By Nicholas Bobadilla
In the last round of the 2016 Big Ideas Competition, finalists in the IT category presented their ideas to a panel of judges. The innovative social impact projects consisted of five applications targeting issues that spanned health justice, campus security, special education and mental health.
MBA candidate James Bui kicked off the presentations with PillPal, a novel initiative for promoting drug price transparency. Inspiration for the project surfaced when James accompanied his immigrant father to pick up medication from a pharmacy. As non-native English speaker, James’ father needed help translating dense price information outlined in his insurance plan. Identifying an opportunity to remedy this problem, James gathered a team of students to develop an app targeted at low-income populations that provides drug prices and healthcare information in an accessible format, and empowers users to make informed decisions about their healthcare. Currently, the team is deliberating a for-profit route or a non-profit route, the former consisting of private partnerships with generic brand drug companies, and the latter leading to collaboration with government agencies. PillPal’s long-term goal is to reach more high and middle income users and to partner with doctors who can offer feedback.
Next in the panel was an app developed by an undergraduate team of software engineers to promote campus safety. After team member Vinay Ramesh narrowly avoided a robbery on campus, he decided students needed a collaborative online platform to provide real-time information on dangerous activity. The solution was Wildfire, an app that notifies users with pictures, comments, or text messages when a crime occurs in their area. It also enables users to send an alert to their emergency contacts and other users in the vicinity. The app combines relevant historical data with real-time, user-generated crime reports to present the most relevant information. Already, Wildfire has garnered thousands of downloads; the team has established partnerships with UCPD and BPD and received an endorsement by UC Berkeley’s student government. With funding from Big Ideas, the team hopes to spread its services to other high-risk campuses, including UCLA and USC.
Following Wildfire was Et al Health, which delivers healthcare information on rare diseases like ALS and Cassalmen’s. Due to the rareness of these diseases, patients often have trouble finding a specialist to treat their condition or administer information. To remedy this problem, Et al Health provides a search tool that allows patients to find doctors based on their research expertise. “We’re providing provide honest, accurate, and friendly information in order to get patients the treatment they need,” said team member Bill Chambers. The process is rigorous, requiring the team to parse through and clean various data sources. But the challenge is worth it to these dedicated students, who are set on providing an exceptional experience to their users.
MBA candidate Andrew Hill followed up with LiftEd, an app designed for tablets that enables Special Education teachers to more easily track their students’ progress. “Special education is like having two full-time jobs,” said Hill during the pitch. Teachers must simultaneously teach and track the progress of their students. But with LiftEd, teachers can easily input data and focus more attention helping their students. Because the data is collected and stored in a digital platform, teachers and administrators can easily track progress, as well as share information with parents. The team is focused on a grassroots approach, having already developed a partnership with a New Jersey school district and hoping to expand to more districts in the future. They also hope to galvanize support among parents, who are the best equipped to advocate for the quality of their children’s education.
Last to present was an app aimed at helping users manage their mental health struggles. After enduring depression during their first year in medical school, Ramin Rajaii and Brandon Brown understood the need for a platform that helped students in similar circumstances. The response was MindFull, an app that empowers users to create a personalized treatment plan to address their emotional hardships. “The app provides mental health treatments as daily tasks users can accomplish. These are split into a three-week treatment regiment,” said Brown. The treatments, which include meditation and exercise routines, draw from research-based strategies that have proven effective at alleviating depression and other mental health conditions. Users can enter data pertaining to their moods, and will be able to track their progress given the visualization tools in the app. After testing MindFull with a cohort of medical students, Brown and Rajaii hope to bring on physician mentors to oversee their progress and consult on the app’s effectiveness.