April 5, 2019


Dean Janow celebrates with winners of the 2019 Dean's Public Policy Challenge. [click to enlarge]
Dean Janow celebrates with winners of the 2019 Dean's Public Policy Challenge.
Innovations around infant nutrition and sustainable herding were among the winning concepts in this year’s Dean’s Public Policy Challenge Grant competition, announced at the 2019 #StartupColumbia Festival on April 5.

The annual competition, which is now in its sixth year, invites students to propose innovative projects and prototypes that use technology to solve important public-policy problems. The winning teams were allocated a total of $65,000 in prize money to support the implementation of their projects.

Dean Merit E. Janow, who oversaw the launch of the competition six years ago, announced this year’s winners. All of the teams, she said, “really, really impressed our panel of judges.”

The first-place team, Project Danso, is working to develop a smartphone-based medical device that will digitize the anthropometric measurement process of infants and children (namely, collecting information like height and weight) in order to instantly evaluate their nutritional status. Danso received $25,000 for implementation.

Second place and $20,000 went to DASH, which aims to map and analyze the changes in migration patterns, seasonality, and urban and agricultural development using data from satellites, mobile telecommunications, and GPS-enabled systems.

CitiZap, an Artificial Intelligence-based virtual assistant that connects people with their local public agencies, and Design Xchange, which matches volunteer designers with social enterprises in developing countries to build capacity in digital media marketing, each received $10,000.

The teams had all come a long way. For many, the process started at least a year ago. Thirteen projects were narrowed down to seven finalists. While all teams included SIPA students, blending students and expertise from schools around Columbia is encouraged.

Each of the 13 semi-finalist teams received seed funding and a wealth of programmatic support to aid in the development of their ideas. They met with a panel of industry advisors, participated in a series of boot camp-style seminars on topics such as financial planning, legal issues, and design thinking.

After presenting this winter, the 13 teams were cut down to seven who were selected by a committee of Columbia University faculty and technology entrepreneurs chaired by Janow. The final seven then received more support leading up to their final presentations on April 4.

— Claire Teitelman MPA ’19