A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Rolex Awards for Enterprise

In 1976, long before big luxury brands were channeling funding toward boundary-breaking ideas or rallying behind ethically and environmentally conscious practices, Rolex launched its Awards for Enterprise to spotlight individuals pioneering fresh, original approaches to important issues within science, technology, and sustainability.

João Campos-Silva aims to help endangered fish in the Amazon.

Today, the awards have more traction than ever. Rolex receives as many as 3,000 applications from some 150 countries for each series, and applicants ranging in age from 24 to 74.

“We initiated the Rolex Awards for Enterprise out of a conviction that we had a responsibility as a company to take an active interest in improving life on our planet and in the desire to foster values we cherish: quality, ingenuity, determination, and above all a spirit of enterprise,” says Andre J. Heiniger, former chairman of Rolex and founder of the Rolex Awards for Enterprise.

Medical scientist Grégoire Courtine is helping people walk again after devastating injuries.

This year, Rolex’s jury panel evaluated 957 candidates from 111 countries before selecting the final 10 nominees. Then, for the first time, the public was invited to weigh in through social media, and five laureates ultimately were chosen by the jury. This past June, Rolex honored the winning laureates, João Campos-Silva, Grégoire Courtine, Brian Gitta, Krithi Karanth and Miranda Wang, in a ceremony at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC.

This year’s group takes on a diverse range of issues. From 25-year-old Vancouver native Wang’s recipe for accelerated plastic composting (turning it into useful, valuable chemicals) to French researcher Courtine’s electronic implant that bypasses the site of a back injury and enables paralyzed patients to walk, these laureates are poised to overcome some of today’s most daunting human challenges.

Brian Gitta (right) and Joshua Businge, head of research for Gitta’s team, testing for malaria.

Honorees will each get a chance to confab with Rolex’s network of former laureates and jury members, receive $200,000 to help advance their project, and be given a Rolex chronometer. rolex.org