Mission & Goals

Big Ideas@Berkeley is a year-long, annual innovation Contest aimed at providing funding, support, and encouragement to interdisciplinary teams of UC undergraduate and graduate students who have “big ideas.” It is a proven, replicable model for tapping the creativity and energy of students, particularly at research universities, to address the challenges of the 21st century.

At its core, the goals of Big Ideas are two-fold: a) to transform the way students learn and think about their role in society, and b) to seed the creation of new ideas by providing students with the resources and skills necessary to turn their ideas into sustainable ventures with social impact.

Notably, these goals are of equal significance to Big Ideas—neither supersedes the other in importance. All of the contest components described in this Toolkit have been intentionally designed with these two goals in mind.

Big Ideas@Berkeley gives students a platform from which they can adapt theoretical coursework into hands-on, applied projects with real-world impact. The Contest challenges students to step outside their traditional academic boundaries, take a risk, and use their education, interests, and skills to solve important social, economic, and environmental challenges. It promotes autonomy, initiative, and teamwork early in students’ careers, thereby broadening their career perspectives and understanding of how they might use their education as a platform to improve society.

Unlike business plan competitions or many other innovation contests held on university campuses, Big Ideas aims to support students who are at the very beginning stages of developing a big idea, before they are investor-ready or prepared to enter the marketplace. Students who enter the Contest often have never entered other innovation or business plan contests and typically have not written a grant proposal. Typically, prospective applicants have developed their big ideas after enrolling in classes that sparked their interests, visiting a country where they have witnessed injustice or poverty, or working with a population whose needs they believe have not fully been met. Students who already have developed an implementation plan, have begun implementing their project, or have an established social venture are encouraged to instead apply to a traditional business plan competition (e.g., the Global Social Venture Competition or the Bplan Competition, both at UC Berkeley).

To support these earliest stage ideas, the Contest is designed to be a year-long process that assists students in developing the skills necessary to launch successful projects (e.g., critical thinking and reflection, market analysis, and pitch development skills). In other words, the philosophy of the Contest assumes that students enter the Contest with creative ideas that are designed to make social impact, and Contest resources are designed to assist students in making their project ideas feasible, scalable, and appropriate for the population they wish to serve.

Further, the Big Ideas@Berkeley Contest is designed to encourage and create a platform for global social changemakers. Unlike traditional business plan or entrepreneurship competitions which are designed to vet entrepreneurs, the ultimate goal of Big Ideas is to support students as they create lasting, positive social change. As a result, winning projects may be entrepreneurial, but more importantly, they must focus on social challenges. For example, Big Ideas teams tackle issues such as improving smallholder farmer incomes, creating transparency around political platforms, providing dental care for the homeless, and bringing light to hospitals and clinics in rural Africa.