Open for business

Venture Development Center, new home for student entrepreneurs

Learn More

Pitch Your Path

Unique baseball prototype takes home $1,000 award

Learn More

Siegfried Award

Dan Sullivan honored as first recipient of entrepreneurial leadership award

Learn More

App launched

UD graduates create Anniversary app

Read More

First Step Grand Challenges

The First Step Grand Challenges Program invites undergraduate students to identify important challenges and develop novel solutions to address the challenges.

Students are invited to submit an application to one of the program’s two tracks - First Step Health and First Step Social Innovation. Students/teams who submit the 15 best applications to each track will receive $500 mini-grants to develop their solutions over a five-month period.

Students are invited to submit proposals focused on an important aspect of health care or healthy living, develop a potential solution to that problem and present their solution for review. Examples of projects include but are not limited to biomedical research, medical practice, prevention, health advocacy, policy, management, informatics and monitoring, nutrition and community-based research. For more information on this track, please visit First Step Health.

Students are invited to submit proposals focused on important issues that affect human well-being including poverty, education, social causes, food security and the environment. For more information on this track, please visit First Step Social Innovation.

Timeline & Events

September 26, 2014 | Applications Due

October 13, 2014 | Project Awards Announced

October 2014 - March 2015 | Monthly Meetings with Faculty Advisor

March 13, 2015 | Written Project Reports Due

Week of March 23, 2015 | Project Results Presentation to Awards Committee

Week of April 20, 2015 | Track-specific Poster Session & Awards Dinner

April 28, 2015 | Showcase for Top Entrepreneurial Projects from All Tracks

Project Application Process

Students/teams compose an application that identifies a specific problem and articulates a plan to develop a solution to that problem. The application must include an abstract that should be organized as follows:

  • Identify the most relevant First Step track.
  • Summarize the problem to be addressed and the type of solution to be developed.
  • Give some background on this challenge and why it is important.
  • Indicate what current approaches are being used and state why these approaches are not satisfactory.
  • Develop a proposed plan to address these challenges.
  • State the qualifications and background of the students/team.
  • Estimate the funds needed to develop this plan (up to $500) and justify why these funds are needed.

Applications to First Step Health should be submitted to Sarah Lafave by email at

Applications to First Step Social Innovation should be submitted to Tony Middlebrooks by email at

Completed applications are due no later than 5 p.m. on September 26, 2014.


All undergraduate students who are enrolled at least ½ time during the fall and spring semesters of the 2014-15 academic year are eligible to participate in any of the First Step Grand Challenges tracks.

Award Process

Applications will be reviewed by a committee of 3-5 faculty members for merit. Up to 15 students/teams per track will be awarded mini-grants of up to $500 each to pursue their research project idea (i.e., problem and solution validation and implementation). Awards will be announced on October 13, 2014.

Students will select a faculty advisor for their projects and meet with the advisor at least once per month to provide updates on progress. Students may also request an external mentor for their projects. The availability of external mentors is not guaranteed.

Role of Faculty & External Mentors

Faculty mentors provide regular guidance and insightful feedback to support project teams and enhance the quality and impact of First Step projects. They are not part of the team per se, however, and cannot be expected to complete work for the team or provide resources beyond the mini-grants. External mentors provide a practitioner perspective and may be helpful in connecting student teams to experts, partners and prospective customers.

Use of Funds

Funds may be used for most expenses that are directly related to activities aimed at validating the proposed problem and solution. This includes purchasing resource information, travel and other expenses related to interviewing key stakeholders (e.g., beneficiaries, patients or customers), expenses associated with team meetings, prototyping costs or other uses related to developing the project solution. Funds may not be used for enrollment fees, legal fees, salaries or personal living expenses. If there is any question about the appropriateness of a specific expense then written approval from the track leader is required prior to purchase.

Project Deliverables

Acceptance of a funding award implies a commitment by students/teams to submit three deliverables at the end of the project period (approximately 5 months after the announcement of funding awards): a brief written report, a presentation and a project poster. The written report will consist of a 1-2 page project summary that will be due to the track leader by 5 p.m. on March 13, 2015. The presentation will consist of a 10-15 minute presentation that summarizes the challenge addressed by the project, the reason the problem is significant, current approaches and the student’s or team’s suggested approach. Presentations will be given during the week of March 23-27, 2015. All students/teams will also prepare a project poster to present their projects during a track-specific awards dinner during the week of April 20-24, 2015 as well as possible presentation during an Innovation & Entrepreneurship Showcase on April 28, 2015. Detailed guidelines for the written reports, presentations and posters will be provided no later than March 1, 2015.

Determination of Award Winners

Written reports and presentations will be evaluated by a track-specific awards committee to determine the winners - 1st place ($1,500), 2nd place ($1,000), and 3rd place ($500) prizes as well as honorable mentions. Projects will be evaluated based on: (a) the significance of the problem to be addressed (b) innovation and (c) practical ability to develop the idea and apply the solution to real world problems. The committee will rank the top 3 projects based on the review criteria and the overall quality of written and oral presentations.

Awards Dinner & Entrepreneurial Showcase

All presentations will be prepared as a poster and displayed at an invitation-only awards dinner scheduled for the week of April 20-24, 2015. Each student will be allowed to invite up to 2 guests to attend the dinner and all students/teams will be given one minute to present their projects. The award winning projects will be announced during the awards dinners. 

Top projects that propose the development of new products, businesses or social enterprises will also be invited to exhibit their posters during an Innovation & Entrepreneurship Showcase on April 28, 2015. This Showcase will include the final round of Hen Hatch 2015, and promises to draw investors, seasoned entrepreneurs and business leaders. Students/teams selected to exhibit during the showcase will have the opportunity to win additional prizes up to $1,000.

Follow On Opportunities

Several follow on opportunities will be available to the most promising students/teams. These include: (1) being connected with relevant experts who can help the student/team to understand how their idea might be implemented or developed and applied for real world applications, (2) being directed into undergraduate or graduate research training programs to more fully develop ideas, and (3) participating in VentureOn, NSF I-Corps Sites, Hen Hatch, or other Horn Program offerings aimed at supporting nascent startups.

Track Leaders

First Step Health Track

Sarah Lafave | Program Coordinator | College of Health Sciences |

First Step Social Innovation Track

Tony Middlebrooks | Associate Professor of Organizational and Community Leadership | College of Arts and Sciences |

About First Step Grand Challenges

First Step Grand Challenges was pioneered by Dan Flynn from the College of Health Sciences. For 2014-15, it has expanded to operate as a University-wide platform in partnership with the Horn Program in Entrepreneurship.


General questions about First Step Grand Challenges should be sent by email to Questions about specific tracks should be sent to the track leaders. Please specify First Step in the subject line.

The Lerner College is home to a state-of-the-art financial trading facility, the $1.5 million student-led Blue Hen Investment Club, a student-managed restaurant and hotel, a high-technology development center of a global bank and a start-up experience for students with new business ideas.

Lerner College faculty - like Meryl Gardner, whose research on foods and moods was recently published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology - are thought leaders who command attention from influential business audiences, economists and policy makers.

All Lerner College departments offer discovery learning experiences and emphasize data-based analytics to enrich the student experience. Here, students at Vita Nova, our award-winning restaurant run through HRIM, joined professional chefs and winemakers in hosting a 2014 Mid-Atlantic Wine and Food Festival event.

The Institute for Financial Services Analytics is a collaboration between the Lerner College, UD's College of Engineering and JPMorgan Chase, and hosts events for academics and the business community designed to address consumer analytics and industry applications.

Undergraduate scholarships, made possible through the generosity of alumni and friends, enable us to support promising scholars. Here, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell and his mother, Leni Markell, join recipients of the William Markell Scholarship (center), which benefits students in Accounting and MIS.

  • Alfred Lerner College of Business & Economics
    303 Alfred Lerner Hall  •  Newark, DE 19716  •  USA  •  ©