Innovation Challenge: Information for Students

Have you got what it takes to win the U21/PwC Innovation Challenge? A chance to showcase your critical thinking and share your ideas with PwC and their clients to win some exclusive world-class training and professional development opportunities.   

Download the 2021 Innovation Challenge Handbook

The Challenge 

We invite any registered graduate student from U21 member universities to submit a 3-minute response via video to the following challenge:

The recent Upskilling for Shared Prosperity report by the World Economic Forum and PwC makes the case for providing employees with learning and development opportunities to expand their horizons while minimizing skills gaps. The report highlights certain challenges, such as addressing the disconnect between current education programmes and the skills employers need today and in the future, but also presents the advantages of upskilling, including wider social benefits triggered by the development of specific skills that will prove beneficial for the future success of the global economy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted on the global economy in ways we could not have imagined. It has further exposed the inadequacies of our current economic structures and highlights a growing mismatch between people’s current skills and those needed for the jobs at the heart of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The skills gap is widening and causing greater inequality in the workplace.

Based on the report and proposed call to action, suggest an initiative that can be undertaken by governments and/or businesses and/or education providers that can help improve and maintain shared and sustainable prosperity.  

Competition dates

Challenge announced on website: Monday 15 February 2021 Deadline for video submissions: Friday 2 July 2021 Winners to be announced: Week commencing 6 September 2021  

Are you eligible to apply?

The competition is open to any registered graduate student in one of U21’s member universities (this includes students from taught and research masters programmes, MPhils etc., and PhDs). Students on joint PhDs between two U21 members are eligible to apply.  


Amendment to U21/PwC Innovation Challenge Prizes 2021 (updated June 2021)

The continuation of the pandemic into 2021 has proved problematic for travel plans across the network. So far, U21 has been unable to plan any face-to-face network wide events for the remainder of this year, instead opting for a virtual programme of engagement activities across the membership.

In light of this, U21 and PwC Middle East have had to make the difficult decision to review the prizes awarded to this year’s entrants. As you are aware, in the previous rounds first prize winners have been awarded a week-long expenses-paid trip to Dubai, courtesy of PwC. You will remember that this prize was offered contingent on it being possible to deliver. We no longer feel that this is the safest or most sustainable option for our winners under current global circumstances.

To provide certainty to our winners, we will be offering three first prize winners virtual one-to-one career coaching sessions with the PwC Academy. This tailored experience will allow the winners to identify their career goals and receive expert guidance on how best to achieve them. Seven runners up will receive exclusive access to a PwC-approved online course.

All entrants will still have the opportunity to develop their presentation and communication skills in preparation for their video entry. The videos will be judged by PwC and their clients, who are leaders in graduate career development.

When and how to register

Your university will announce an initial call for entry or expression for interest. When you receive this, get in touch with your university contact to express your interest in taking part in the competition. If you do not receive such notification, email and you will be provided with information about your university contact.

Your university will provide you with the challenge question to which you have to respond - ensure that you have ready access to video/filming equipment and have familiarised yourself with the rules (see below). Your university will set a shortlisting process in order to choose three entries to be put through to the U21 final.   

New for 2021

There will be a People’s Choice vote to determine one of the three overall winners this year. The vote will take place via the U21 website between Tuesday 27 July and Friday 20 August 2021. A link will be forwarded for you to share in due course - don’t forget to share it with your friends and family!


  • Entries to be submitted for final adjudication are limited to 4 per U21 institution and should be submitted to U21 via an agreed university contact. Students should not submit their videos directly to U21. 
  • Submissions must be via video format, either an MP4 file or .MOV. Files sent in any other format will not be accepted.
  • Video presentations are strictly limited to 3 minutes and competitors exceeding this will be disqualified.
  • Entrants will be judged on their presentation skills and they must feature in the video.
  • Group submissions are not accepted.
  • It is permissible to use a maximum of one slide per presentation.
  • The 3-minute audio must be continuous – no edits or breaks etc.
  • Presentations are to be spoken word only (e.g. no poems, raps or songs). No additional electronic media (e.g. sound and video files) are permitted within the video recording.
  • Props are not allowed.
  • The decision of the adjudicating panel is final.
  • Group round winners and runners up will be expected to provide a report after the competition to reflect on their experience.   


Preparation for this competition is key. Here are a few tips on how to prepare for the competition:

  • Research the challenge. You want to demonstrate your ability to present a well-rounded argument. It’s your chance to show them how much you know.
  • Consider what to include in your slide (if using) There is nothing worse than having to stare at a redundant slide during a presentation - make sure you make it work for you!
  • Learn your ‘script’. It is better to have a structure in mind for what you’re going to say. Writing it down will save you time and effort when it comes around to filming.
  • Practise! Practise your script so that you become fluent - you are being judged on your ability to articulate your opinion and knowledge.
  • Think about how you want to present yourself. First impressions count, make sure that you're dressed appropriately.
  • Watch the previous winning videos. Get an idea of what is expected.

What are the judges looking for?

At every level of the competition you will be assessed on the judging criteria listed below. Please note that each criterion is equally weighted.

Comprehension and Content

  • Did the candidate have a logical approach to answering the question? - i.e. familiarity with the background material, a set of key considerations.
  • Did the candidate clearly explain their point of view? 
  • Did the candidate articulate the conclusions and recommendations clearly?
  • Did the candidate provide adequate background information to illustrate points? 
  • Did the candidate spend adequate time on each element of their presentation – or did they elaborate for too long on one aspect or was the presentation rushed?

Engagement and Communication

  • Did the presentation make you want to know more from this candidate and potentially employ them? 
  • Did the candidate convey enthusiasm for the challenge and genuine interest in the problem? 
  • Did the candidate capture and maintain your attention? (sufficient stage presence, eye contact and vocal range; maintain a steady pace, confident stance)   

Intellectual Property - IMPORTANT!

By submitting your entry to the Innovation Challenge, you are acknowledging that your ideas/research will be made publicly accessible and shared with industry professionals. Videos will be uploaded to Vimeo and disseminated through the U21 website and social media platforms (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram), and PwC’s media channels. Your video will be shared with PwC’s clients (you will be notified which clients and be contacted should any work-related opportunities arise). Judges, reviewers, staff and the audience will not be asked to sign non-disclosure statements. 

U21 and PwC may take stills, video and/or audio clips of the presentations, or copy material prepared for use in the presentation, for promotional purposes. If your presentation draws on work/research that is being/has been conducted under contract with an outside sponsor, you are advised to discuss the related contractual terms of confidentiality and intellectual property with your supervisor(s) before participating in this competition. U21 and PwC have the right to ask you to withdraw from the competition if these conditions are not met.   

Winning Videos from previous rounds

Humberto Jiminez Martinez - Winner of the Innovation Challenge 2018-19


Mac Montana - Winner 2018-19


Sarah Hashmi - Winner 2018-19


Daniel Student - Winner 2019-20


James Tait - Winner 2019-20


Christopher Girardi - Winner 2019-20