The President’s Innovation Prize application process is competitive and consists of several rounds.  These rounds — a hybrid between a case competition, a boardroom product pitch, and a formal fellowship process — are described below. 

All application materials will be available for download in the coming weeks.  Students are highly encouraged to attend an information session, where they can learn more about the application process and connect with mentors from CURF and the Penn Center for Innovation to hone their project ideas.

The eight-member President’s Innovation Prize Selection Committee will be chaired by the Executive Vice President of the University.  In addition to the EVP, the Vice Provost for Research, one tenured member of the standing faculty from each of the University’s four undergraduate schools, one member of the University’s Board of Trustees, and one member of the alumni community will serve on the Committee.  In subsequent years, a former winner of the President’s Innovation Prize will be added to the Selection Committee.

Round 1: Application 

Once students have settled on a project and a team, they will be required to submit round 1 application materials.  This initial step has several components.  Students will be required to submit their materials no later than January 28, 2022:

  • The online application, to be completed by only one student team member, which generates all the necessary emails and unique links for additional members, recommenders, and the team mentor.  Additional team members will request their own letters of recommendation through a form that will be sent to them upon completion of the pre-application form.  You will not be able to submit a final proposal unless you have completed the pre-application--and it is highly recommended to complete this form as soon as you have finalized your team, your recommenders, and your mentor.
  • A “Recommendation and Commitment” form submitted by the student’s (or team’s) proposed project mentor (a Penn faculty member or another individual approved by CURF), attesting to their support of the applicant’s proposed project and a willingness to supervise its implementation.  Recommendation and Commitment forms will be generated by the online application.
  • A letter of recommendation from an individual not related to the applicant(s) (including, but not limited to, faculty members and administrators) who are able to assess the student’s record of innovation and preparedness to undertake the proposed project.  This cannot be the same person who is committing to act as your project mentor.  In the case of team entries, each team member must request one letter--additional team members will request their own letters of recommendation through a form that will be sent to them upon completion of the pre-application form.  Additional letters beyond one per student will not be read.
  • An up to 4-page business plan (including a cover page) that clearly articulates how the project will (1) be commercially viable; (2) produce a positive social impact/benefit; and (3) if applicable, emanate from students’ academic interests and coursework/research at Penn.  Applicants will be permitted to provide one attachment or appendix to this four page business plan (for example, a student who is creating an app may choose to design and share mockups of the app’s appearance and functionality, or a prototype of the device).  Applicants will be required to submit an executive summary, along with financial pro formas or similar plans, as part of their business plan.  The Penn Center for Innovation will assist students in developing their business plan.  Applicants should use this template when drafting their business plans.
  • An implementation timeline providing details on the expected progress, growth and development of the proposed project. The timeline should be no more than one page and should be tailored as appropriate to your project.
  • A resume or CV for each student applicant, stressing in particular any innovation-related coursework, research, or extracurricular experience.
  • The business plan, implementation timeline, and CV(s) should be folded into a single .pdf for final submission.
  • Lastly, students may also elect to submit a link to a brief recorded “elevator pitch” — a persuasive encapsulation of the project and its goals — not to exceed 90 seconds.  (Examples of an “elevator pitch” could include privately hosted YouTube or Vimeo videos.)  There will be an option on the final proposal submission form for students to include a link to their videos.

Round 2: Business Pitch

The President’s Innovation Prize Selection Committee will select a group of semifinalists to “pitch” their projects to the Committee in presentations that last from 8-10 minutes.  During this round, the Business Pitch round, semifinalists will be permitted the use of PowerPoint slides or any other audio and/or visual elements deemed appropriate.  Each presentation will conclude with questions from the Selection Committee.  (An additional 5-7 minutes will be budgeted for questions by the Selection Committee.) 

Prior to the start of the round, each semifinalist will receive a grant of $250 (per team) to assist in developing materials for their Business Pitch presentation.  This grant may be used however semifinalists deem appropriate.

Round 3: Final Round

The President will select, from a list of finalists recommended by the Selection Committee, one (1) Prize winner.  In making this decision, the President will have access to all application materials.  Finalists will not be required, and will not be permitted, to submit any additional application materials or revise their application in any way.

Entries will be evaluated, at minimum, on the following criteria:

  • Strength of the student’s, or team’s, concept.  Does the project have the potential to benefit others?  Is it innovative? 
  • Feasibility of the proposed project. Does the plan reflect a set of realistic, structured expectations that, if executed successfully, could lead to a financially viable venture? Is/are the applicant(s) fully committed to that plan?
  • Strength of the student’s, or team’s, application file (including, but not limited to, recommendations and resume/c.v.).
  • The project’s exemplification of the Penn Compact 2020’s commitment to innovation and the integration of knowledge to address pressing social needs.
  • Nexus of the proposed innovation project to the student’s coursework and/or research as an undergraduate.  Does the project emanate from on-the-ground work in the classroom and/or in the research lab?  How strong is that connection?

The Selection Committee reserves the right to evaluate projects using additional criteria.

Check out: Aileen Lee, founder of venture capital firm Cowboy Ventures, tells The New York Times what she seeks in a company.