Big Ideas@Berkeley Teams Hacking for the Public Good

Earlier this week, three teams of student innovators from UC Berkeley designed and coded apps and services for social good at the Bloomberg Next Big Thing Summit.

By: Christina Yu

June 20, 2013 – Earlier this week, three teams of student innovators from UC Berkeley designed and coded apps and services for social good at the Bloomberg Next Big Thing Summit. FlowBit, Free Ventures, and M3D, winners of the 2013 Big Ideas@Berkeley contest, stayed up all night working on their projects and prototypes as Bloomberg West live broadcasted the 36-hour Hackfest. The student teams were then invited to on stage to share their work with some of the most influential investors and entrepreneurs in the fields of technology, science, and data.

“The Bloomberg Hackfest was surreal,” said Sabrina Atienza of M3D.  “We never thought we’d be hacking in the luxurious Ritz of Half Moon Bay with extraordinary entrepreneurs being interviewed 10 feet away from us.”

The staff behind the Big Ideas@Berkeley student innovation contest saw the Hackfest as a unique opportunity for contest winners to take their projects to the next level.

“These teams are sculpting actionable solutions to some of the world’s most pressing issues. The Hackfest was a chance for team members to channel their energy into a tangible outcome and meet business leaders who can give them real-world professional guidance,” said Phillip Denny, Manager of the Big Ideas program at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. Big Ideas, which provides mentorship, resources, and funding to help student teams develop high-impact innovations, connected the three teams to the Hackfest.

Sabrina Atienza and George Ramonov, the students behind M3D (Mass Minable Medical Data), describe their project as “Google for Healthcare”—an intuitive and fast search engine for clinical and biomedical research. In the midst of building a functional visual programming language and interface, the team stepped away to pitch their Big Idea in Bloomberg’s Pitch Roulette. A panel of investors and mentors broke down their business model, revenue potential, and options for building their idea into a successful business.

“We’re elevating M3D to the next level by iterating on the judges’ feedback and connecting with potential stakeholders who approached us after the presentation,” Atienza shared. “Right now, we’re in discussion with leading academic hospitals in the Bay Area to determine the best fit for our clinical pilot.”

Noticing the increasing number of young entrepreneurs in the Berkeley area, Sam Kirschner and Jeremy Fiance set out to provide consulting, mentorship, and funding to student innovators. Their project, Free Ventures, is UC Berkeley’s first student-initiated non-profit startup accelerator. At the Hackfest, the team worked on a prototype platform for driverless car apps, and they’re looking to launch a small-scale pilot effort on campus.

“I don’t think enough people are really pushing the boundaries of innovation these days and asking the hard questions,” Kirschner said. “We’re trying to break down the barriers that stop students from building amazing stuff, like Flowbit, M3D, and various other teams on campus are working towards. We want to find a way to get students with the right skills more time, money, mentorship, and domain knowledge, so they can truly excel and tackle those big problems.” Free Ventures now plans to launch a pilot initiative with interested campus groups.

The final student team, FlowBit, seeks to enable water providers in the developing world to remotely monitor and control their water systems. Team members, led by Nick Lee, built an easy-to-use map platform at the Hackfest that displays data on remote water treatment systems’ performance. This product fits into FlowBit’s wider efforts to build a flexible and low-cost system that allows providers to control and monitor water supplies, while also providing valuable analytics to help them improve service and reduce costs to end-users. The team will now be working to install a prototype system on a water-dispensing kiosk in Mexico in collaboration with Mexican non-profit Fundacion Cantaro Azul and UC Berkeley researchers.

The Hackfest was part of the Bloomberg Next Big Thing Summit, a two-day invitation-only conference held at the Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay on June 17th and 18th that provided insight into the future of money, mobile, design, and the technologies that are reshaping industries. Speakers included Robert Lloyd, Co-President of Cisco; Michael Sippey, VP of Product at Twitter; and Jason Rattner, CTO of Intel Corporation.

“It’s so easy for kids to just come up with an idea, maybe play around with it for a bit, and then get distracted by school or other things and never come back to it,” added Kirschner. “A hackathon like this… is an awesome opportunity to forget school and other obligations for a bit, and focus on what excites you and drives your passion.”

Browse Bloomberg West coverage of the Hackfest and learn more about the Bloomberg Next Big Thing summit.