Join the SPARK Challenge for a Chance to Win a Grant of Up to $8,000

Funds will be used to address a challenge faced by an organization or community.

January 09, 2024
  • Organizations can sponsor a Grinnell College student “innovation team” that will work to develop and pitch a solution to a challenge faced by the organization or the community it serves. 
  • Innovation teams will compete for grant awards from a pool of $8,000, which will be paid directly to the sponsoring organization to implement the project. (Organizations must have a tax ID to be eligible.) 
  • Each community partner will earn an honorarium of $250 for sponsoring a team, regardless of the pitch event’s outcome. 
  • Contact Professor Monty Roper by Feb. 1 if interested or for additional details.  


The SPARK Community-Based Social Innovation Challenge involves collaboration between student “innovation teams” and community partners to develop and pitch solutions to challenges faced in the organizations’ communities (e.g., social justice, poverty, environmental sustainability, education, etc.).  

From mid-February through mid-April, innovation teams will consult with their community partner, conduct relevant research, and use their knowledge, along with their community partners’ knowledge and connections, to develop proposals that are innovative, practical, well thought out, and beneficial to the community. 

On April 22, the teams will pitch their proposed solutions to a panel of judges. The top-ranked team will win up to $8,000 for its partner organization to fund the proposal’s implementation. In cases where the top-ranked proposal does not require the full amount of funding available, other viable projects will be funded based on their ranking until the total funding pool is exhausted. Funding is provided through Grinnell College’s Wilson Center for Innovation and Leadership.  

The proposal will then be implemented during the following year. Depending on the nature of the proposal, the availability of the students, and the interest of the community partner, members of the innovation team may be eligible for funding to assist in the implementation of the proposal. 

What are the Roles and Responsibilities of Partner Organizations? 

The SPARK challenge occurs in two stages: 1) preparation and pitch of a proposal; and 2) implementation of the winning proposal.  

Stage 1: Identifying a Challenge and Developing a Proposed Solution

The program provides a lot of flexibility in this stage regarding the community partner’s level of involvement. Ideally, the partner would be involved in identifying, or helping to identify, the community challenge. The program does not want community partners to feel any pressure to work on an issue that they are not enthusiastic about addressing. What needs are you seeing in the community? What issues does your organization want to address?  

Once the challenge has been identified, the community partner should serve as a resource for the student team members as they work to identify possible solutions and develop a proposal. This might involve a regular meeting or check-ins, perhaps weekly or biweekly, if that is convenient for the partner. Or it could involve less frequent meetings. The community partner is the expert on the issue and the community. If the partner provides information necessary for the student team to understand the nature and broader community context of the challenge, the team will benefit and be more likely to produce a viable proposal.   

It is important to note that it is not the role of the community partner to provide a proposed solution to the student team but to help the team understand the issue and its significance and develop a solution that is wise, responsible, and doable. The community partner has the power to veto their team’s offered solution without question. No pitch will be eligible for funding without the express approval of the community partner. 

Community partners may help their teams prepare their pitches if they wish, but this is not a requirement, and student teams will be provided with a pitch presentation workshop. Community partners are encouraged to attend the final public pitch event, though it is not required. 

Stage 2. Implementation 

Stage two begins at the end of the academic school year (May 2024). The responsibilities at this point are largely dependent on the nature of the proposal. 

After winning the challenge, a memorandum of understanding will be prepared for the partner organization, which then receives the funding for the implementation of the proposal. The organization is ultimately responsible for the implementation of the project. 

If the community partner is interested in having one or more members of the student innovation teamwork during the subsequent academic year (i.e., 2024–25) to assist with the implementation of the project, a service-learning work-study arrangement can be explored. Additional details on this option depend on several factors, including the location of the organization. Professor Roper will work with each team to discuss the options. 

Past Funded Projects 

To express interest or request additional details, please contact Professor Monty Roper by Feb. 1, 2024. Learn more about past funded SPARK projects

We use cookies to enable essential services and functionality on our site, enhance your user experience, provide better service through personalized content, collect data on how visitors interact with our site, and enable advertising services.

To accept the use of cookies and continue on to the site, click "I Agree." For more information about our use of cookies and how to opt out, please refer to our website privacy policy.