UC Berkeley News


Hey, where are the big ideas?
Online marketplace lets students raise funds for projects tackling global issues

| 31 January 2007

The campus has launched an online marketplace that will help students raise funds from alumni, private companies, foundations, or other donors to support their projects to change the world.

The marketplace (bigideas.berkeley.edu) allows donors to make a targeted donation to support a specific student project.

"Cal students have great ideas for addressing such challenges as clean energy, safe drinking water, global poverty reduction, technology-based entrepreneurship, and health care for the uninsured," says Chancellor Birgeneau. "This marketplace will help them mobilize additional financial and in-kind resources to support their ideas and recruit additional committed students."

The Big Ideas initiative provides funding, support, and encouragement to interdisciplinary teams of Berkeley undergraduate and graduate students who have "big ideas," in the form of seed grants, in-kind contributions, connections, advice, assistance in marketing and communications, and university resources, such as teaching resources for new courses.

The marketplace currently features 25 student projects, including:

. A collaboration with the Shuar community in the Ecuadorian Amazon to address health issues such as malnutrition, safe water, and sanitation.

. A Center for Energy Innovation, which would help accelerate the transfer of clean-energy technologies from the lab to the marketplace and educate future leaders in the clean-energy industry.

. Science, Technology, and Engineering Policy (STEP), a student group that seeks to create better technology policy through collaborations among scientists, technologists, and policymakers.

. The Berkeley Nanotechnology Club and the Berkeley BioBusiness Association, which foster entrepreneurship by business, science, and engineering students interested in nanotechnology and the life sciences.

. The Suitcase Clinic, which provides free health and legal services to the uninsured, homeless, and low-income communities of the Bay Area.

Student projects are vetted before being placed on the marketplace. Students receiving funding must update donors twice a year on the progress they have made.

Many of the initial projects featured on the marketplace were winners of a $100,000 competition organized in 2005 by the Big Ideas @ Berkeley initiative and the ASUC. A similar competition is planned for early this year, according to Thomas Kalil, director of Big Ideas @ Berkeley and special assistant to the chancellor for science and technology.

Big Ideas @ Berkeley and the student projects it backs have received additional support from a variety of prominent organizations. The program was featured at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York last fall. A "mission-based" investment group created by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife, Pam, has provided funding of $135,000 through its Enzyme Program. One student project, the Center for Energy Innovation, has already attracted $50,000 in corporate and foundation support.

Other sponsors include the campus Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS), the College of Engineering, the Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost, and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research.