How to Apply

How Does Big Ideas Work?

The contest has two rounds: a pre-proposal round in the fall and a full proposal round in the spring.

Round 1: Pre-proposal (First Round)

Eligible students are invited to submit a 3-page, 1,600-word pre-proposal by Friday, November 20, 2020, at 1pm (PT) via the website. Approximately 30-40 teams will be selected to continue to the final 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 invited to participate in the final round. All applicants will be notified of their status in December.

Round 2: Full Proposal (Final Round)

Teams selected for the final round will submit a short application video (between 60 and 90 seconds) in addition to an 8-page written proposal by April 2, 2021 at 1pm (PT). In this round, teams will expand on the design of their social innovations and incorporate the judges’ feedback. Additionally, to help further these proposals, teams are paired with a Big Ideas mentor (an experienced professional matched to the team based on expertise and background). Award winners will be announced in May with prizes ranging from $5,000 to $20,000. Prizes will be awarded only for high-quality submissions. Decisions are final and not subject to appeal.

Grand Prize Pitch Day & Awards Celebration

Grand Prize Pitch Day & Awards Celebration

The Big Ideas community will gather for its annual Grand Prize Pitch & Awards Celebration to recognize the most outstanding innovations in the 2020-2021 contest (Tentative Date: May 5, 2021). A select group of finalist teams will be invited to participate in the Grand Prize Pitch event for the opportunity to win up to an additional $10,000 for their project. Following the pitches, there will be a poster and demo session featuring all of the projects and innovators from the 2020-2021 Big Ideas Contest. 

Who Can Participate in Big Ideas?

Applicants with innovative “BIG” ideas, who meet all of the eligibility criteria listed below, are encouraged to apply.

  1. Student-Led: Projects must be initiated and led by an undergraduate or graduate student (or students) from an eligible campus. The project should not be an extension of faculty-guided research or led by a non-student established organization (i.e. non-profit or for-profit entity).
  2. Early-Stage: Big Ideas supports early-stage projects. These can range from brand new ideas with a team just assembling, to projects that have formed recently (within 2 years).
  3. Social Impact: Projects must have a clear social impact. The project should be centered around an innovation (technologies, services, programs) that produces a clear benefit with the potential for sustained improvement in the lives of groups or individuals.

Which Universities Are Eligible to Participate?

  • UC Berkeley
  • UC Davis
  • UC Irvine
  • UC Los Angeles
  • UC Merced
  • UC Riverside
  • UC San Diego
  • UC San Francisco
  • UC Santa Barbara
  • UC Santa Cruz

Additional Information

  1. Applicants may submit more than one application, but each submission must be unique. A student may participate in more than one project team, as long as each team submits a unique pre-proposal application.
  2. Projects that have previously won a Big Ideas award are not eligible to submit a pre-proposal application. Big Ideas alumni will be notified about a separate competition for previous Big Ideas winners, entitled “Scaling Up Big Ideas,” which is planned for Spring 2021.
  3. The Team Lead (primary applicant) must be a matriculated student at an eligible university and will be the primary point of contact for all contest communications and have final authority for all decisions related to the contest. Additional team members may include students (from eligible or non-eligible universities) and/or non-students. Faculty, staff, and external partners may play an advisory role.

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Come get inspired by Big Ideas alumni and their stories of how they transformed their early-stage idea into a successful social venture.