UC Berkeley News


$100,000 competition for bright ideas

| 08 March 2006

Banking on the fact that students are often as creative and impassioned as their professors, a campus group has put up more than $100,000 for a competition to find and fund students' best ideas.

Called "Bears Breaking Boundaries," the competition is being funded by the Big Ideas @ Berkeley initiative in conjunction with the student government - Berkeley's chapter of the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC) - and numerous institutes and research centers across campus.

"Berkeley students have big ideas," says Thomas Kalil, special assistant to the chancellor for science and technology and head of Big Ideas. "I hope that this competition encourages Berkeley students to put their ideas on paper, so that the campus can mobilize additional resources to support them."

According to Kalil, the competition seeks creative ideas in a broad range of subjects such as curricular innovation, green cities, neglected diseases, clean energy, information technology for society, social entrepreneurship, science and technology policy, serious games, improving Lower Sproul Plaza, and designing the next "X Prize" - a $10 million private prize, announced in 1996 and claimed in 2004, that launched the first private race into space.

The competition is open to undergraduate and graduate students alike, who will be able to use the cash prizes as scholarships or to advance their ideas. Multidisciplinary teams are strongly encouraged but not required.

"ASUC is delighted to be co-sponsoring Bears Breaking Boundaries," said student leader Inga Lin, deputy director of campus affairs for the ASUC Office of the Executive Vice President. "Cal students are entrepreneurial and want to change the world, and this contest will give them the platform to do so."

Kalil has already seen how imaginative, energetic, and dedicated Berkeley students can be. In a similar competition last year, sponsored by the School of Public Health's Center for Entrepreneurship in International Health and Development, 5 of 14 submissions were deemed worthy of support and are now receiving seed funding. Among these is a student proposal to create a center for safe drinking water and sanitation, leveraging Berkeley's expertise in inexpensive water treatment technologies such as one using ultraviolet light to kill germs.

Big Ideas is currently supporting more than 20 student projects in areas such as public policy, global public health, developing-nation access to essential medicines, and entrepreneurship in clean energy, biotechnology and nanotechnology.

Kalil says the overall goals of the competition are to:

. Provide concrete support, such as money, advice, or other resources, for creative, high-quality student proposals;
. Encourage Berkeley students to set ambitious goals for their current and future endeavors;
. Increase the role that Berkeley students play in shaping the next generation of research, education, and service activities on campus;
. Encourage the innovation and fresh thinking that often arises from multidisciplinary student teams.

Organizations involved in Bears Breaking Boundaries as either hosts or financial sponsors of one or more of the contests are the ASUC, Big Ideas @ Berkeley, the office of the vice chancellor for research, Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS), Berkeley Institute of the Environment, Center for Neglected Diseases, Center for New Media, Center for Responsible Business, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Initial funding for Big Ideas @ Berkeley was provided by the Omidyar Network, an investment group created by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, with additional funding provided by the College of Engineering, CITRIS, the office of the vice chancellor for research, the School of Law (Boalt Hall), and the venture capital firm Sevin Rose.

For information about the competition, visit its website (contest.berkeley.edu/background.php). The Big Ideas @ Berkeley website is bigideas.berkeley.edu.