Official Rules

Failure to meet these rules will result in disqualification from the contest. Please note that applications submitted to the Scaling Up and Hardware For Good categories have a separate set of rules and additional requirements. Teams applying to those categories must thoroughly review content on those category pages prior to applying.

  1. At least one member of each team must be a matriculated student at an eligible campus to enter the contest.  Please visit contest category descriptions to view a list of eligible campuses for each category.
  2. The Team Lead (primary applicant) will be the main contact person for all Big Ideas communications and must be a matriculated student at an eligible campus at the time of the pre-proposal deadline. The Team Lead has final authority in determining prize disbursement options.
  3. Big Ideas projects must be student initiated and student led.  Faculty, staff, and external partners may only play an advisory role for student teams.
  4. Student teams may submit an application to only one category.  If an application is submitted to more than one category, only the first submission received will be reviewed.  One student may participate in more than one project team as long as each team submits a unique pre-proposal application.
  5. Student teams cannot seek funding from Big Ideas for projects that have previously won a Big Ideas award, unless they are submitting a proposal in the “Scaling Up Big Ideas” category.  Teams that have won a Scaling Up award in the past are not eligible to reapply.

Prizes will only be awarded for high-quality submissions.  Decisions of the judges are final and not subject to appeal.

Pre-proposal Application Requirements

Pre-proposals need to be submitted as a single PDF file. The document can be no longer than 3 pages and 1,600 words. The pre-proposal must contain the following content, but the specific structure and flow of presentation is flexible. Scaling Up participants have a separate set of requirements, and should check the Big Ideas website for more information.

References and citations are permitted in the pre-proposal round and are not included in the page limit. Appendices are not allowed in the pre-proposal round, but will be permitted in the final round if your team is selected to participate. Pre-proposal entrants will be notified the mid-December (2018) if they have been selected as a finalist. Finalist teams will have the opportunity to develop and refine their pre-proposals into (max) 10 page “full proposals” due on March 6, 2019 at 12:00 noon (PT).

Pre-proposal Components

Note that applications submitted to the Scaling Up and Hardware for Good categories have a separate set of requirements and judging criteria. Teams applying to those categories must thoroughly review content on those category pages prior to applying. 

1. Problem Statement

A description of the problem or need that the project will address. The description should communicate an understanding of relevant research/statistics on the problem. (Recommended length: ½ – 1 page in length)

2. Landscape Analysis

An overview of any services, programs, or products that have been designed or implemented to address this problem (both current competitors and past attempts). The team should discuss the strengths and limitations of these approaches, as well as the gaps that still exist. (Recommended length: ½ – 1 page in length)

3. Proposed Innovation

A summary of the innovative idea (e.g., project, service, or product), how it works, and its intended impact. Applicants should provide a brief description of how the project will look in its first year of implementation, and why it is different from other solutions. Applicants should briefly explain how they will address challenges to implementation. Note: judges are instructed to consider, above all, how innovative and creative the project idea is. (Recommended length: 1 page in length)

4. Team Bios

A list of key project team members with brief biographies that explain the capability of the team to pursue their idea. If the team has not yet found team members with the skill sets required by the project, they should identify those gaps, outline those roles, and note how they intend to fill those positions. Non-student advisors may also be listed in this section. (Recommended length: ½ page in length)

Judging Criteria

Innovation (40%)
The idea presented is a novel, innovative, or creative solution to the proposed problem. Big Ideas defines “novel, innovative, or creative projects” as those that a) propose a new idea, method, invention, or product, b) create a better or more effective product, process, service, technology, or idea, or c) tailor an existing innovation to a new context.

Potential for Impact (25%)
The proposed project addresses an important and pressing social challenge. The team provides the reviewer with sufficient statistics and research to understand the problem, and makes a clear and compelling case that their project addresses this need.

Viability 15%
The proposal includes team members’ expertise and skill sets, and the team presents compelling evidence of their ability to implement the proposal. The team has identified likely implementation challenges and provided an initial strategy for addressing barriers. The team has thought through the partnerships and resources necessary to achieve their expressed goals and objectives. (Note: Teams are only required to consider implementation for the first year of their project.)

Quality (10%)
The overall quality of proposal is high and the idea itself is of high merit. The team has put thought and effort into creating a professional, persuasive, and well organized proposal that convinces readers that the idea is worth funding.

Category Challenge (10%)
For each contest category, judges will also consider a category-specific question to determine the extent to which the pre-proposal addresses the challenge.

Pre-proposal Examples

Click the links below to download examples of  pre-proposals.

Pre-proposal Example 1 Pre-proposal Example 2 Pre-proposal Example 3

Pre-proposal Writing Tips

Pre-proposal Writing Tips

Pre-proposal FAQ

1. I'm a student from an eligible campus, but I will be graduating in the spring and will no longer be a student by the time funds are disbursed. Am I eligible for the contest?
 As long as at least one team member is a matriculated student at the time of the pre-proposal application deadline, your team is eligible. Note that UC Extension students are not matriculated UC students and are therefore not eligible. However, a UC Extension student may participate on a team that includes at least one eligible student.

2. I'm a student from an eligible campus, but my teammates are not. Are we eligible for the contest?
Yes.  Only one team member is required to be a matriculated UC or Makerere University student from an eligible campus.

3. Is there a minimum or maximum team size?
 Students can work alone on a project, and there is no maximum team size.  However, judges will consider whether your team has the necessary leadership and team composition to successfully launch the project.  Therefore, multidisciplinary teams are strongly encouraged.  The typical team has between 3 and 5 students.We also understand that team compositions are dynamic and can shift throughout the contest. If your pre-proposal application is selected to continue on in the final round, you may add or drop team members when you submit your full proposal.

4. What should I do if I haven’t solidified my team by the time the pre-proposal is due?
 As noted above, we understand that team building is a primary challenge teams face during the pre-proposal round.  If you know that you want to add an additional team member, but have not yet identified a person to fill that role, it is okay to note that in your pre-proposal.   It is better to say “we are looking for a programmer with X, Y, and Z skills,” than to present information on an incomplete team and lead the judges to believe that your team doesn’t does not recognize that you will need additional help to put your idea into action. Also, we encourage you to attend the Big Ideas information sessions and other events where you can meet potential student collaborators who are interested in innovation and social ventures , or touch base with your campus’ innovation ambassador.

5. Do references count toward the page limit?
 References and citations are permitted in the pre-proposal round and are not included in the 3-page pre-proposal limit. Appendices are not allowed in the pre-proposal round, but will be permitted in the final round if your team is selected to participate.

6. Are appendices allowed in the pre-proposal round?
 No. Appendices will be allowed in the final-round proposals, however.

7. How strict are the section divisions and order of sections? Can I add an additional section or rearrange sections?
 You may rearrange the sections as it makes sense for your proposal, and you can add an additional section if you think it will enhance your proposal.  That said, make sure that you include a section (and the appropriate section heading) for each of the sections described on the pre-proposal application requirements, as the judging criteria focus on the information provided in each of those sections.

8. What will my pre-proposal be judged on?

Note that Scaling Up proposals have a separate set  judging criteria, outlined its category page.

  • INNOVATION: The extent to which the idea presented is a novel, innovative, or creative solution the proposed problem. (40% of overall score)
  • POTENTIAL FOR IMPACT: The extent to which the proposed project addresses a pressing problem, and the extent to which your team provides sufficient statistics and research for the reader to understand the problem. (20% of overall score)
  • VIABILITY: The extent to which the proposed project appears viable, given the project description, the team’s qualifications, and the team’s understanding of the market or community needs. (15% of overall score)
  • CATEGORY CHALLENGE: For each contest category (except Scaling Up), judges will also consider a category-specific question. For this section, Scaling Up will be judged on progress made towards previous project thus far. (15% of overall score)
  • QUALITY: The extent to which the proposal is professional, persuasive, well written, and well organized. (10% of overall score)
9. Are there any restrictions on what kinds of expenses can be covered with Big Ideas funds?
There are no restrictions on what expenses can be covered with Big Ideas funds. The Big Ideas prize is explicitly not a grant meant to carry out the implementation of applicants’ project plans, but a monetary prize for articulating a creative, impactful idea. Most Big Ideas winners, however, decide to utilize the award towards implementing their innovation after the contest is over.

10. Typically, how large are Big Ideas awards?
The average award size is $5,000, but awards can range from $2,000 to $10,000 based on the quality of the proposal, as evaluated by judges, and project need.

11. My project has a definite end date. How should I address this in my proposal?
The pre-proposal asks you to provide a brief description of how your project will look in its first year of implementation. If your project is expected to last less than one year for any reason, address this in the description of your innovation, and provide the reasons why you anticipate your plan will last less than one year in duration.

12. Must I use a particular writing style to format my references?
No. As long as you are consistent, you can format your references any way you choose.

13. Can I include photos or graphs in my final proposal, or must the proposal contain only written information?
Yes! You can include figures in your proposal to help explain your project, but they will count toward the page limit. Any image not created by your team should be properly cited.

14. I am concerned about someone stealing my idea. Are proposals kept confidential?
Applicants are required to complete a webform with information about their team and a brief description of their project. Applicants will then attach their proposal and budget (preferably as one PDF document). The Big Ideas Contest reserves the right to use the brief description of the project in the webform publicly. However, you can indicate in the webform that you would like the attached (longer) proposal to be kept confidential. If you are concerned about protecting your idea, do not put any protected information in the webform, then check the webform box to indicate you would like the attached proposal kept confidential.

15. Who are the pre-proposal judges? May I contact the judges at any point during the contest?
 Judges are professionals from a variety of fields with one thing in common: a passion for innovative ideas. In order to ensure we provide teams with the best feedback possible, and help them to think deeply about their topic and the field it falls into, we look for judges who have a minimum of 5 years of professional experience and at least ONE of the following:

  • Professional skills critical to supporting early stage startups (e.g. Business plan development, Scalability and design thinking, Financial Modeling, IP Strategy, Market Research, Organizational design, Branding/consumer engagement)
  • Expertise in an industry/field that is directly related to one of the 9 Big Ideas Contest categories (e.g. ICT, International Development, CleanTech, Social Justice, Food Systems, etc).

Many projects focus in a specific area within the broad Big Ideas categories, so when writing your pre-proposal, assume that your reader has some general knowledge of the field (e.g., energy efficient technologies or global poverty), but no specialized knowledge in your particular project area.  Be sure not to use jargon and explain technical terms. Judges’ identities will remain anonymous throughout the contest.  You will receive written feedback from the judges, but you will not be given access to the names or contact information of the judges.

Past Winners Gallery

Check our past winners gallery to see examples of winning projects.