Inspired to Become an Innovation Ambassador

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Amy Liu of Partners in Life

By Veena Narashiman

When Amy Liu was a master’s degree student in biology at UC San Diego, she met a recently immigrated Haitian refugee who desperately needed a doula. After four hours of waiting for a professional, Liu—who had volunteered as a doula for a year—assisted the delivery of the woman’s baby over a 35-hour period. Inspired to provide pregnant women with the support they need, she founded Junior Hearts and Hands in August 2017, to connect mothers with doulas in a time-sensitive manner. After receiving mentorship from the Big Ideas Contest, she became an Innovation Ambassador for both the 2018-2019 academic year and now the 2019-2020 one. Liu, founder and CEO of Partners in Life, chatted with Big Ideas about how the program has inspired her (and why you should apply).

How did you hear about Big Ideas and how do you think the Contest aids students in navigating the social impact space?
My startup was incubated in the Basement at UCSD, but I discovered that not much funding is catered toward graduate students or social venture ideas. The Basement is where I saw a Big Ideas flyer that called for students with a social impact vision. I think that a lot of ventures are intrinsically social ventures, but a lot of students don’t see how their creation can change the world. Big Ideas helps you flesh out the vision, and their network proves to you that social ventures can be successful. The mentors function as support and as role models.

Why did you choose to participate in the Innovation Ambassador program and what are your responsibilities?
I get to advertise and brag about Big Ideas to UCSD! Originally the competition was open only to UC Berkeley students, so many students at other UC schools are unaware of the opportunity. Not many students, especially undergraduates, think that they have the ability to change the world. The competition shed that mentality completely, because you’re never doing this alone. It’s such a confidence builder, which is why I think everyone should participate.

What is something you wish you knew about the Big Ideas Contest before you joined?
I didn’t realize competitors were offered mentors! It’s a huge plus point, and differentiates Big Ideas from typical venture contests. You’re not thrown into the deep end after some help with your business proposal—you’re constantly supported throughout the journey. Big Ideas doesn’t simply offer a first, second, and third place. A lot of people can be winners.

What are some of the characteristics of a successful Big Ideas participant?
There’s not a set blueprint (and the different tracks of the competition can allow for a lot of interdisciplinary game plans), but some of the more successful founders I’ve seen had an infectious passion for their idea—-and more importantly, the determination to see it through. You need to be able to seek our criticism and know what you don’t know.

How did Big Ideas help you navigate your journey as a budding innovator? Do you have any advice for students unsure if their idea is “worthy” of the Contest?
Honestly, go for it. You won’t know what might happen if you don’t float your idea to multiple people. You only need one person to nurture you, and you need to take the chance. Lead into the pivoting that comes with a small venture, and if you think your idea is decent, go for it.

Why should students apply to the Contest?
Ultimately, this is a stepping stone you need to make it out there. Big Ideas will help provide you the building blocks to any successful venture: the mentorship, resources, connections, and funding.