Mask Innovation Challenge: How to win $500,000? Here's all about Biden admin's contest for less annoying masks
It's been a year into the pandemic and we can all agree that face masks are one of the most annoying things about Covid-19. They are uncomfortable, difficult to breathe in, and if you wear glasses, a pain to see. Luckily, the US government has taken notice of that and wants to help fix it. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have partnered to open a new challenge — to create a less annoying and safer face mask.
The challenge website notes that "there remain notable barriers that reduce overall mask usage. In addition, many masks that are currently available tout unconfirmed protective capabilities that lack scientific evidence to support such claims. Overall, there is a need to develop better designs, materials, and technologies that are more acceptable to wearers and that ensure quantified measures of performance."
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Think you have a better idea? If so, you have the opportunity to showcase it. You could help billions around the world if you know how to improve on the humble, but politically polarizing face covering. The challenge is open till April 21, 2021, with a total cash prize of $500,000 up for grabs. If you want to participate, here's everything you need to know.
Rules and regulations
The challenge is open to all non-HHS employees. Other federal employees will need to consult with their ethics official before entering. All abstracts published "should not include proprietary information and should be publicly shareable". Federal contractors cannot use funds from their contract to develop their solution, and the same goes for Federal grantees "unless consistent with the purpose of their grant award". Only US citizens or permanent residents are eligible to participate. Businesses can also participate, provided they are incorporated in the US.
The challenge takes place across two phases. Phase 1 will feature submissions for designs for new face masks. From this, up to 40 regional winners will be selected for Phase 2 — the DRIVe Accelerator Network Product Pitch Competition. In this phase, participants will have to submit prototypes for proof-of-concept testing.
There is a huge list of other rules and regulations, that you can view on the Mask Innovation Challenge website.
Deadlines and prizes
The final date for entry for Phase 1 is April 21, 2021, by 5 pm ET. The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), the office under the HHS, is responsible for reviewing submissions. It will review the first 250 entries but may consider others as well. Only if an entry wins Phase 1, will it be eligible for Phase 2. No deadline for the second phase has been announced just yet.
In total, $500,000 will be awarded to winners divided among the two phases. Under Phase 1, $10,000 will be awarded to 10 winners. Five winners of Phase 2 will share a total prize pool of $400,000, which is around $80,000 per winner. Some winners may also be eligible for "mentorship opportunities from interested parties". Further details will be provided later.
How to enter
If you want to participate, you will have till April 21 to come up with a seven-page proposal. That should include a cover page (1 page), proposed design (up to 3 pages), and schematics (up to 3 pages). You can submit your proposal at the challenge submission website. Ensure you follow all the guidelines listed on the challenge website to be eligible for consideration.
The submissions will be reviewed by a panel of federal judges and subject matter experts. Each entry will be judged on technological feasibility, innovation and addressing current barriers. The challenge website has a detailed breakdown of all the factors for you to read about.
The challenge is open only for another two weeks, so if you want to go down in history for helping us breathe better, now's your chance. Hopefully, the winner will be able to provide a solution that is comfortable, safe and stylish. After all, the current vaccines don't halt the spread of Covid-19, so we could be wearing face masks for a long time to come.
It could also help the government turn around anti-maskers. Many people say current masks are difficult to breathe in, which is one of the primary concerns the challenge wants to address. Maybe, masks won't be a political issue if they work better? Only time will tell.