Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

What is optiMize?

optiMize helps students create self-directed projects that aim to make a positive impact. Housed in the University of Michigan College of LSA and operated in partnership between a student organization and full-time staff, optiMize engages more than 600 student participants working on more than 200 projects each year through its Social Innovation Challenge. Participants range from freshmen to PhD candidates and come from all 19 schools and colleges at Michigan.

How does the Social Innovation Challenge work?

In October, students submit a project, idea, or problem to solve at For five months, optiMize provides skill-building workshops, community building events, and access to experienced mentors. This mentorship component engages more than 100 university alumni and friends from a wide range of backgrounds. At the end of the Challenge, optiMize awards up to $20,000 for selected teams to spend their summer fully dedicated to the continued development of their project. This year we’ll award $250,000 in total.

What kind of projects does optiMize support?

We’ve funded urban farming nonprofits, virtual reality startups, and student organizations focused on a wide range of topics. We funded a fashion magazine focused on diversity and an app to help people find food pantries. The wide-ranging list goes on — pregnancy support for incarcerated women, educational access for underrepresented students, and much more. If you believe your focus issue is important, we’ll help you make an impact in it. And if we haven’t heard of the issue before, then we’ll be glad to learn about it firsthand by seeing how passionate it makes you. See all funded projects at

What happens to the projects after they participate in optiMize?

Regardless of project type, sustainable impact is a core focus in optiMize. More than 50% of funded projects continue beyond the students’ graduation, and optiMize alumni have raised $8.7 million dollars for their ventures as of August 2018. (Some of this funding has gone toward second attempts by our alumni. Our success is measured not only by the number of sustainable ventures we incubate, but also by how well we prepare students to create sustainable impact in future endeavors.)

How does optiMize mobilize so many students?

We first ask students to identify what they’re passionate about. A remarkably effective way to do this is to ask, “If you could change something, what would you change?” Once they’ve told us this, optiMize inspires immediate action by imploring students to move from saying, “Someone needs to do something about that!” to asking themselves, “Why not me?” Next step? Apply to the Challenge!

How can I get started with optiMize?

You can start a project through the Social Innovation Challenge, join our Core Organizing Team, or get involved as a Mentor. Or if you’re not sure, you can sign up for a time to chat with us to find the right opportunity for you! Get started at