Application Requirements and Criteria

Pre-proposal Application Requirements

All teams in the pre-proposal round of the 2022-2023 Big Ideas Contest are required to submit a written proposal by the pre-proposal round deadline of Wednesday, December 7 at 1pm Pacific Time. Please carefully read all of the information contained on this webpage. Any applications that do not adhere to the requirements outlined below  will be deemed ineligible. All decisions made by the judges and contest administrators are considered final and not subject to appeal.

Pre-proposals must be submitted as a single PDF file. The document can be no longer than 3 pages with standard font sizes (>11 pt.) and standard margins (1 in.) Appendices are not permitted in the pre-proposal round.

Exceptions to the 3-page limit: Applicants are allowed up to 1 additional page for team bios (required element). References and citations are allowed in the pre-proposal round and are not included in the 3-page pre-proposal limit.  

Pre-Proposal Examples
(Note: In prior years "Team Bios" had to be within the 3-page limit. For 2022-2023 bios can be included on a 4th page.)

Writing Tips

Pre-Proposal Required Elements

The pre-proposal must contain the following content, but the specific structure and flow of presentations are flexible.


1. Problem Statement

A description of the problem or need that the project will address.  The description should communicate an understanding of relevant research/statistics on the problem. (Required element within the first 3-pages. Recommended length: ½ – 1 page.)

2. Landscape Analysis

An overview of any services, programs, or products that have already been designed or implemented to address this problem (both current competitors and past attempts). The team should discuss the strengths and limitations of these approaches, as well as the gaps that still exist. (Required element within the first 3-pages. Recommended length: ½ – 1 page.)

3. Proposed Innovation

A summary of the innovation (e.g., project, service, or product), how it works, and its potential for social impact. Applicants should provide a brief description of how the project will look in its first year of implementation, and why it is different from other solutions. Applicants should briefly explain how they will address challenges to implementation. Note: Judges are instructed to consider, above all, the degree to which the project idea is innovative and creative. (Required element within the first 3-pages. Recommended length: 1 – 1 ½ page.)

4. Team Bios

A list of key team members with brief biographies that explain the team’s capability to pursue the idea. If the team has not yet found members with the skill sets required for the project, they should identify those gaps, outline those roles, and note how they intend to fill the positions. Non-student advisors may also be listed in this section. (Required Element. Applicants are permitted up to 1 additional page, beyond the 3-page limit, for their team bios.)

5. Citations and References

All relevant work must be properly cited (APA / MLA preferred). All sources that are cited in the application must appear in the reference list at the end of the application (Optional Element, do not count towards the 3-page limit.)

Judging Criteria

Entries will be judged according to the criteria below.

Innovation (40%): The project presents a truly novel, innovative, or creative solution to the problem. Big Ideas defines “novel, innovative, or creative” as those solutions that a) propose a new idea, method, invention, or product, b) create a better or more effective product, process, service, technology, or idea, or c) improve upon or tailor an existing innovation to a new context.

Social Impact (30%): The proposed project addresses an important social challenge. The team provides the reviewer with sufficient statistics and research to understand the problem and makes a clear and compelling case that their project addresses this need.

 Long Term Viability (20%): The proposal includes team members’ expertise and skillsets and compelling evidence of the ability to implement the proposal. The team has identified implementation challenges and provided an initial strategy for addressing barriers. The team has thought through the partnerships and resources necessary to achieve its goals and objectives. (Note: Teams are required to consider implementation for only the first year of their projects.)

Proposal Quality (10%): The team has put thought and effort into creating a professional, persuasive, and well-organized proposal that effectively communicates an innovative and potentially transformative “big idea.” The overall quality of the proposal is high and convinces readers that the project is worth funding.

Frequently Asked Questions

As long as at least one team member is a matriculated student at the time of the pre-proposal application deadline, your team is eligible. Note that UC Extension students are not matriculated UC students and are therefore not eligible. However, a UC Extension student may participate on a team that includes at least one eligible student.

Yes.  Only one team member is required to be a matriculated UC student from an eligible UC campus.

Students can work alone on a project, and there is no maximum team size.  However, judges will consider whether your team has the necessary leadership and team composition to successfully launch the project.  Therefore, multidisciplinary teams are strongly encouraged.  The typical team has between 3 and 5 students. We also understand that team compositions are dynamic and can shift throughout the contest. If your pre-proposal application is selected to continue on in the final round, you may add or drop team members when you submit your full proposal.

As noted above, we understand that team building is a primary challenge teams face during the pre-proposal round.  If you know that you want to add an additional team member, but have not yet identified a person to fill that role, it is okay to note that in your pre-proposal.   It is better to say “we are looking for a programmer with X, Y, and Z skills,” than to present information on an incomplete team and lead the judges to believe that your team doesn’t does not recognize that you will need additional help to put your idea into action. Also, we encourage you to attend the Big Ideas information sessions and other events where you can meet potential student collaborators who are interested in innovation and social ventures, or touch base with your campus’ innovation ambassador.

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.

No. Appendices will be allowed in the final-round proposals, however.

You may rearrange the sections as it makes sense for your proposal, and you can add an additional section if you think it will enhance your proposal.  That said, make sure that you include a section (and the appropriate section heading) for each of the sections described on the pre-proposal application requirements, as the judging criteria focus on the information provided in each of those sections.

There are no restrictions on what expenses can be covered with Big Ideas funds. The Big Ideas prize is explicitly not a grant meant to carry out the implementation of applicants’ project plans, but a monetary prize for articulating a creative, impactful idea. Most Big Ideas winners, however, decide to utilize the award towards implementing their innovation after the contest is over.

Big Ideas awards will range from $5,000 to $20,000 based on the quality of the proposal, as evaluated by judges, and project need.

The pre-proposal asks you to provide a brief description of how your project will look in its first year of implementation. If your project is expected to last less than one year for any reason, address this in the description of your innovation, and provide the reasons why you anticipate your plan will last less than one year in duration.

No. As long as you are consistent, you can format your references any way you choose.

Yes! You can include figures in your proposal to help explain your project, but they will count toward the page limit. Any image not created by your team should be properly cited.

Applicants are required to complete a webform with information about their team and a brief description of their project. Applicants will then attach their proposal and budget (preferably as one PDF document). The Big Ideas Contest reserves the right to use the brief description of the project in the webform publicly. However, you can indicate in the webform that you would like the attached (longer) proposal to be kept confidential. If you are concerned about protecting your idea, do not put any protected information in the webform, then check the webform box to indicate you would like the attached proposal kept confidential.

Judges are professionals from a variety of fields with one thing in common: a passion for innovative ideas. In order to ensure we provide teams with the best feedback possible, and help them to think deeply about their topic and the field it falls into, we look for judges who have a minimum of 5 years of professional experience and at least ONE of the following:
  • Professional skills critical to supporting early-stage startups (e.g. Business plan development, Scalability and design thinking, Financial Modeling, IP Strategy, Market Research, Organizational design, Branding/consumer engagement)
  • Expertise in an industry/field that is directly related to one of the 9 Big Ideas Contest categories (e.g. ICT, International Development, CleanTech, Social Justice, Food Systems, etc).
Many projects focus in a specific area within the broad Big Ideas categories, so when writing your pre-proposal, assume that your reader has some general knowledge of the field (e.g., energy-efficient technologies or global poverty), but no specialized knowledge in your particular project area. Be sure not to use jargon and explain technical terms. Judges’ identities will remain anonymous throughout the contest. You will receive written feedback from the judges, but you will not be given access to the names or contact information of the judges.