President Ruth V. Watkins announced the University of Utah has been selected by Schmidt Futures to solicit and develop ideas for ensuring a vibrant middle class in America. 

The university, along with other Alliance partners, will seek policy and technology ideas from individuals or groups throughout Utah that have the potential to increase net income for 10,000 of the state’s middle-class households by 10 percent by 2020.

The innovative ideas challenge marks the launch of the Alliance for the American Dream, an initiative of Schmidt Futures. The challenge is made possible by an initial gift of $1.5 million to the university.

The Alliance for the American Dream is based on the concept that a healthier and larger middle class reduces income disparity and provides enhanced opportunity and economic mobility. Its goal is to increase shared prosperity and American competitiveness by generating and investing in ideas that strengthen the middle class by giving more Americans the skills and opportunities they need to improve their lives.

Eric Schmidt is the founder of Schmidt Futures. Schmidt is a technical advisor to Alphabet Inc., a member of its board of directors and its former executive chairman. Alphabet Inc. is the parent company of Google.

“Today, too many middle-class families find themselves at risk of falling into poverty, while too few see a path to build a brighter future for their children,” Schmidt said in announcing the project. “America needs a strong middle class. Our future depends on it.”

Schmidt said the best ideas will come from people working together, in their own communities, using an interdisciplinary approach grounded in facts, data science and diverse perspectives. Ideas on how to strengthen and enable access to the middle class might target raising income or decreasing costs of such necessities as transportation, housing, utilities, food, etc.

Together, Alliance partners will create a network of innovation engines around the country, Schmidt said.

“We are happy to welcome the University of Utah as an inaugural partner in the Alliance for the American Dream,” Schmidt said. “Utah looks like quite different than when I lived here in the 1990s, and yet many of the features that made it a great place to do business then continue today — an energized and giving population, an innovation mindset and a willingness to pilot new policies and ideas.”

Courtney McBeth, project director and special assistant to the president, will direct the U’s participation in the Alliance. The university will launch a process in coming weeks to solicit ideas from throughout the state by late fall. Ten proposals will be selected and each will receive up to $10,000 to further develop the idea.

A broad-based local advisory board led by Watkins will select the three best technology and policy ideas from that group. Each of the three proposals will be eligible for an additional award of up to $30,000 to aid in refining the idea.

The university will work with the final three teams by providing access to facilities, connections to resources and faculty, etc. The U will then forward those proposals to the Alliance, which will provide up to $1 million in additional support to the best ideas that emerge from across the nation.

The U’s ability to involve a wide range of community and campus partners was noted as a specific strength during the selection process.

“We are thrilled to be selected by Schmidt Futures to participate in the Alliance for the American Dream. This project, which will bring together students, faculty, staff and the community, aligns perfectly with our role as the state’s flagship institution,” Watkins said. “As a top-tier research university, we recognize and embrace our duty to make positive, real and lasting contributions to our state. We are excited to see what promising ideas come forward to improve our community and provide equitable access to opportunity and prosperity.”

Utah’s economy remains among the strongest in the nation, but more can be done to ensure all Utahns benefit from that positive growth, said Lt. Gov. Spencer J. Cox.

“The conversations the Alliance will engage in are timely and important as we look toward further diversifying our economy,” Cox said. “This initiative will help us develop critical infrastructure for continued economic growth in our state.”

For more information about the Alliance for the American Dream, visit https://schmidtfutures.com/our-work/alliance-american-dream/.