You can turn a profit and still improve the world, the University of Pennsylvania is seeking to show.
Penn president Amy Gutmann said the university will give a $100,000 award - the President's Innovation Prize - to up to five seniors for a commercial innovation that promises to make the world a better place.
This is 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 seniors who spend a year after graduation on their nonprofit projects.
"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 award will have the opportunity to hatch their enterprise at the university's "Pennovation Works," a hub for fledgling businesses set to open this summer. The projects must be designed to generate a profit and become self-sustaining.
Gutmann said she woke up one morning and had the idea for both prizes.
"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 was not ready to disclose the funders of the new 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 boost their confidence by improving their communities, 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 to make their project pay for itself.
"It's created a lot of entrepreneurial relationships," Gutmann said.
The engagement and innovation prizes will be awarded annually.
In addition to the $100,000 innovation prize, the winning student or students will receive a $50,000 stipend. 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 eyeglasses and uses some profits to donate glasses to people in need.
"We're looking to find the next Warby Parker," Gutmann said.