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All undergraduate students who are enrolled at least ½ time during the fall and spring semesters of the 2016-17 academic year are eligible to participate.

Forming a Team & Finding a Mentor:  Students should form teams of 2-5 comprised of students from at least TWO colleges.  A strong team will be a team with students from a variety of disciplines/perspectives.  Each team must have at least ONE non-senior level student who can work to carry the project into the following academic year if it begins to gain traction.  Students are welcome to attend an information session on October 4th with or without an idea, and with or without potential teammates.  Info sessions are a good forum for networking with other students to form/join teams.  Students are strongly encouraged to recruit a project mentor (faculty member, community leader) prior to submitting their application.  ALL teams will need to secure the commitment of a project mentor by the end of the Incubator Event on October 17th to be considered for funding.

Role of Faculty & External Mentors

Student teams are guided by at least one faculty or community mentor. Faculty mentors provide regular guidance and insightful feedback to support project teams and enhance the quality and impact of First Step projects. External mentors provide a practitioner perspective and may be helpful in connecting student teams to experts, partners and prospective customers.

Mentor Guidelines:  Mentors play several roles that are vital to the success of First Step Grand Challenges teams, including asking thought provoking questions, providing guidance and feedback, sharing real world perspectives and helping teams to connect with relevant experts as well as potential supporters, partners, beneficiaries and customers.  Mentors may be faculty or community members; ideally, teams will engage both.  In general, faculty mentors can be expected to provide regular guidance and insightful feedback to support project teams and enhance the quality and impact of First Step projects.  Community mentors can be expected to provide a practitioner perspective and may be helpful in connecting student teams to experts, partners and prospective customers.

Expectations for Mentors and Teams:  Mentors are expected to make themselves available to meet 1-2 times per month, as needed and appropriate, and may also need to spend a measure of time outside of meetings to support their team.  A total time commitment of 10-20 hours over a seven month period (October – April), including team meetings and attendance at First Step Grand Challenges events, will be needed to successfully mentor a team.  Team members are expected to request mentor meetings at least 10 days in advance and must provide mentors with a detailed agenda when requesting a meeting.  Meetings should be planned to last for no more than 60 minutes.

Mentor Characteristics & Qualifications: Teams may recruit any faculty, staff or community member to serve as a mentor. Recruitment of mentors with the follow characteristics is strongly encouraged:

  • Enthusiasm for making a positive societal or environmental impact
  • No personal agenda
  • Ability to advise and coach
  • Excellent listening skills
  • Significant and relevant experience and connections
  • Positive attitude
  • Willingness to make time needed to participate

Assistance with Mentor Recruitment: Assistance will be provided to teams that experience difficulty in recruiting an appropriate mentor. Specifically, the First Step Grand Challenges leadership team will provide referrals and actively recruit faculty and community members to attend the October Incubator event as prospective team mentors.

Use of Funds
Funds may be used for most expenses that are directly related to activities aimed at understanding the proposed problem and validating the proposed solution. This includes purchasing resource information, travel and other expenses related to interviewing key stakeholders (e.g., beneficiaries, patients or customers), expenses associated with team meetings, prototyping costs or other uses related to developing the project solution. Funds may not be used for enrollment fees, legal fees, salaries or personal living expenses.
Project Deliverables

Acceptance of a funding award implies a commitment by students/teams to submit three deliverables at the end of the project period: a written report, a project poster and a presentation. The written report will consist of a 3-5 page project summary that will be due to the First Step Leadership Team by 5 p.m. on March 22, 2017.  The last page of the project summary should fully detail project expenditures (what, why needed, how much?).  The poster will be suitable for presentation during the poster session and Award Dinner on April 5, 2017.  Posters should describe the challenge being addressed, limitations of current solutions and methods used to understand the problem and validate the proposed solution.  Posters should also highlight the solution’s feasibility and impact.  The presentation will consist of a brief elevator pitch presentation that provides a compelling overview of the project. The presentation should highlight the importance of the challenge addressed by the project, limitations associated with current approaches and the feasibility and impact of the team’s solution.  Teams will deliver their presentations on March 22nd to the First Step Leadership Team and on April 5, 2017 during the poster session and Award Dinner.


Written reports and presentations will be evaluated by a committee of highly qualified judges to grant at least four prize awards totaling $10,000. Judges will evaluate the reports and presentations on three dimensions: feasibility, societal and environmental impact, and innovativeness. Top prizes will be awarded based on feasibility and impact; an additional prize will be awarded to the most innovative project. TOP PRIZES:

  • 1st place – $5,000 award ($1,500 in cash; $3,500 grant for project continuation)
  • 2nd place – $2,500 award ($1,000 in cash; $1,500 grant for project continuation)
  • 3rd place – $1,000 award ($500 in cash; $500 grant for project continuation)
  • INNOVATION PRIZE for the most ingenious solution – $1,500 award
Follow-On Opportunities
Several follow on opportunities will be available to the most promising students/teams. These include: (1) being connected with relevant experts who can help the student/team to understand how their idea might be implemented or developed and applied for real world applications, (2) being directed into undergraduate or graduate research training programs to more fully develop ideas, and (3) participating in VentureOn, NSF I-Corps Sites, Hen Hatch, or other Horn Program offerings aimed at supporting nascent startups.
Projection Application Process

Teams compose an application that identifies a specific societal or environmental problem and outlines the solution envisioned by the team. Specific questions that must be answered on the application include:

  • Team Members. List names, email addresses, major/minor, graduation year and UD ID for each team member.
  • Grand Challenge. Describe the societal or environmental issue your project will address.
  • Proposed Solution. Describe the solution you envision developing to address this challenge.
  • Why You? Describe your team members’ interests and abilities as they relate to the challenge and solution.

Teams are also strongly encouraged to recruit a faculty or community mentor prior to submitting their application.