By Sarah Bernardo
To help celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Big Ideas competition, a record-shattering 266 applications were received. “The volume, creativity and overall quality of the proposals submitted to the contest this year was amazing — and certainly demonstrates the passion and commitment of students to making the world a better place,” said Phillip Denny, Director of the Big Ideas Contest.
On April 27, 2016, after months of working to develop their ideas, six teams were selected to present at “Pitch Day” before a packed audience at Blum Hall. Judging the contest this year were former Big Ideas winners, Anand Kulkarni, Founder & President of LeadGenius and Nick Pearson, Founder and Executive Director of Jacaranda Health. Joining them were leaders from industry, academia and the non-profit world. These included: Jean Shia: Head of Operations, Autodesk Foundation, Paul Alivisatos: Vice Chancellor for Research, University of California, Berkeley and Senior Faculty Scientist, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Rebecca Hopkins: Deputy Director, Oakland Public Education Fund, David Phillips: Associate Vice President for Energy and Sustainability, University of California Office of the President, Jennifer Walske: Visiting Fellow at the Blum Center and Social Innovation Program Director & Assistant Professor, University of San Francisco; Danielle Cass: Tech Sector Liaison, US Global Development Lab at USAID, Sophi Martin: Director of Partnerships, Blum Center for Developing Economies, and Doug Parker: Director, California Institute for Water Resources, University of California Office of the President.
Judge Rebecca Hopkins explained the importance of supporting student ideas through Big Ideas. “Young people are the most creative,” she said, “In the real world they tell you what you can’t do — but students think about what’s possible. They focus on what they can do.”
Despite some last minute jitters, all of the students found Pitch Day to be an incredible learning experience. Clarence Ford, a member of the FITE Film team who won first place in the Campus and Community Impact category, said, “the experience was nerve-wracking, and the three minutes were really short, but it was insightful to be able to hear the other pitches because it made me realize that the world is so big and that there are so many innovative ideas out there.”
During Pitch Day, students, faculty, and community members listened as each team gave a three minute presentation followed by a question and answer session with the judges. Each team explained the pressing social development challenge they were addressing, and included visual representations of apps, product samples, and long-term business models. The judges then asked the teams questions focused on their pilots, initial user response, sustainability, and implementation tactics.
The winning teams were stand-outs in their respective categories. Judge Doug Parker praised the Dost team for their work in developing a mobile platform for parent engagement in their children’s education. Parker said, “The team was really down-on-the ground working directly in the communities they wanted to affect. Their project had long-term impacts for children which is important because you can really make a difference when you help individuals when they’re young.”
Judge Jennifer Walske noted that the FITE Film team addressed an important population that is often neglected—incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals. Walske explained, “The team addressed a clear social problem that is underserved on so many different levels. There are many institutional obstacles for a project like this to get funding, so we (the judges) felt that it was important to give them a vote of endorsement because if we don’t, who will.”
Then asked why other students should apply to the Big Ideas contest, the students emphasized that the resources and mentorship provided by Big Ideas were all important to both their project and their long-term career aspirations. Skylar Economy, team lead of the FITE Film project, stated, “The constant deadlines of the program helped us keep a good pace. Most importantly, Big Ideas helped us believe in ourselves and allowed us to view our project as a possible reality rather than some abstract concept.” Devanshi Unakdat, member of the Dost team, added, “The Big Ideas program was a great way to put our idea into practice. The feedback provided by our mentors has been a useful tool. It gave us the momentum to really transform our idea.”
The Big Ideas contest is made possible by the generous support of the Andrew and Virginia Rudd Family Foundation. We invite you to join us in celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Big Ideas contest this Wednesday, May 4 from 5:00 to 8:00 pm in B100 Blum Hall! RSVP here to attend the event.
2016 Pitch Day Winners:
Campus and Community Impact
1st Place ($5,000): FITE Film (From Incarceration to Education) and Resource Connection (UC Berkeley) – This project is focused on the production of a documentary film that will combat recidivism in the prison system by motivating currently incarcerated individuals to seek higher education and mentorship opportunities. The creation of a structured resource connection will provide assistance to incarcerated individuals seeking to attain higher education.
2nd Place ($3,000): LiftEd (UC Berkeley) – LiftEd is an iPad application that enables special education professionals to measure students’ academic & behavioral performance on individualized learning goals, analyze learning trends to modify instruction and intervention methods real-time, and ultimately share student progress with districts & parents on-demand.
3rd Place ($1,000): SafeSpace (UC Berkeley) – Poor mental health is a widespread issue plaguing college students across the country. SafeSpace is a website and mobile application for UC Berkeley undergraduates to comfortably share their similar mental health issues through an anonymous, peer-led chat.
1st Place ($5,000): Dost–A Mobile Platform to Promote Parent Engagement and Early Childhood Education (UC Berkeley) – Dost will give low-income moms a leg-up on their child’s primary school readiness and amplify the impact of existing early childhood education programs. Through short, prerecorded voice messages delivered via a call to feature mobile phones, Dost offers moms a low-cost and highly scalable approach to access the knowledge they crave and unleash their child’s potential.
2nd Place ($3,000): Safi Organics (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) – Safi Organics provides a carbon-negative soil conditioner for rural farmers who suffer from long-term crop loss due to soil degradation. Their product, Safi Sarvi, provides the essential nutrients and a biochar-based stabilizer that leads to a 30% increase in crop yield and 50% increase in income.
3rd Place ($1,000): Open Viral Load (UC San Diego) – The Open Viral Load project aims to develop an open-source, affordable genetic assay test for HIV that can be easily modified to test other pathogenic diseases, such as tuberculosis and the Zika virus. This project will allow low resource communities to receive the regular testing they need in order to know the status of their viral disease or to quickly diagnose patients with other pathogenic illnesses.