Frequently Asked Questions

Although the following Frequently Asked Questions are designed to answer some of the most common President’s Innovation Prize questions, students who are considering applying are highly encouraged to make plans to attend an information session with CURF and the Penn Center for Innovation (PCI) this fall.

What is the President’s Innovation Prize?

Created by Penn President Amy Gutmann to strengthen the University of Pennsylvania’s commitment under the Penn Compact 2020 to innovation, the President’s Innovation Prize provides a graduating Penn senior, or team of graduating seniors, $100,000 (plus a $50,000 living stipend per team member) to envision and implement an innovative, commercial venture that makes a positive difference in the world. 

Together with inclusion and impact, innovation comprises one of the three pillars of President Amy Gutmann’s Penn Compact 2020.  The President’s Innovation Prize underscores the high priority that Penn places on educating students to put their knowledge to work for the betterment of humankind, as well as the creative and entrepreneurial spirit of Penn’s student body.  The Prize embodies and extends the University’s considerable commitment to empowering students to step outside the classroom and do good in the world.  From chewing gum that helps fight dental disease in the developing world to eyeglasses whose sales support the donation of eyewear to people in need, Penn students and alumni have long been on the vanguard of building businesses on the idea that the generation of a profit can, and often should, be mutually supportive of social good.

How do I apply for the Prize? 

Click here for a full description of the President’s Innovation Prize application process. 

How is “innovation” defined for the purposes of this Prize?

Any venture that brings scholarship to bear on real-world problems in order to transform individuals and societies falls within the scope of “innovation” for the President’s Innovation Prize.  Students are encouraged to think of innovation broadly and should consult with PCI on their project ideas.

Who is eligible to apply for this year’s President’s Innovation Prize?

Any full-time graduating senior in the Engineering, Nursing, SAS (including LPS), or Wharton undergraduate divisions who will receive their first undergraduate degree in December 2019, May 2020, or August 2020 is eligible to apply.  In the case of team entries, each member of the team must meet these eligibility requirements.

What does the winner of the President’s Innovation Prize receive?

One (1) individual or team will be selected for the President’s Innovation Prize each year.  Each Prize will be $100,000.  Winners will also receive a living stipend of $50,000 per team member.  (Again, there is a maximum of five students per team.)

For a period of one (1) year, the Innovation Prize winner(s) will also have access to dedicated space and/or free membership(s) to the co-working space within the Pennovation Center to assist them in developing their business concept and proposal.  The space will be determined in consultation with the Pennovation Center leadership consistent with the needs of the Innovation Prize awardee(s).

When are applications due?  When can I expect to be notified of my status?

First-round applications will be due by Friday, January 24, 2020.  All applicants should expect to be notified of their status no later than mid-March, with a final winner announced by the President near the end of March. 

What does a strong President’s Innovation Prize application look like?

A strong application would clearly explain and articulate how the proposed innovation idea or project would bring scholarship to bear on real-world problems in order to transform individuals and societies.  It would also make clear how the proposed innovation idea or project would generate a sustainable profit.  Students and teams are highly encouraged to work with CURF and PCI to develop their application.

Is there a specific academic or GPA cutoff for the Prize?

No.  However, academic record and performance will be taken into consideration by the Selection Committee.

I have an idea for a project that would make a measurable social impact, but I would like it to be a nonprofit.  Do all President’s Innovation Prize entries have to be for-profits?

If you are interested in structuring your idea or project as a nonprofit, please consider applying for the President’s Engagement Prizes.

Can I also apply for the President's Engagement Prize?

Students may not submit applications—either as individuals or as part of a team—for both the President's Engagement Prize and the President's Innovation Prize.

In what ways is the President’s Innovation Prize similar to the President’s Engagement Prizes?  In what ways is it different?

Like the President’s Engagement Prizes, semifinalists for the President’s Innovation Prize will be required to present their projects to a committee comprised of Trustees, faculty members, and administrators.  President’s Innovation Prize applicants will also be evaluated using a similar slate of criteria as the President’s Engagement Prizes.

There will be one (1) President’s Innovation Prize awarded annually to a team with a maximum of five (5) members.  There are as many as three (3) President’s Engagement Prizes awarded annually to teams of no more than three (3) members. 

The winner, or winning team, will receive a $100,000 prize, in addition to a $50,000 living stipend per team member.

The President’s Engagement Prizes require that students plan and budget their projects as one-year ventures; the President’s Innovation Prize encourages students to create commercial enterprises that are sustainable, and profitable, over a longer time horizon.

Applicants for both prizes with be required to submit financial information regarding their proposals: President’s Innovation Prize applicants should submit financial projections or pro formas as part of their business plans; President’s Engagement Prizes applicants need to complete and submit a project budget. 

I’m interested in applying for the President’s Innovation Prize, but I’m already a candidate for another Penn-sponsored or affiliated innovation or entrepreneurship prize.  Am I still eligible to apply?

Absolutely.  There are already a great many innovation- and entrepreneurship-related grants and prize competitions at Penn.  The President’s Innovation Prize adds to an already vibrant and robust ecosystem of such opportunities.  See the Penn Center for Innovation’s website for a full listing of some of these opportunities. 

The President’s Innovation Prize adds to these unique opportunities.  Applicants who are competitive in other high-profile innovation competitions will likely be equally competitive in the President’s Innovation Prize applicant pool, so please do apply for the President’s Innovation Prize.

I’m interested in applying for the President’s Innovation Prize, but I’m also a candidate for a full-time job, fellowship (such as the Rhodes, Marshall, etc.), and/or graduate school program.  Am I still eligible to apply?

Yes, you may apply for other post-graduate opportunities; however, winners are expected to spend a year after graduation working exclusively on their innovation project. Prize recipients may not be enrolled in full-time graduate study during the project implementation period.

What if my academic work and/or other prior activities are unrelated to the project I am proposing?  Do I need to have prior academic or non-academic experience related to the project I am proposing?

Prior project-related academic or non-academic experience (e.g. employment, volunteer activity, student clubs and organizations, internships) is desirable and will be taken into account in determining an applicant’s preparedness to undertake the project they are proposing.  The ideal winning project would emanate in some way from students’ coursework and/or research during their time at Penn.  However, such experience is not required.  A project proposal may be in an area unrelated to the applicant’s prior academic or non-academic experience.

I’m already working on an independent project that fulfills all of the requirements of the President’s Innovation Prize.  Can I apply with my original pre-existing project?

Absolutely.  Students who have already been working on an innovation-focused initiative, and whose independent projects fulfill all of the requirements of the President’s Innovation Prize, are highly encouraged to apply. 

At the same time, students who are starting a project from scratch are just as encouraged to apply.  The Selection Committee will look primarily at future growth opportunities in its evaluation process, not at past progress and development.

Am I required to apply in a team?

Both individual and team entries will be accepted.  Each team may consist of no more than five (5) students.

Who is eligible to serve as a project mentor?

Penn faculty members or administrators may serve as project mentors.  In some cases, exceptions may be made to allow a team to work with non-Penn-affiliates as project mentors; CURF must approve all such exceptions.

What does a project mentor do?

Project mentors are expected to provide professional advice and assistance as the student, or team, develops his, her or their innovation project.  Ideally, project mentors will be closely involved in helping students craft a set of ambitious, yet realistic, project goals and expectations.

Who can write me a letter of recommendation?  How many letters should I submit?

Any individual not related to the applicant(s) (including, but not limited to, faculty members and administrators) who is able to assess the student’s record of innovation and preparedness to undertake the proposed project may write a letter of recommendation.  In the case of team entries, each team member must submit one letter.  Additional letters will not be read.  No letters of recommendation may be from your project mentor.

Can I work with partner organizations?

Absolutely.  Applicants will be expected to submit preliminary letters of interest/commitment from any proposed partner organizations as part of their application.  These letters should be as specific as possible about the project and the partner organization’s role.

Can the Prize go only toward an original, independent project, or can it go toward a project that a student implements in conjunction with and under the supervision of a pre-existing organization?

While applicants are welcome to partner with external organizations, the proposed project must be original and of the applicant’s own creation.  The Prize cannot be used to support or further pre-existing projects or programs of outsides entities or of the University of Pennsylvania.

I’m not sure how to go about finding a project mentor?  Can somebody help me?

Ideally, project mentors will be individuals with whom students have had longstanding relationships on campus.  However, in some cases, CURF and/or the Penn Center for Innovation may be able to make introductions between students and potential mentors.  In addition, CURF and the Penn Center for Innovation can help students approach faculty members and administrators about serving as project mentors for the President’s Innovation Prize.   

What selection criteria will be used to determine the Prize winner?

Click here for a full description of the selection criteria that the Selection Committee, as well as the President, will use to select a winner.

Will all candidates be interviewed?

No.  After an initial screening by CURF and the Penn Center for Innovation, the Selection Committee will select a group of applicants to pitch their projects to the Committee as semifinalists.  A small group of semifinalists will then be recommended to the President for final consideration.

All candidates should expect to be notified of their status by no later than mid-March.

Will I be required to submit a project budget?

Applicants will be required to submit financial pro formas or similar plans as part of their overall business plan.

Is there a timeframe during which the money has to be spent?

No.  Once selected as winners, students will have the option of receiving 100% of their Prize funds up front, or of receiving their Prize funds in two installments.  (In this latter case, the funds must be 100% disbursed within 365 days of the award notice.)  It is expected that 100% of the Prize funds will be used to implement the proposed innovation project and support the recipient(s).

Will I retain the intellectual property rights to my project if I am selected as a winner?

Prize recipients are not employees of the University of Pennsylvania and are solely responsible for the use of their Prize funds.  In light of this and in line with the practice of most philanthropies, so long as recipients do not make significant use of the University of Pennsylvania’s facilities or resources or materially collaborate with any person obligated to assign his/her intellectual property rights to the University of Pennsylvania, recipients will retain all rights to intellectual property such as patented inventions or copyrighted materials arising from the project, but must agree as a condition of the receipt of the Prize funds to acknowledge the support of the University of Pennsylvania and the President’s Innovation Prize in any publications arising from the project. 

The University reserves the right to use and distribute interim and final reports on the recipient’s project for any purpose, including in administration, teaching, publications, and promotional activities. 

Any questions or concerns about intellectual property and commercialization may be directed to the Penn Center for Innovation.

In addition, a waiver of liability will be included in the terms and conditions of the award.  The University of Pennsylvania will accept no responsibility for any delay, loss, damage, or injury to person or property caused to others or the prize recipient arising from the recipient’s Innovation project.  The prize recipients shall hold harmless, release and forever discharge the University and its trustees, officers, employees, and agents from any and all claims, demands, and causes of action of whatever kind, including, but not limited to, illness, bodily injury, imprisonment, death, and loss or damage to property, or the consequences thereof, resulting from or in any way connected with the recipients’ Innovation projects.

You didn’t answer my question.  How can I learn more?

All interested students should be sure to attend an information session with CURF and PCI to learn more about the President’s Innovation Prize.