You can turn a profit and still save the world, and a new prize at the University of Pennsylvania will reward that potential.
Penn President Amy Gutmann said the university will give a $100,000 award — the President's Innovation Prize — to a graduating senior or group of up to five seniors for a commercial innovation that promises to make the world a better place.
It's the second such prize Gutmann has created. In March, the university awarded four $100,000 "engagement" prizes - believed to be the largest of their kind at a university - to graduating seniors who get a year to work on their non-profit projects with the same goal: Making the world a better place.
"If you want students to think big, you can give big awards," Gutmann said. The prizes, she said, "underscore our commitment to putting our ideas to work in the world."
Winners of the new innovation award will have the opportunity to hatch their enterprise at the university's new "Pennovation Works," a new hub for innovative fledgling businesses due to open this summer. The projects must be designed to generate a profit and become self-sustaining over time.
"This Prize gives our graduating seniors a unique and life-changing opportunity to be inventive and think broadly about cutting-edge commercial projects that also have social impact," she said.
Gutmann said she conceived of both the innovation and engagement prizes at the same time. She woke up one morning and had the idea, she said.
"There aren't very many things I can wake up one morning and think 'I'd like to do this' and then just make it happen," she said.
The engagement prizes are being funded by members of the board of trustees. Gutmann said she isn't ready to disclose who will fund the innovation prize.
She underscored the successful launch of the winners of the engagement prizes, which drew 37 applications from the senior class of 2,400. Katlyn Grasso, whose project is helping high school girls across the country launch campaigns to improve their communities and boost their confidence, was recognized by Seventeen magazine. Matthew Lisle and Adrian Lievano, who are building a rainwater and catchment purification system in Kenya, are working with a local company that can help them make their project sustainable.
"It's created a lot of entrepreneurial relationships," Gutmann said.
The university expects to get a report on the projects at the end of the year.
"We're going to learn something from these as well," she said.
The engagement prizes and innovation prize will be awarded annually, she said.
In addition to the $100,000 innovation prize, the winning student or students will receive a $50,000 living stipend. Full-time graduating seniors in the College of Arts & Sciences, School of Engineering and Applied Science, School of Nursing or Wharton School are eligible to apply. The inaugural prize will be awarded in April.
Penn students, Gutmann pointed out, have a track record of starting innovative commercial projects that have done social good. She cited Warby Parker, a company started in 2010 by Wharton grads, which sells eye glasses and uses some profits to donate glasses to people in need.
"We're looking to find the next Warby Parker," Gutmann said.