the process of filing for bankruptcy, for low-income Americans. And UrSure has developed a urine test to drive adherence to an HIV preventative pill. (UrSure was also a winner in last year’s New Venture Competition.)

“The biggest theme is the potential for impact, for solving big problems in the world, and not just in technology,” said Jodi Goldstein, managing director of the Harvard Innovation Labs, in a meeting before the gala. “We’ve only begun to unlock the unrealized potential at Harvard.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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