Prize Awards

Because the goal of Big Ideas is to incentivize creative thinking around solutions to social problems, Big Ideas prize money is given as an award for developing a feasible, socially impactful idea. Put differently, the Big Ideas prize is explicitly NOT a grant to carry out implementation of applicants’ project plans, but a monetary prize for articulating a creative, impactful idea.

Notably, awarding prize money for ideas— as opposed to issuing grants for implementation— allows the credit and responsibility of each project to remain with student teams. As a result, issuing prizes for ideas allows Big Ideas to avoid intellectual property issues (e.g., allows students as opposed to the university to retain ownership of their ideas) and issues of legal liability.

Because Big Ideas prize money is not considered a grant, Big Ideas places no restrictions on how Big Ideas prizes are used by teams, nor does Big Ideas require teams to submit a formal report itemizing how their prize money is spent. However, it is also important to note that through the academic year-long application and review process, the vast majority of teams that win funding are passionate about their ideas and dedicated to implementing their project. A January 2020 survey of winners from the past three contest years demonstrated that 70% of the winning teams were still working on their project and over 50% had secured additional funding.

Prior to receiving their award, winning teams are asked to sign an Award Letter (see Tools section for an example), where they agree to the following:

  • Participate in six-month and twelve-month check-in phone calls initiated by Big Ideas staff during which they provide an update on the status of their project.
  • Acknowledge Big Ideas’ support in all materials publicizing or resulting from their Big Ideas award.
  • Respond to reasonable requests for interviews from individuals referred by Big Ideas and to attend and prepare presentations for Big Ideas events.
  • Allow Big Ideas to publish project summaries in web and printed resources.

Number and Amount of Awards

Each year, Big Ideas selects multiple winners to receive awards. Although the exact number of awards changes year to year, during the 2018-2019 Contest, Big Ideas selected 34 teams as winners, and gave each winning team an award ranging from $2,000 to $15,000. The average prize award across categories typically amounts to $6,500.

The exact amount awarded to each team is determined primarily by the overall scores proposals received in the final round of judging, and the amount of prize money available across the whole of the competition.

Disbursing Awards

Each school has its own financial procedures that need to be taken into consideration when disbursing awards to Big Ideas winners. It is important to note that regardless of how the prize is disbursed after winners are determined, in the Full Proposal application, it must be made clear to the team that the Team Lead has absolute authority in determining to whom and how that award will be disbursed. Big Ideas staff provide UC Berkeley winners with three options for receiving their prize awards:

  1. Distribute a personal award directly to the students on the team. (Selecting this option will require that the recipient/s report this prize as income on their tax returns.)
  2. Transfer the award to the team’s campus student group account. (Big Ideas staff provide support to help students register their team as an official student group with the campus.)
  3. Transfer the award to a faculty advisor’s campus research account.

In addition, there have been Big Ideas winners from UC campuses other than Berkeley. These winners are given two award options:

  1. Distribute a personal award directly to the students on the team.
  2. Big Ideas staff prepare an inter-campus transfer that sends the funding from UC Berkeley to the General Accounting Office of the students’ campus.