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$1 million prize offered for best ideas to help Utah families

By Marjorie Cortez, Deseret News | Posted - May 25, 2018 at 7:20 a.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — University of Utah President Ruth V. Watkins and Lt. Gov. Spencer J. Cox called on Utahns Thursday to develop the best policy and technology innovations to support a thriving middle class in Utah.

The best ideas may be eligible for up to $1 million in funding.

The goal of the challenge is to find, fund and develop policy and technology innovations that have the potential to increase net income by 10 percent for 10,000 Utah middle-class households by the year 2020, according to a university press release.

"This is a community-based approach where we will seek ideas from you, from our state's most innovative thinkers, about how we can strengthen the middle class in Utah. The vision of this project is that a vibrant, healthy middle class is essential for America, for our future prosperity," said Watkins at a press conference on the U. campus.

The U. is one of four universities selected by Schmidt Futures to serve as anchors for the Alliance for the American Dream.

Cox said Utah was recently recognized as a state where upward mobility remains possible but "the American dream is under attack here as well as it is across the United States. We need the best and brightest to solve help these issues to make sure we continue to have a robust middle class and upward mobility remains alive and well."

While many of Utah's best and brightest minds were part of Thursday's press conference, "far too often, the most innovative out there are not in these rooms. That's what this initiative is about, going out to the public. … Those are thinkers we need to look at ways to increase income for the middle class," Cox said.

Project director Courtney McBeth said the challenge seeks "innovative ideas that will help families and communities not only survive but thrive."

The challenge seeks proposals to create sustainable ways to expand access to and increase stability of the middle class in Utah through "innovative and interdisciplinary solutions in the areas of health care, workforce development, education, transportation, housing and supports for families," according to documents from

Submissions will be accepted through noon on Aug. 30 at

Schmidt Futures, according to its website, seeks to "advance society through technology, inspiring breakthroughs in scientific knowledge, and promoting shared prosperity."

Eric Schmidt, its founder, is a technical adviser to Alphabet Inc., a member of its board of directors and its former chairman. Alphabet Inc. is the parent company of Google. He lived in Utah during the 1990s.

Schmidt, in a prepared statement, said ideas to strengthen the middle class could target raising incomes or lowering the costs of transportation, housing, utilities, food, etc.

"Today, too many middle-class families find themselves at risk of falling into poverty, while too few see a path to build a brighter future for their children," Schmidt said.

"America needs a strong middle class. Our future depends on it."

Schmidt Futures launched the Alliance for the American Dream in April "to seed ideas that have the potential to support and grow America's middle class."

In addition to the U., Ohio State University, Arizona State University and University of Wisconsin-Madison have been selected as anchor institutions for the challenge.

"As the flagship university for our state, what I'm becoming fond of calling us the University for Utah, we are uniquely positioned to join you, to partner with you, to facilitate and help make great things happen," Watkins said.

In the coming weeks, the U. will launch a process to solicit ideas statewide. Ten proposals will be selected this fall. Each will receive $10,000 to further develop their idea.

A local advisory board will winnow those submission to three, which will be eligible for additional awards up to $30,000 to further refine their proposals.

The final three teams will have access to the U.'s facilities, resources and faculty to fully develop their proposals, which will be submitted to the Alliance for the American Dream, along with nine others from the other "anchor" universities.

The alliance will provide up to $1 million for additional support to the best ideas.

Community advisory board member Keith McMullin, president and CEO of Deseret Management Corp., said the challenge is an opportunity for Utah to be an example to the nation.

The Beehive State has strong families and strong educational ethic that make upward mobility possible, he said.

"More importantly, we have the people that have the desire to move forward, step up and make a great contribution," McMullin said.

Contributing: Ladd Egan

Marjorie Cortez


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