Big Ideas is a year-long, annual student innovation contest that provides funding, support, and recognition to interdisciplinary teams of undergraduate and graduate students who have creative solutions to address pressing social challenges. The Big Ideas program is managed by the Blum Center for Developing Economies, an interdisciplinary center established in 2006 at UC Berkeley to improve global well-being by developing innovative technologies and systems, and by inspiring a new generation of changemakers.

Since the Contest’s founding over 13 years ago, the Blum Center has continually modified the design and management of the Contest, and as a result, has learned a great deal about successful and unsuccessful strategies for supporting student-led innovation. Thanks to continuous reflection and iterative change, the Blum Center has developed a proven, replicable model for managing innovation contests on university campuses.

Made possible by the generous support of the Rudd Family Foundation, The Lemelson Foundation, and the Global Development Lab’s Higher Education Solutions Network at the U.S. Agency for International Development, this Big Ideas Toolkit describes these proven contest management strategies, along with our lessons learned, best practices, and honest reflections on the process of managing a student-led innovation contest. Specifically, the Toolkit shares the goals of Big Ideas and how the Contest has been intentionally designed to meet those goals. Along with an overview of how the Contest is managed, the Toolkit contains an appendix of the tools that are used each year that can be replicated or adapted to fit the needs of innovation competitions at other colleges and universities.

Following the publication of the first edition of the Toolkit in 2013, the Blum Center released a second edition in 2016 and a third edition in 2020 to incorporate new insights and additional lessons learned over recent years. As Big Ideas expands, the Toolkit will be continually informed and updated based on changing activities and feedback from students and partners. It is intended as a living document rather than a finished publication.

At its core, Big Ideas believes that the best projects spring from partnerships. Big Ideas strongly encourages interdisciplinary collaboration among student teams, and in the same vein, the managers of Big Ideas seek to partner and work with other universities looking to initiate or expand a student-led innovation competition of their own. The Blum Center is happy to discuss any aspect of the Toolkit, provide additional resources, and explore possibilities for collaboration.

For more information on the Toolkit, contact: or (510) 666 – 9120.