Big Ideas 2018 Contest: Where Impact Begins

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

The Rudd Family Foundation Big Ideas Contest launches on Sept. 13!

Big Ideas is an early-stage university-based innovation contest that connects students—the world’s next generation of social entrepreneurs—with the mentorship, training, and resources needed to successfully conceptualize, deploy, and scale social innovations. Big Ideas plugs student entrepreneurs into a robust innovation ecosystem of high-caliber mentors, academics, scientists, tech experts, industry leaders, and investors, enabling them to access the full spectrum of resources needed to bring their ideas to fruition. The program is a time-tested, highly effective mechanism to connect with this generation—to meet them at the place and time in their lives when they are most ready to take on a challenge and to give them the skills, tools and opportunities for achieving great impact now and throughout their lives.

Each November, students submit their solutions for the world’s most pressing social and development challenges to Big Ideas. Proposals are vetted, and promising concepts are refined and nurtured over a year-long process of advising, mentorship, and development. In May, winners are selected, and the top social innovations are reviewed by multidisciplinary panels of industry experts, with winning teams receiving seed funding ranging from $2,000-$15,000.  Since 2006, Big Ideas has invested a total of $2M of seed funding across 435 ventures. That funding, coupled with the support of the Big Ideas ecosystem, has enabled teams to demonstrate milestones on their projects that have attracted over $300M in additional funding.

Prospective applicants should attend a Big Ideas Information Session, scheduled to take place at 6:00pm (PT) on Wednesday, September 13th and Tuesday, September 26th in Blum Hall, B100 (Plaza Level).

For many students, Big Ideas serves as the first step in turning a dream into a viable product, service, or organization. Between September and May, undergraduate and graduate students take advantage of workshops, receive valuable feedback, work with mentors at the top of their fields, and have multiple opportunities to expand their professional networks.

Big Ideas’ unique approach supports a diverse portfolio of innovators and social ventures. It is multidisciplinary—attracting engineers, social science majors, business majors, in addition to students from over 100 majors—and supports a variety of social ventures including for-profit enterprises, non-profit organizations and community-based initiatives. 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.

“The recognition I received from Big Ideas was critical for the launch of my company, Copia, a tech-enabled food recovery company with a mission to end hunger. The initial Big Ideas prize funding, coupled with invaluable entrepreneurship mentorship, enabled me to mature my good concept into a viable business.” said Komal Ahmad, founder and CEO of Copia. Since winning the Big Ideas Contest in 2012, Copia has expanded greatly by partnering with 16 companies and is currently on its way to feeding 1 million people.

In this twelfth year of Big Ideas, 11 universities will participate, including all 10 campuses of the University of California system and Makerere University in Uganda.  With most categories open to over 300,000 students, the Big Ideas Contest is one of the largest interdisciplinary student innovation competitions in the world.

Expanding Reach Across the UC System through Innovation Ambassadors

This year, Big Ideas is launching a new program with the goal of further fostering and supporting student-led social innovation across all 10 UC campuses. Big Ideas recognizes that dedicated and talented representatives stationed at each participating campus is essential to students’ skill-building and success. Each UC school will have a designated student Innovation Ambassador responsible for tapping into social entrepreneurship resources, spreading the word about the contest, and supporting students and the development of their social ventures as they move through the competition.

Innovation Ambassadors [1] help provide aspiring student entrepreneurs with a platform and resources necessary to transform their innovative ideas into concrete implementation plans. As Big Ideas representatives at each campus, Innovations Ambassadors work with students, academics, and industry leaders to further extend the tools and resources necessary for early-stage student innovators to transform ideas into viable and sustainable social ventures.

Big Ideas alumnus Kirk Hutchison, CEO of Worldcare Technologiesfirst place winner in the 2016 Big Ideas Global Health category and third place winner at Grand Prize Pitch Day — is part of the inaugural cohort. Hutchinson said he is excited to give back to Big Ideas by supporting social entrepreneurs at UC San Diego.

“As a participant in Big Ideas, I was forced to stop looking at challenges like HIV diagnostics as purely a technology problem. I began to consider not only how to make the business case for my project, but also what it really takes to bring an innovation from the lab into reality. In my role as an Innovation Ambassador, I am excited to bring more UCSD students into a program that provides critical resources for early stage social innovations, both financial and experiential,” Hutchinson said.

New Connected Communities and Workforce Education Categories

 This year, Big Ideas is bringing again including six categories that were wildly successful last year: Art & Social Change, Energy & Resource Alternatives, Food Systems, Global Health, Hardware for Good, and Scaling Up Big Ideas. Additionally, Big Ideas is launching two new categories this year: Connected Communities and Workforce Education & Development. Connected Communities, developed in partnership with The Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC), challenges students to invent a novel solution that leverages the capacity of technology to engage and enhance the prosperity of campuses, communities, and cities. The Workforce Education & Development category prompts young innovators to propose workforce solutions that uplift individuals with the technical knowledge, practical skills and readiness necessary to secure employment and self-sufficiency.

Big Ideas is made possible by the generous support of the Andrew and Virginia Rudd Family Foundation and brings together entities as the Blum Center for Developing Economies, United States Agency for International Development, Autodesk Foundation, Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society, University of California Office of the President, the Associated Students of the University of California— as well as over 350 judges and mentors annually.

For more information about rules, categories, resources, funding, and contact information, please visit the Big Ideas website at