What is STEAM?

STEAM is an interdisciplinary approach that bridges STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines with the arts, humanities and social sciences, creating STEAM. This year's STEAM Challenge will focus on empowering self-defined social innovators from across academic disciplines to develop ventures that address critical social justice issues affecting Detroiters, in particularly disenfranchised and marginalized communities. 

A new generation of entrepreneurs are creating ventures that go beyond traditional business development. Instead of a narrow pursuit of profit, these innovators aim to solve pressing social challenges using principles of business and entrepreneurship. This new brand of social entrepreneurs seeks to incorporate the work of innovators, social change agents, philanthropists, academicians, researchers and practitioners interested in using business and entrepreneurial theories, models and principles to produce positive social change. Social entrepreneurs desire to understand the root causes of social problems, to leverage small efforts to produce maximum change, to engage communities in solving issues most important to them, and to build replicable and sustainable models.  

Priority Areas

Increasingly, students express wanting to start an enterprise with a social justice purpose and the STEAM Challenge will help our Wayne State Warriors accomplish this. Students will be guided through the competition by STEAM Challenge Champions and taught how to utilize business and entrepreneurship principles to solve pressing social challenges facing area Detroiters. The idea can be a product, service, technology component, an app, or other venture that will help empower social change in Detroit.

Under this year's theme of 'Innovating Change and Developing Solutions towards a Just Society' there are four priority areas:  

  • Promoting youth development and educational opportunities 
  • Creating employment opportunities and developing workforce solutions for individuals and groups who face barriers to finding and maintaining employment
  • Enhancing financial literacy, capabilities and inclusion for low-to-moderate income individuals and households
  • Advancing and monitoring environmental justice initiatives (i.e. clean water/air) in under-resourced communities  

Detailed description of STEAM priority areas (PDF)

Eligibility Criteria

  • This competition is open to WSU students from any discipline, however each team must be comprised of 3 – 7 students with at least 3 disciplines represented (e.g. business, graphic design, social work)
  • Student teams who plan to start a new social ventures that are in the idea stage or early stage of venture development OR existing social ventures, whether established as a for-profit, non-profit, hybrid or fiscal sponsorship under an established non-profit organization that are less than 2 years old and less than $30,000 in annual program revenue
  • STEAM Challenge winners from previous years are not eligible to participate, however previous non-winners are encouraged to re-apply


After competing in a preliminary and final pitch competition judged by a panel of experts, the top three teams will receive a cash prize: 

  • 1st place: $12,000
  • 2nd place: $8,000
  • 3rd place: $5,000


New to this year's STEAM Challenge will be comprehensive business development services, coaching and mentoring support that leverages the time and talents of individuals and organizations that make up Detroit's growing social entrepreneurship ecosystem. We encourage both those looking to learn a bit more about the STEAM Challenge and those committed to the competition, to join us at an upcoming event. Events and workshops will provide participants with information on idea exploration, group formation, business feasibility planning, expertise referrals and linkages to community entrepreneurs across disciples. Students will also be provided with 1:1 business coaching and technical assistance on venture development at the WSU Innovation Studio powered by TechTown. No technology, programming or business planning experience is needed – we will help guide students through the entire process.

If you have a question please contact us at STEAMchallenge@wayne.edu and we will connect you with the appropriate STEAM Challenge Champion who can assist. 

Submit Your Application - Deadline Jan. 8

Each team will be responsible for the following materials:

  1. Responses to short-form questions (listed below)
  2. Additional materials, as desired
  3. Budget for the project 

Short Form Questions:

  1. Tell us more about what you plan to do. How does it meet the objectives of the STEAM Challenge? 
  2. Which STEAM Challenge theme does your venture/ project address?
  3. Who will benefit from what you plan to do? How will they benefit?
  4. Why is your team the most qualified?

The deadline for submitting your team project is January 8, 2020.

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STEAM Challenge