Prize Awards

Because the goal of Big Ideas@Berkeley is to encourage and incentivize creative thinking around solutions to social problems, Big Ideas prize money is given as an award for developing a creative, feasible, socially impactful idea. Put differently, the Big Ideas prize is explicitly not a grant to carry out implementation of applicants’ project plans, but a monetary prize for articulating a creative, impactful idea.

Notably, awarding prize money for ideas—as opposed to issuing grants for implementation—allows the credit and responsibility of each project to remain with student teams. As a result, issuing prizes for ideas allows Big Ideas@Berkeley to avoid intellectual property issues (e.g., allows students as opposed to the university to retain ownership of their ideas) and issues of legal liability.

Because Big Ideas prize money is not considered a grant, Big Ideas@Berkeley places no restrictions on how Big Ideas prizes are used by teams nor does Big Ideas@Berkeley require teams to submit a formal report itemizing how their prize money is spent. Although teams have the leeway to apply their prize towards scholarship or personal expenses, a recent survey demonstrated that 27 of the 28 winning teams from last year were still working on their project.

Prior to receiving their award, winning teams are asked to sign an award letter (see Tools section), where they agree to the following:

  • To participate in six-month and twelve-month check-in phone calls initiated by Big Ideas@Berkeley staff during which they provide an update on the status of their project.
  • To acknowledge Big Ideas@Berkeley’s support in all materials publicizing or resulting from their Big Ideas award.
  • To respond to reasonable requests for interviews from individuals referred by Big Ideas and to attend and prepare presentations for Big Ideas events.
  • To allow Big Ideas@Berkeley to publish project summaries in web and printed resources.

Number and Amount of Awards
Each year, Big Ideas@Berkeley selects multiple winners within each category to receive awards. Although the exact number of awards changes year to year, during the 2012-13 Contest, Big Ideas selected 37 teams as winners, and gave each winning team an award ranging from $1000 to $10,000. The average prize award across categories typically amounts to $5000.

The exact amount awarded to each team is determined primarily by the overall scores the proposals received in the final round of judging, but also to a smaller extent by the amount of money requested by each team in their project proposals. The number of winners selected in each category depends both on the amount of prize money available within each category and the number of entries to each category.

Disbursing Awards
Each university or college has its own financial procedures and processes that need to be taken into consideration when disbursing awards to Big Ideas winners. Big Ideas@Berkeley staff provide winners with three options for receiving their prize awards:

  • Distribute a personal award directly to the students on the team. (Selecting this option requires that the recipient/s report this prize as income on their tax returns.)
  • Transfer the award to the team’s campus student group account. (Big Ideas staff provides support to help students register their team as an official student group with the campus.)
  • Transfer the award to a faculty advisor’s campus research account.

In addition, there have been several Big Ideas winners from University of California campuses other than Berkeley. These winners are given two award options:

  • Distribute a personal award directly to the students on the team. (Selecting this option requires that the recipient/s report this prize as income on their tax returns.)
  • Big Ideas staff prepare an inter-location transfer that sends the funding from UC Berkeley to the General Accounting Office of the students’ campus. The students can then instruct their General Accounting Office to transfer the award to a faculty advisor’s account or a student group account (subject to all campus policies and procedures).