Cross-Campus Evaluation

Big Ideas has its roots on the UC Berkeley campus, but has expanded its eligibility to campuses beyond UC Berkeley. In its early years, at the request of a category sponsor, students from UC Davis, UC Merced, and UC Santa Cruz were eligible to apply for the IT for Society category. It wasn’t until the 2013-2014 cycle, at the request of the University of California Office of the President, that the contest expanded to all 10 campuses of the University of California System. Then the contest expanded to 16 campuses in 2014-2015 (incorporating the other 5 USAID Higher Education Solutions Network campuses.)

Expanding the Big Ideas contest to some of the top universities around the world has undoubtedly raised the size and stature of the competition, and improved the quality and diversity of submitted projects. Big Ideas has successfully leveraged its partnerships at each campus to promote the contest widely, leading to an increase in applications each year. By involving schools from across the country and internationally, Big Ideas gives winning teams greater recognition and exposure to a larger audience. By involving schools such as Uganda’s Makerere University, the contest integrates perspectives from student populations that may not receive the same amount of acknowledgement for their projects, especially from US audiences. It also offers a unique platform for students at numerous other campuses, where opportunities and resources for entrepreneurs may be more limited, to become involved in student innovation endeavors, and gain access to experiential educational opportunities to solve real world problems. It also means that there are more networks to tap into for judges and mentors.

Broadening eligibility to 16 campuses does not come without challenges. One of the strengths of the Big Ideas contest is its reputable brand and the high-touch resources it is able to offer students on the UC Berkeley campus. Despite strong partnerships established with eligible universities, and added efforts to provide resources remotely, this high-touch approach has been difficult to mirror on other campuses (on average, UC Berkeley finalists in the 2015-2016 contest utilized 3.6 Full Proposal support offerings, and non-UC Berkeley finalists used 2.5). The fact that the competition originated from and is based at UC Berkeley may also be a deterrent for students from other schools to participate.

As the contest has expanded to multiple universities, Big Ideas has made the shifts to accommodate broad multi-campus participation.


Until the last contest year (2015-2016), the competition was branded as Big Ideas@Berkeley, which may have caused some confusion for the 15 other campuses eligible to compete. In 2015, the contest began to drop “@Berkeley” in most of its outreach communications, while still noting in materials that the Contest was founded and is administered at UC Berkeley. This was done to signify the multi-university dimension of the competition, and to encourage more students from to take advantage of this opportunity to receive funding, support and recognition for their creative ideas to improve society. Notably, in November 2015, the first contest year following this revision, the Big Ideas contest received a 37% increase in applications.

Sponsorships, Partnerships, & Category Eligibility

Campus eligibility to compete in the Big Ideas contest varies by category. Some categories, such as Food Systems, are open to 16 campuses, whereas other categories, such as Improving Student Life, are open to only UC Berkeley. Decisions on category eligibility are made jointly between the category sponsor(s) and Big Ideas staff. While category-unique eligibility can sometimes create confusion for students, it has been effective in attracting new category sponsorships from different campuses.


Communications around category eligibility has somewhat been a challenge, as students who are often exposed to the Big Ideas contest do not realize that eligibility is unique for each campus. Each year, Big Ideas develops specific outreach materials for its three different networks: UC Berkeley, UC System, and Higher Education Solutions Network schools, posted on a system-specific promotion page that is sent to its partners. Every email sent out a department, school, center, or student group on another campus is very explicit about which categories those students are eligible for, since eligibility can be confusing (see an example of the 2015-2016 Category Eligibility Chart, and examples of Outreach Email Templates – Generic, Category, Partner Promotion in the Tools section).

To effectively promote Big Ideas at other campuses, the contest relies heavily on its partners to assist with its outreach. At the beginning of each contest, Big Ideas shares with its partner campuses its system-specific promotion page, as well as an outreach strategy that includes posters, email templates, and sample social media messages to post. Additionally, Big Ideas will ask its partners to recommend additional centers and student networks it can advertise to.

At the UC campuses, Big Ideas’ key partners are the respective Blum Centers on each campus within the Blum Center Federation. Within the Higher Education Solutions Network, each USAID-affiliated Development Lab serves as a key partner for participation and promotion of the Contest.

Big Ideas has also developed two comprehensive lists of relevant academic bodies at its partner schools. One of these lists contains major departments and communication channels at all eligible schools, all of which receive a general Big Ideas informational email when the contest launches. The other list is sorted by category and contains departments, classes, centers, and student groups on each campus that might be particularly interested in applying to that specific category. This latter list receives a tailored email describing the eligibility and requirements of the specific category, and strongly encourages students to apply. Big Ideas has found that this tailored approach is especially effective in reaching prospective applicants.

Big Ideas ensures that all branding and marketing materials are consistent and clear, and students are always encouraged to speak with a Big Ideas advisor if they have any questions about their campuses’ eligibility (see the chapter on Outreach & Marketing for more tips on how to promote the contest successfully).

Resource Offerings

Making sure that students from other contests have equal access to high-quality resources provided by the is the most challenging part of expanding the competition to multiple campuses. As a result of the contest originating from and being based on the UC Berkeley campus, Berkeley students inevitably are more aware of the resources available to them through the contest. With opportunities such as networking events, hands-on workshops, attendance at innovation-related events based in the Bay Area, and participation in end of the year events, it is impossible to provide remotely located students the same access that UC Berkeley students have.

However, Big Ideas has made great efforts to make these resources available to all students. All events held on the UC Berkeley campus– Information Sessions, Writing Workshops, Final Round Kickoff Event, and Grand Prize Pitch Day are webcasted live to encourage participation from students at other campuses. Recordings of those events are also archived on the Big Ideas website. Students are also able to arrange one-on-one consulting opportunities, such as Advising Office Hours, Editing Blitz appointments, and meetings with Practitioners in Residence, over Skype or phone. Even pitch-related events, such as the required Category-Specific Poster Sessions, are set up so that students can present through video conference. In the past three years, Big Ideas has also flown top-rated teams from the College of William and Mary, MIT, and UC San Diego to attend Grand Prize Pitch Day and vie for the chance to win additional funding by pitching before a panel of judges. It constantly seeks ways to better reach out to students on other campuses and support their participation in the contest.


Big Ideas has learned to be flexible with its services. In order to accommodate rigid student schedules and huge time differences, Big Ideas staff will often extend its office hours to cater to the availability of the student. Each workshop or event is recorded and made available online after the fact for students to watch on their own time. These adjustments have been especially useful for the students located in Uganda, where the time difference can be very difficult to manage.