In 2006, the Big Ideas Contest launched at UC Berkeley to catalyze and support an interdisciplinary and diverse network of student entrepreneurs to develop game-changing innovations. No longer would entrepreneurship be ensconced within just engineering and business schools and accessible to only a few. The time had come to “open-source” entrepreneurship to include the range of perspectives and interdisciplinary expertise necessary to develop well-rounded solutions to the world’s greatest challenges.
With support from the Rudd Family Foundation, the Big Ideas Contest has expanded significantly since that time. To date, over 5,000 students have participated, from 85 different majors, collaborating on over 2,400 proposals. Big Ideas has awarded $2.7 million in prizes across 500 winning teams. These teams have used this modest seed funding—and the targeted mentorship provided by a network of over 1,500 judges, mentors, and sponsors—to collectively secure over $650 million in additional investment for for-profit enterprises, nonprofit organizations, hybrid entities, and community-based initiatives. Big Ideas has made good on its vision.
This year Big Ideas received a record 336 applications representing more than 1,000 students, across 12 universities and more than 85 majors. More than 65 percent of these applicants were undergraduates and 50 percent were women. The diversity of the applicant pool is equaled by the breadth of innovations: a new hardware innovation that monitors bone fractures using acoustics; a provocative art installation to raise awareness of implicit biases; the creation of a novel enzyme capable of degrading plastics and reducing waste; a groundbreaking process for reducing corneal blindness by using “micro-nanobubbles.”
On Wednesday, April 24, 2019 teams representing the top seven innovations, the BIGGEST Big Ideas, will face off for top honors (and up to $5,000) at the annual Big Ideas Grand Prize Pitch Day (RSVP).
Over the last eight months, these teams and the other 329 applicants have taken advantage of workshops, mentorship, and advising, receiving tailored feedback, networking opportunities, and pathways to set goals and iterate on their ideas. Among the highlights for the 2018-2019 Contest were the fall and spring Inventing Green Workshop: Exploring Sustainable Design featuring Jeremy Faludi and the environmental responsibility enhancement of the Hardware for Good category, supported by The Lemelson Foundation.
“These new Big Ideas activities directly align with The Lemelson Foundation’s mission to use the power of invention to improve lives, by inspiring and enabling the next generation of inventors and invention-based enterprises to promote environmentally responsible economic growth and social progress around the world,” said Cindy Cooper, program officer at The Lemelson Foundation. “We are looking forward to meeting the 2019 winners.”
One Pitch Day participant is RePurpose Energy, led by UC Davis engineering student Ryan Barr. Repurpose aims to develop a new energy storage solution by harnessing the energy of used electric vehicle batteries, tackling two Grand Challenges at once: California’s 100 percent clean energy target and the growing need to reduce EV battery waste. (View video for more detail.)
“The Big Ideas process turned our idea into a plan,” says Barr. “It challenges participants to develop innovative yet feasible solutions to society’s gnarliest issues. We look forward to inspiring the Pitch Day audience with our climate change solution.”
Isochoric Preservation System, a group developing an isochoric cryopreservation chamber capable of preserving live organs up to 72 hours (from 4-6 hours) will also get a chance at the $5000 prize. Led by Alvina Kam, a UC Berkeley Materials Science Master student, the team aims to transform the accessibility and affordability of organ transplantation and prevent up to an estimated 30 percent of all deaths in the U.S. (View video for more detail.)
“We entered the Big Ideas Contest with a big idea for how to solve an even bigger problem,” said Kam. “The competition has helped tremendously in our effort to refine this idea into something concrete, exciting, and perhaps most importantly achievable. We’ve also learned at every turn just how important it is (and how difficult it can be) to communicate abstract scientific concepts with clarity and context.”
Pitch Day Teams
Cloud-based Emergency Response System (CERS): A mobile application that enables real time matching of ambulances to patients in Kampala, Uganda. (Makerere University)
Intelligent Bugs Mapping and Wiping: An affordable, unmanned ground vehicle that uses machine learning to recognize and spatially map agricultural pests. (UC Merced)
Isochoric Preservation System: Extends the preservation of live organs up to 72 hours, thus transforming the accessibility of organ transplantation. (UC Berkeley)
Kaloum Bankhi: A durable and culturally appropriate housing solution for residents in Kaloum, Guinea. (UC Berkeley)
Qloak: A hub for information about spaces that have been proven to support the LGBTQ+ community (businesses, restaurants, doctors, etc.). (UC Berkeley)
RePurpose Energy: Tests, reassembles, and redeploys used electric vehicle batteries to provide commercial solar developers with more affordable energy storage solutions. (UC Davis)
Respira Labs: A platform to monitor and manage Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) using wearable sensors and machine learning. (UC Berkeley)
The Big Ideas Contest is grateful for the vision and generosity of these remarkable sponsors: Rudd Family Foundation, Autodesk Foundation, Lemelson Foundation, USAID, Blum Center for Developing Economies, University of California Office of the President, Associated Students University of California, CITRIS and the Banatao Institute.