Applications open for 2020 Impact Prize competition

students at a prize competition
2019 First Place Impact Prize Winners, PAANI

Online applications are open for the Impact Prize, Syracuse University’s student impact competition for social entrepreneurship through November 1. The virtual competition on November 13 will feature $15,000 in prizes thanks to donors to SU Libraries, Carl and Marcy Armani in honor of Dr. Gay Culverhouse, and Dr. Gisela von Dran.

The competition is open to all Syracuse University undergraduate and graduate students as well as SUNY ESF students taking entrepreneurship courses at SU and who working on ventures that create a social impact.  Examples include solutions that address energy, environment, employment, education and training, health and mental health, community and social networks, social inclusion, poverty and literacy, youth empowerment, food, sustainability, access, and ventures that support important public policy goals. This year, COVID-19 response ideas are also particularly encouraged. Impact Prize applications can be products, services or technologies that are practical, innovative and sustainable solutions to societal problems anywhere around the globe.  They can be non-profit or for-profit ventures.

The Impact Prize is coordinated by the Blackstone LaunchPad at Syracuse University. A pitch workshop on Thursday November 5 will help inspire frame their proposals in ways that are feasible and implementable.  To participate in that workshop on LaunchPad Discord, start by joining the LaunchPad here and then participate on the LaunchPad Discord platform here.

This year’s competition features a $10,000 Dr. Gay Culverhouse Impact Award prize package through the generosity of a gift by SU Libraries Advisory Board Member Carl Armani and his wife Marcy in honor of Dr. Gay Culverhouse. Dr. Culverhouse and Marcy Armani were friends for more than 30 years, volunteering together, and focusing on philanthropy and social causes.

“The Dr. Gay Culverhouse Impact Award will benefit students directly, and will be used to support student entrepreneurship, invention, and innovation through the Blackstone LaunchPad, our campus entrepreneurship center, which is in Bird Library,” said Dr. David Seaman, Dean of SU Libraries and University Librarian.  “We are very pleased to be able to honor and memorialize Dr. Culverhouse in this fashion, and plan to use the Armani gift to support our annual Impact Prize, a competition for social entrepreneurship, which is very much in keeping with the work Dr. Culverhouse did with football players and brain injury.  She was clearly someone focused on creating meaningful social impact and change, just as our students are, and I’m sure her story will resonate with them.”

Dr. Gay Culverhouse was a pioneer in education, sports and medicine, serving as president of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1988 to 1994.  She wrote a book, Throwaway Players: The Concussion Crisis from Pee Wee Football to the NFL, on the topic and was at the forefront of raising this issue at the national level. 

She passed away on July 1, 2020.  According to her New York Times obituary, “She navigated the league’s male-dominated world as a team president, then devoted her energy to fighting on behalf of players with brain disorders.” The obituary by Richard Goldstein noted, “Gay Culverhouse put aside her career focusing on special education and child psychiatry to join the family business, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the N.F.L., and who went on to champion the cause of former professional football players debilitated by dementia and other health issues.”

Before taking over as president of the Buccaneers, she devoted nearly a decade of her life as a senior executive of the team when they were owned by her father, Hugh Culverhouse Sr..  According to The Times obituary, “Though she loved the game, she never intended to make football a career.” 

Before joining the Buccaneers, she had earned a master’s degree and a doctorate in psychology from Columbia University with a focus on intellectual disabilities research.  She was an adjunct faculty member at Columbia and held several major teaching and research roles through her career, including as a faculty member at the University of South Florida College of Medicine, as an education specialist focusing on child psychiatry.

She was also an accomplished entrepreneur, as CEO of Aquarian Show, training, showing and breeding Paso Fine horses, and CEO of C and W Cattle Company.  She was the president of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

According to The Times obituary, after leaving her role as president of the Buccaneers, she “made a resounding return to the pro football scene 15 years later when she lent her voice, backed by her money, to the cause of retired players with brain disorders that might have resulted from on-field concussions largely ignored by their teams. After tracking down former players who had become neurologically impaired, Ms. Culverhouse testified in October 2009 at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on football brain injuries.” She advocated for hiring independent doctors and led the charge to create and implement mandatory guidelines for sidelining players with concussions.

“My men have headaches that never stop,” she said in her testimony. “They cannot remember where they are going or what they want to say without writing it down. Some are on government welfare. Some are addicted to pain medication. Some are dead.”

She invested her own money to create the Gay Culverhouse Players’ Outreach Program, now known as Retired Player Assistance.

She also returned to education after her football career, serving as president of Notre Dame College in South Euclid, Ohio.

The Impact Prize is also funded through a $5,000 gift to SU Libraries from Dr. Gisela M. von Dran, who is director emerita of the iSchool’s MSLIS program, and who has a special interest in social entrepreneurship.  As a member of the iSchool faculty, she taught organization management courses at the graduate level as well as the iSchool’s first-year gateway course. Before joining the iSchool, Dr. von Dran served as an assistant professor of management at the Whitman School of Management.  She is the wife of Raymond von Dran, who was dean of the iSchool from 1995 until his death in 2007. Von Dran was a longtime academic entrepreneur who started many innovative programs in higher education and supported student innovation and entrepreneurship at Syracuse University. Shortly after his death in 2007, Gisela von Dran established the Raymond F. von Dran Fund, to support the RvD initiative, which funds the iPrize.

The Impact Prize competition serves as a gateway to the annual iPrize competition, as well as global competitions such as the Hult Prize. 

For more information, or to make an appointment to discuss your idea, e-mail:  or visit the Blackstone LaunchPad in Bird Library (Suite 120), meet a coach, and become a member.