MIT Solve launches global challenge around health security and pandemics

Danny Crichton

There is an immediate need for startups to handle the crisis around the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, from diagnostics to identify potential carriers of the virus to assisting the treatment of patients with respiratory symptoms. As we get a grip on this crisis though, what’s going to help the world stop the next pandemic and improve health security for all?

MIT Solve is hoping to galvanize more entrepreneurs to investigate and improve the world of health security, launching a new “global challenge” through its program that will help fund companies, nonprofits, academic research projects and even individual ideas through its marketplace of funding partners. The program’s current application deadline is June 18th.

It’s a special program we have profiled on Extra Crunch. Designed to take a much broader approach to innovation, MIT Solve brings together a diverse coalition of funders and networks them with a heterogeneous collection of projects and organizations focused around its pillars of health, education, economic prosperity and sustainability.

Solve, MIT’s take on social innovation challenges, may be different enough to work


The program’s new challenge around health security joins four other challenges around inclusive entrepreneurship, learning for girls and women, sustainable food systems and maternal and newborn health. It’s an attempt, Executive Director Alex Amouyel explained, to respond more rapidly to big issues facing humanity.

“Usually, how we design a challenge is we crowdsource the challenge itself,” Amouyel said. The program uses an open innovation method to take a bottoms-up approach to discover persistent challenges that might be overlooked by traditional business model innovation. The program holds design workshops, conducts online voting and spends potentially up to six months to determine what challenges it will publish each year. The health security challenge is shortcutting that lengthy process, given the immediate need for improvements in that area.

Amouyel said the team expects to select a final list of about 35 winners, or roughly seven for each of the five challenges being hosted. She emphasized that they are taking a “venture portfolio” approach to each challenge, selecting individuals and teams that have “diversity in technology, in the business model, in the geography and in the people who are proposing it.” Multifaceted challenges require many different solutions to tackle.

Winners get joint access to a pool of more than a million dollars in funding from the program’s partners, and also mentorship to accelerate their projects, locking in critical proof points and user validations in the process. “We are bringing together the resources to help them achieve that next stage,” Amouyel said.

The program has been around since late 2015, and so far, has disbursed about $14 million in funding.

Finally, the program’s application is also synchronized with a free course at edX called “Business and Impact Planning for Social Enterprises,” which teaches students how to build a business plan and an impact blueprint. The hope is that the course can help onramp individuals and teams and teach them how to secure funding opportunities like Solve.