Student Competitions

Social Innovation Solutions Challenge

The Social Innovation Solutions Challenge is an annual competition focused on developing product-based social innovations to address some of the world’s biggest problems related to basic human needs. Sponsored by Idea Foundry, a regional social innovation accelerator and investor, and organized by CMU's Institute for Social Innovation, the competition features multidisciplinary teams of students from across the university. Students vie for the opportunity to win a variety of prizes with Apple iPads going to the winners.

The 2015 competition attracted eight teams of undergraduate, masters and PhD students, from across campus, including 26 students from the Heinz College representing the MISM, PPM, MEIM, and MSHCPM graduate programs. In addition, seven students from CIT participated with the remainder from the School of Computer Science and the College of Fine Arts. The teams were organized by preferred geographic focus areas (Africa, India, Latin America, US inner city and China) and developed ideas for new products addressing basic human needs such as food, education, healthcare, water and shelter. Ultimately, three teams were selected to present at the final judging round.

First prize winners, who each walked away with an iPad Air 2 were Daniel Clerk (CIT, ETIM), Michael Benison (Heinz, MSPPM), Mansi Grover (Heinz, MISM), Kautilya Nalubolu (Heinz, PPM), and Rishika Narala (College of Fine Arts, BA-Architecture) with their idea for a Solar Powered Oil Expeller in West Africa.

Second prize winners: Brendan Carroll (Heinz, MISM), Duc Le Hoai (Heinz, MISM), Jackson Whitmore (Heinz, PPM), Tony Chong (School of Computer Science, MSRD), Dawei Wang (School of Computer Science, MSRD) with their idea for Accessible Precision Agriculture using drones in Brazil.

Third prize winners: Ankit Jain (CIT, PhD - MechE), Jillian Epstein (Engineering, Materials Science Engineering), WeeLiat Ong (CIT, PhD - MechE) with their idea for using the moringa tree seed for water purification in India.

Social Innovation Solutions Challenge 2015 Photo Gallery

Highpoint Park Case Competition

The U.S. Steel Tower in downtown Pittsburgh is not only the city’s tallest building; it also has the largest and highest roof in the world. While many people would assume that the tower has reached its full potential, students from Carnegie Mellon University’s H. John Heinz III College recently helped design an even more extraordinary future for this building’s triangular rooftop.

The High Point Park competition recently challenged students to theoretically transform this one-acre roof. The competition was led by David Bear, a fellow with CMU’s STUDIO for Creative Inquiry.
Bear was eager to share his vision with students so they could build upon it.

"This rooftop venue could be a beacon for the progressive transformation the city has endured in the last few decades from a steel town to an innovative center for technology, art, education and green initiatives," said Bear.

Students from CMU’s School of Architecture submitted creative and sustainable design proposals for the first phase of the competition. The best entries were then selected and used in the second part of the competition — a case challenge aimed at analyzing the practical potential of each design. Teams of students from the Heinz College’s Institute for Social Innovatio (ISI) and CMU’s Tepper School of Business were given five days to take the sketches and develop a business plan based on the “triple bottom line” in order to maximize profits and benefits for people and the planet.


Independently produced by Len Caric, this 30-minute video documents a January 2010 Sketch Design/Case Competition in which students and faculty at Carnegie Mellon's School of Architecture and the Institute for Social Innovation at Heinz College proposed ways to transform the one-acre rooftop of the U. S. Steel Tower in downtown Pittsburgh into a green and publicly accessible facility. The project was part of the High Point Park Investigation, an inquiry led by David Bear as a fellow at the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon.

The first-place proposal was developed by a cross-disciplinary team of students who envisioned a business plan tailor-made for Pittsburgh. The winning design, entitled Vertical Crawl, imagined the roof as a new addition to Carnegie Museums. Their design included cutting-edge steel technologies, a habitat for local urban falcons, restaurant partnerships with institutions such as Primanti Brothers, and collaboration with local tourism companies such as Just Ducky Tours. Finally, the team developed a plan for the project’s economic sustainability, complete with financial statements and economic forecasts. Other innovative ideas for the roof included a dome equipped with a solar powered LED grid that would shield a high-altitude ice skating rink.

Babs Carryer, adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at CMU’s Heinz College and the Tepper School of Business, and one of the competition organizers, noted that CMU is the perfect place to tackle complex challenges like the High Point Park case.

"Carnegie Mellon is known for fostering a collaborative environment," said Carryer. "It’s one of the few institutions that could bring together students with the diverse skills that this project required."

Carryer is also the innovation advisor for the ISI.

Students also benefitted from the synergies created by collaboration among interdisciplinary teams. Abhay Doshi (MISM ‘10), a Heinz College student who worked on the first-place team, relished the opportunity to partner with students from the School of Architecture.

“The architects are a different breed, and I'm sure they must feel the same about us,” said Doshi. “But, this is why I enjoyed the project so much. It was an amazing experience.”

Though these designs are not being considered for implementation by the owners of the building, the proposals put forth by the students are an optimistic vision of what might be possible in downtown Pittsburgh.