The Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) had a banner night at the recent 2023 President’s Innovation Challenge Awards Ceremony at Harvard Business School’s Klarman Hall. Three SEAS-affiliated ventures won a combined $105,000 in Bertarelli Foundation prize money at the annual Harvard Innovation Labs event, taking both the grand prize and runner-up in the Student Open track, as well as one of several $5,000 Ingenuity Awards.
“The space is such a good magnet for all the founders in the broader Harvard community,” said Rohan Doshi, whose venture Penguin.ai won the $75,000 grand prize. “It makes entrepreneurship, which is typically a lonely journey, a more communal one. It serves as a keystone position within the broader ecosystem by allowing founders to interact with each other and build a community.”
Doshi, an M.S./M.B.A. candidate at SEAS and Harvard Business School, began developing Penguin.ai towards the end of last summer. The venture uses generative artificial intelligence (AI) to create high-quality visual assets, greatly reducing the time and cost associated with working with separate design agencies.
Penguin.ai already has multiple enterprise pilots in place, including with the Kraft Heinz Company.
“I see AI as a tool, not a replacement,” Doshi said. When you’re writing text, there’s an AI spell-checker or autocorrect that helps you move faster and do more. I see AI in a similar capacity, where it augments your ability to express yourself.”
The $25,000 runner-up prize went to Stochastic, co-founded by SEAS postdoctoral researcher Glenn Ko and computer science Ph.D. candidate Yuji Chai. Stochastic equips companies with a secure, customizable AI-assisted data management platform that uses a chat-based interface similar to ChatGPT.
“Large language models like ChatGPT are a way to compress a really large amount of data into a single model that you can interrogate, ask questions and receive answers,” Ko said. “They can aggregate information from different data sources, absorb all that knowledge, and allow users to access the knowledge instantaneously. At the same time, AI can act upon that knowledge by generating reports, documents, and emails to actually boost productivity. Because the language models inherently use a natural language interface, it gives wider access to AI for non-technical people.”
Halo Braid, founded by M.S./M.B.A. candidate Yinka Ogunbiyi, is an automated hair-braiding device. Braids are an extremely common hairstyle for Black women, and Ogunbiyi devised her venture after learning how time-consuming braiding can be for professional stylists, her target market.
“It started to make commercial sense when I did the math on how much stylists earn, how much time they spend braiding hair, and what would happen if they could effectively triple the number of clients they could see,” Ogunbiyi said. “When you do those numbers, it’s potentially a hundred thousand extra dollars they could earn per year.”
Penguin.ai and Stochastic continued the success of SEAS ventures at the President’s Innovation Challenge. Recent prize winners affiliated with SEAS include Limax Biosciences in 2022, Beacon Bio in 2021, Fractal in 2020, and ReThink in 2019.
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Matt Goisman | firstname.lastname@example.org