‘Online Ivy’ Minerva Project launches genius grant-like prize for educators

Much like the MacArthur Foundation’s genius grants recognize talented individuals for their creativity, a new prize from startup Minerva Project wants to honor educators for excellence and innovation in teaching.

The San Francisco-based company, which last year grabbed headlines with a $25 million seed round for its plans to bring an Ivy League-level education online, on Monday announced a $500,000 prize that will go to one educator per year for making advancements in higher education.

The point of the award is to help elevate the teaching profession and bring attention to people creating breakthrough learning experiences, the company said. That it will likely help the young startup build its brand certainly doesn’t hurt.

In addition to announcing the new prize, the startup said Roger Kornberg, a Nobel Prize-winning chemist, would serve as the Governor of the Minerva Academy, an honorary institution that will include educational innovators from around the world.  The Academy will be responsible for selecting the winners of the new Minerva Prize.

“Respect for teaching has declined over the years. Teachers were once one of the most esteemed members of the community and, in some way, their remuneration reflected that. But today that’s much less true,” said Kornberg. “The purpose of this prize [is] to enhance the public appreciation of people who today make a great sacrifice and devote their lives to this profession.”

As student debt climbs and more question the value of a high-priced college education, startups of all kinds are emerging with different models for online education. In attempting to lure both top students and top professors who might otherwise gravitate to the country’s leading brick and mortar institutions, Minerva has an audacious vision.

But beyond raising $25 million from Benchmark Capital, Minerva, which is led by founder and CEO Ben Nelson (the former CEO of Snapfish), has attracted the support of several high-profile leaders. Former Harvard president and Treasury Secretary Larry Summers is an advisor and former U.S. Senator and Governor Bob Kerrey (D-NB) leads Minerva’s Institute for Research and Scholarship.

Image by Sergey Nivens via Shutterstock.