The Sullivan Foundation will sponsor up to seven teams of students from Sullivan partner schools looking to participate in Elon University’s 2020 Elon Innovation Challenge, with a grand prize of $1,500 awarded to the first-place team.

The Elon Innovation Challenge takes place at Elon University, located in Elon, North Carolina, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 29. In addition to the $1,500 grand prize, the second-place team will win $1,000, while third place earns $600. Slots are limited, and teams will be accepted on a first-come/first-serve basis. To register as a Sullivan-sponsored team, visit and list your school as a Sullivan Foundation partner school in the registration form.

Elon University students can register here.

Non-Elon students can register here.

The deadline to register is February 12.

Hosted by Elon’s Doherty Center for Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the Elon Innovation Challenge is a competition that challenges students to problem-solve and think through big, wicked, compelling issues. The primary goal is to sharpen students’ ability to solve problems, innovate and address large social issues with an eye on creating sustainable solutions, according to Alyssa Martina, the Doherty Center’s director.

this photo depicts a team of students at the Elon Innovation Challenge

A team of students works on solving a “big, wicked, compelling” issue in the Elon Innovation Challenge.

Students from various universities will have the opportunity to explore a complex issue they likely encounter every day. Over a period of a day, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., the teams will work to develop a real solution to a real problem.  Student teams will present their solution in a “Shark Tank” type of forum to a team of judges.

Related: Elon University students learn how to “make a mark in the world” at Sullivan Ignite Retreat

“The problem is revealed at the beginning of the day when students gather to hear a guest speaker talk about the social issue,” Martina said. “Students are given packets of information with more specifics about the problem and should use the next couple of hours to understand the problem and define it in a way that can lead to a solution. The afternoon is spent ideating and brainstorming to winnow down ideas to a specific solution that is sustainable. By the end of the day, students should have a prototype developed and a slide deck prepared to present to a panel of judges.”

The solution can be a service, a product (digital, physical or both) or a campaign, or a combination of any of the above. Students will answer key questions, such as:

* How will your solution work in the real world?

* What connections are created through your solution that do not exist today?

* How will your key user/customer and the community benefit from the solution?

Students will also take part in a series of workshops centered around topics such as Human-Centered Design Thinking; Value Proposition and Customer Validation; Triple Impact Solutions; Spontaneous Innovation; Sustainability Issues; Protecting Intellectual Property; Prototyping; and Creating a Pitch Deck and Pitching Your Solution.

This photo shows judges at the Elon Innovation Challenge

Student teams compete, “Shark Tank” style, to win a grand prize of $1,500 for the best solution to a vexing social issue.

After the first round of competition, the winners will present their ideas in the Grand Finals later that same evening.

Related: Elon University’s Buddies Program receives Governor’s Award for Volunteer Service

“All students are welcome to take part in the Challenge, which is very intensive but also a lot of fun,” Martina said. “The only requirements are that teams must be formed prior to the start of the Challenge and must be comprised of between four and six students, with at least two different schools represented on the team—for instance, business and engineering or liberal arts and communications. Individuals who wish to attend and be placed on a team are also welcome.”

Previous competitions were limited to Elon University students, but the Doherty Center expanded the program to include other colleges and universities this year. “We decided to do this because it was such a success and the feedback was so positive that we felt we should include other schools to take part in this ‘wild’ experience,” Martina noted.



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