General Information

The Howard G. Buffett Foundation and the University of Wisconsin-Madison launched the 2014 Agricultural Innovation Prize on October 3rd, 2013. The competition is open to U.S. undergraduate and graduate students across all academic disciplines and runs through spring 2014, when teams will compete for the chance to win a grand prize of $100,000.  At over $200,000 in cash awards, this is the largest student-focused competition in agriculture in the world.

The competition encourages student teams to develop innovative, real-world plans to address social and agricultural challenges within food systems to improve the standard of living and quality of life for the world’s population.


About Us

molly_headshot-275x300A message from Prof. Molly Jahn
Founder and Faculty Mentor

We welcome all who are interested in food systems, innovation and the brightest possible future to explore the opportunities afforded by this competition, the first ever and largest student-focused national prize on agricultural innovations, powered by Forty Chances and run in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  A student team drawn from across the University of Wisconsin-Madison have organized this competition which will award over $200,000 in prize money to teams selected from applicants drawn from every field and every part of our country.  The student organizers have invited a world class panel of judges who will assemble in Madison, Wisconsin on April 25 and 26, 2014 to celebrate innovators and select winners.  Best wishes to all those who will submit their applications and thanks from our team led by David LeZaks and Chris Meyer and to all the students, faculty, team mentors, judges and others who have contributed to the Ag Prize.


On December 7th, 2012 the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology issued a report on Agricultural Preparedness, illustrating how unprepared our agricultural system is to meeting current and upcoming challenges.  It also highlights the impacts of a changing climate, and its impact on food production capacity.

The PCAST report, coupled with the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2011 that “recognized the potential for prizes and challenges to mobilize America’s ingenuity to solve some of our Nation’s most pressing challenges” has influenced students, faculty and staff at the University of Wisconsin – Madison to establish a student-led, student-focused, national innovation and entrepreneurship prize to inspire, educate, challenge and promote the next generation of agriculture innovators and entrepreneurs.


The primary goal of the Agricultural Innovation Prize is to educate, support, and celebrate the next generation of agricultural innovators. This will happen by providing students with the invaluable experience of designing a business plan, learning from a prestigious corps of mentors, competing at a national scale and becoming part of a national network of agriculture innovators and entrepreneurs. This is the largest student prize focused on agriculture in the world, and the competition seeks student participation from across the spectrum of academic disciplines and interests.

Students will be encouraged to leverage technology and ideas developed on and off campus, mentors and other professional resources as they are available, and they will be supplemented with information and direction provided by the national organizing body to help them create successful ventures to improve agriculture.

The Prize is administered by students and staff at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.  Please see the Student Organizing Team page for more information and to get involved.

The Agricultural Innovation Prize is run in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture.


Background References

There are many resources online describing the challenging ecosystem of agricultural entrepreneurship. Below, we present a variety of resources that we’ve found to be useful in framing these issues. If you have any suggestions to add to our list of resources please contact us.
USDA/ARS Publishes a list of intellectual property (IP) available for license as well as a national database of ongoing projects in relevant areas:

Additional Resources:

And there are some other amazing prizes out there:

Judges and Mentors

The Agricultural Innovation Prize will attract hundreds of top business plans coming from all disciplines and students of all backgrounds nationwide.  We are charged with the responsibility of finding quality judges who are familiar with all areas of the entries, with the background and experience to identify a successful team and an award winning concept.  Judges will be draw from industry, academia, and government with a variety of backgrounds and interests.

We’re always seeking world class judges to assist in vetting student ideas entered into the competition.  These concepts span from farm to fork and sometimes don’t share common ground to allow for a level evaluation, which is where you come in.  We welcome you to contact us if you have what it takes to pick a world class entry with legs from a bountiful harvest of great ideas.  Please see the judging criteria page for information on how contestants will be evaluated.

Please feel free to get in touch with us about this opportunity – [email protected] or submit your information here.

We need mentors to help support teams nationwide.  Mentors will come from a wide range of professional spheres, including but not limited to:

  • Agricultural professionals working at all scales
  • Start-up and small businesspeople
  • Corporate businesspeople
  • Urban and regional planners
  • Engineers
  • Professors
  • Ecologists
  • International Development professionals

Expectations of Mentors:

Teams will be able to look to mentors for assistance in refining their proposals, identifying potential challenges, as well as for a source of expert advice. Mentors will preferably be located geographically close to the participating team and be able to provide expertise in the field of that proposal. Mentors, along with Team Support Coordinators, will help to ensure high quality entries.

Why be a mentor?

By volunteering to serve as a team mentor, you will be able to be part of  an exciting initiative to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing food and agriculture, where the limits of creativity are the only restriction.  You will also be able to lend your knowledge and experience to help students in creating robust and innovative proposals that could make a real impact on the health of our food system and citizens around the world.

Media Resources

Please click here to download our launch press release.

If you’d like to share information with your class, student organization, or other academic setting, please feel free to use our In-Class Slide Deck as well as our handouts and flyers.

If you’d like access to other content, logos, and media resources please feel free to contact us directly to request more information.

Powered by 40 Chances

In 2014, the Agricultural Innovation Prize is powered by 40 Chances.40-chances-cover-205x300

If you had the resources to accomplish something great in the world, what would you do? Legendary investor Warren Buffett posed this challenge to his son in 2006, when he announced he was leaving the bulk of his fortune to philanthropy. Howard G. Buffett set out to help the most vulnerable people on earth – nearly a billion individuals who lack basic food security. And Howard has given himself a deadline: 40 years to put more than $3 billion to work on this challenge.

Each of us has about 40 chances to accomplish our goals in life. This is a lesson Howard learned through his passion for farming. All farmers can expect to have about 40 growing seasons, giving them just 40 chances to improve on every harvest. This applies to all of us, however, because we all have about 40 productive years to do the best job we can, whatever our passions or goals may be.

40 Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World is a new book that captures Howard’s journey. Beginning with his love for farming, we join him around the world as he seeks out new approaches to ease the suffering of so many. It is told in a unique format: 40 stories that will provide readers a compelling look at Howard’s lessons learned, ranging from his own backyard to some of the most difficult and dangerous places on Earth.

This book presents a way of thinking that speaks to every person wanting to make a difference. It’s a mindset, providing reasons to hope and actions to take. It offers new approaches that are desperately needed. 40 Chances gives us all inspiration to transform each of our limited chances into opportunities to change the world.

To learn more, visit the 40 Chances official website: or follow the 40 Chances Twitter and Facebook accounts.

The Agricultural Innovation Prize is actively seeking sponsorship for 2015, and beyond.  Please e-mail [email protected] for more information.