Contest Structure, Rules, and Requirements

The Big Ideas Contest is intentionally structured to provide students an opportunity to develop their project ideas over the course of an academic year.

The sponsors of each individual category determine which campuses are eligible to compete in that category. All applicants must include at least one matriculated student from an eligible campus. Additionally, the team must be able to demonstrate that they are student-led initiatives and not extensions of faculty-led research. For complete eligibility requirements, refer to the Official Contest Rules document in the Tools section.

Pre-proposal Application Process
In the fall semester, students submit a short project proposal (dubbed the “Pre-proposal”) to the category of their choosing. Although the Pre-proposal requirements are tweaked year-to-year based on student feedback, the Pre-proposal is currently a five-page document in which students explain their idea, its intended impact, their projected expenses, and their initial ideas about how the project will be implemented. Because Big Ideas@Berkeley is a contest designed for students at the very beginning stages of project design, students are only required to explain how their project will look in its first year of implementation. Pre-proposals are judged primarily on the extent to which they propose a creative solution to a social problem and the project’s intended social impact. In other words, Pre-proposals are intentionally not judged primarily on project viability. However, judges are explicitly asked to comment on the feasibility of proposed projects, so that students may use this feedback as they tweak and rethink their project ideas in the final round of the Contest.

Full Proposal Application Process
From the pool of applicants in the Pre-proposal round, a team of judges selects a group of finalists in each category to continue on to the second round of the Contest (dubbed the “Full Proposal” round) in the spring semester. In the Full Proposal round, students are expected to have significantly refined their project ideas and proposals, thanks in part to the mentorship and supports provided as part of the Contest support system (see Contest Resources). In short, the Full Proposal is a fifteen-page document that fully outlines students project ideas, the project’s intended impact, a viable and detailed implementation plan, plans for impact evaluation, and project budget. Based on the quality of the Full Proposals, judges select multiple winners from each category. Unlike the Pre-proposal round, Full Proposals are judged primarily on the project’s potential social impact and the viability of the project plans. As in the Pre-proposal round, applicants are only asked to explain their project as it will look in the first year of implementation.

Although the heart of the Big Ideas Contest lies in the written proposal rounds, Big Ideas also hosts three additional events in the spring semester that serve to promote and market the Big Ideas Contest.

People’s Choice Video Contest: All applicants (i.e., applicants who submitted a Pre-proposal application) are invited to submit a two-minute video about their project to the Big Ideas Contest platform. Voting for the Video Contest is open to the public, and the winner of this Contest receives a $2500 award. The purpose of the People’s Choice Video Contest is provide exposure for the Big Ideas Contest and the project ideas that are submitted each year, and to provide teams with an additional way to share their project ideas and garner funding for those ideas. Notably, applicants who do not advance to the Full Proposal round of the Contest are invited to participate along with finalists, and as a result, the People’s Choice Video Contest provides all applicants with an opportunity to continually gain feedback, revise, and resubmit their project ideas.

Grand Prize Pitch Day: In the spring, based on the quality of their Full Proposals, six finalist teams are invited to pitch their ideas in front of a panel of judges. During the 2012-13 Contest, Big Ideas created two separate pitch categories and asked three teams to participate in each. The first of these categories focused on local (i.e., campus, Bay Area, or domestic) issues and the other focused on global issues. First, second, and third place winners were selected for each pitch category. In other words, all teams who participated in the Grand Prize Pitch Day received an award in addition to any award they received for their written proposal. Like the People’s Choice Video Contest, the Grand Prize Pitch Day serves to publicize the Contest and the submitted ideas. Grand Prize Pitch Day also allows the six participating teams to gain experience and expertise pitching their idea in-person to prospective funders.

Awards Celebration: At the end of each Contest year, all winning teams, mentors, judges, and supporters are invited to celebrate the achievements of the closing Big Ideas Contest. The Awards Celebration typically includes a keynote address and opportunities for winners from that year’s Contest cycle to speak about their achievements. The event is also open to the public and showcases the winning ideas. All winners are encouraged to bring and display a poster that shares their project ideas. Finally, the winner of the People’s Choice Video Contest is revealed at the Awards Celebration, and all winners are given information about how to receive their prize awards. (This ensures maximum participation from the award winning teams.)


Big Ideas@Berkeley 2013-14 Contest Timeline
Official Contest Rules
Pre-proposal Application Requirements
Budget Template
Full Proposal Application Requirements
Full Proposal FAQs for Finalists
People’s Choice Video Contest Application Requirements
Email Notifications to Finalists and Non-finalists
Email Notifications to Winners and Non-winners
Pitch Day Invitation Email