A 6-month incubator to turn your ideas into impact.

Whether you're passionate about mental health, social justice, education, sustainable energy, or something else entirely, the optiMize Challenge can help you turn your ideas into impact.

We provide workshops, mentorship, and up to $20,000 in funding for your project.

Most importantly, whether you're a beginner or an experienced innovator, you'll find a supportive community of like-minded students and mentors who want to help you succeed.

How The Challenge Works

Applications are due on October 11, and the Challenge runs from October to March. If this page doesn't answer all your questions, just email us at socialinnovators@umich.edu or schedule a slot for our office hours.

Workshops and Mentorship

Monthly Skill-Building Workshops bring in experienced changemakers to lead action-based sessions. You learn new skills and apply them to your project. Topics include visioning, needs assessment, prototyping, storytelling and pitching, and more.

Mentor Check-Ins bring together Challenge teams and local mentors in a supportive small group setting. Instead of only pitching what's going great, we delve into the challenges we're facing. Everyone at the table commits to share openly and give honest, caring feedback to help each other find a positive way forward.

Innovate Nights are casual events to eat and hang out together as a community, test prototypes, and bounce ideas with peers and mentors in a collaborative working space. 

optiMize is the first place where we’ve really felt like everyone wanted to help us learn new skills, face our challenges, and grow as a company and as individuals. Every event helped us move forward, and this community is so inspiring!
— Jordan Golshan, StepFor Co-Founder

Pitch for up to $20,000

In February, you'll tell your story: where you started, how far you've come, your vision for sustainable impact, and your key next steps.

If selected for funding, your team will receive a project grant up to $5000, plus $4000 individual fellowship stipends for each team member to work full-time on the project over the summer.

See our funding criteria here.


Present at the optiMize Spring Showcase

In March, selected teams present for an audience of 400+ at the optiMize Spring Showcase. And receive your big check from the dean of the U-M College of LSA!

Keep building your project through the optiMize Summer Fellowship

You can receive enough funding to focus full-time on your project all summer, or you can accept partial funding to focus part-time. We prefer for full-time Summer Fellowship participants to work from Ann Arbor if possible, but we make exceptions for project teams that have a good reason to work from another location.

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Miss the October deadline? We still want to help you! Submit your idea and we'll be in touch.