Curiosity, Compassion, and Commitment Define 2019-2020 Big Ideas Innovators

Over the past eight months, this year’s Big Ideas winners have endured through the chaos caused by the October wildfires (seem like ages ago, right?), the unprecedented COVID-19 health crisis, and the shutdowns and global disruptions that ensued.

When I reflect on the social innovators I’ve been privileged to work with over the past ten years, I find they share three attributes:
The Walls to Bridges Team from UC Santa Cruz; Allyssa Tamboura is seated in the center.

The 27 award-winning student teams in this year’s 2019-2020 UC Big Ideas Contest embody these characteristics to a tee. Over the past eight months, they have endured through the chaos caused by the October wildfires (seem like ages ago, right?), the unprecedented COVID-19 health crisis, and the shutdowns and global disruptions that ensued. They have risen to the top of a large and very talented pool of 1,200 student innovators who submitted their visions for more than 400 early stage social ventures.

“The commitment to making a positive social impact doesn’t stop when life throws challenges our way, whether that’s a campus-wide strike or a global pandemic,” said UC Santa Cruz Undergraduate Student Alyssa Tamboura, team lead for Walls to Bridges, a service program designed to repair the devastating impacts of incarceration on families. “Quite the contrary, this commitment has deepened because now more than ever our community needs our support.”

The Wise Earthcare team from UCLA.

Pradnya Parulekur, a UCLA MBA candidate and co-founder of Wise Earthcare, a company developing oral healthcare products that are 100% biodegradable, also reflected on her team’s resilience. “Literally, overnight, we all became caretakers for our elderly parents, teachers for our children, and the term ‘work/life balance’ took on a whole new level of stress,” she said. “We realized we could panic over the situation or use this focused time to research, develop, and execute the details of our business plan for Wise Earthcare.” Parulekur continued, “Upon reflection, not only did we do our part to keep our community safe by sheltering in place, but we used the time to increase traction in our business venture and to take advantage of fantastic entrepreneurship programming offered by the UC system.”

Ferisca Putri, team lead for BioMilitus, a bioconversion project that rapidly transforms food waste into a valuable, protein-rich, high-fat insect biomass and microbially active soil amendment, added, “What really motivates us is that we believe that our insect-based products can strengthen community resilience by not depending too much on the traditional supply chain of protein that might get disrupted during this chaotic and challenging time.”

The BioMilitus team from UC Davis. From left to right: Jesus Bayo, Trevor Fowles, Lydia Miner, and Ferisca Putri.

This year’s innovators hail from 12 universities and 85 academic disciplines. More than 70% are undergraduates and 40% women. (Also worth noting: 63% of this year’s winning teams are female-led!) The problems Big Ideas participants identified are as diverse as the students tackling them — increasing rates of HIV drug resistance, costly irrigation water loss for smallholder farms, the lack of financial literacy among youths, needless plastic waste in the medical industry, growing pressure on our global food supply chain, to name a few. Among the solutions they plan to develop are:

Over the last nine months, the Big Ideas team, along with our amazing global network of over 300 judges and mentors, have been fortunate to support these students as they shape their ideas into strategic roadmaps for social ventures. The premise behind Big Ideas is that by providing a diverse body of students with a structure and framework, along with educational resources and seed funding, they will deliver innovative solutions to pressing global problems. This has proven to be a successful model for fostering innovation. Over its 14-year history, Big Ideas has catalyzed a range of high-impact startups such as We Care Solar, CellScope, Dost Education, Somo Project, Bolt Threads, and Back to the Roots. These and other teams have received $2.5 million in Big Ideas funding and raised an additional $650 million in investment.

Raymond Lee, a recent graduate of UC Berkeley’s School of Information and CEO of FakeNetAI, a technology company that detects deepfake videos and other manipulated online content, explained the contest has introduced him to other founders across the UC campuses and to mentors who have provided “invaluable business and technology insight.”

“The Big Ideas Contest’s structured proposal requirements provided FakeNetAI with clear guidance on how to properly assess business viability and impact,” said Lee. “They inspired us to rigorously think through the problem and solution.”

Peter Kavuma of Makerere University in Uganda and team lead of the Automated Ambu Bag System (AABS), a low-cost respiratory support system for long-term emergency unit patients in low-income countries, noted that Big Ideas Contest support catalyzed their project. “Big Ideas offered us a growth platform during the application process through activities like mentor pairing and judging feedback,” Kavuma said. “This has been crucial.”

One of my favorite comments about innovation, which I think exemplifies the spirit of Big Ideas, comes from former UC Berkeley Engineering Dean Richard Newton, who helped launch the contest. He said, “What we’ve found at Berkeley about how to get people to work together is that you define some kind of very big problem that needs to be solved, and attack it from a range of viewpoints.”

After seeing how student teams persevered during this incredibly challenging year, I am confident–now more than ever–that this generation of problem solvers and inventors possess the curiosity, compassion, and commitment for the multi-pronged attacks needed to make this world a better place for all. Please read about the more than two dozen Big Ideas teams who won this year’s top awards in the slideshow below. Fiat Lux!

About Big Ideas: The Rudd Family Foundation Big Ideas Contest provides students with funding, support, and mentorship for developing their social ventures. Since its launch in 2006, Big Ideas has received over 2,500 proposals, supported more than 8,000 students from multiple universities, and provided seed funding for participants that have gone on to secure over $650 million in additional funding. The Big Ideas contest is made possible through the generous support of the Rudd Family Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation-Acumen Student Social Innovation Challenge, and the University of California Office of the President, as well as track sponsors CITRIS and the Banatao Institute, Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC), and the Blum Center for Developing Economies.

2020 Big Ideas Award Winners Announced!

In November 2019, the Big Ideas Contest received a record 438 pre-proposal applications, representing over 1,200 students across 12 campuses. After a preliminary round, 43 teams were advanced to the final round.

In November 2019, the Big Ideas Contest received 438 pre-proposal applications, representing over 1,200 students across 12 campuses. After a preliminary round and a final review, 27 teams were awarded prizes across 8 different categories, with award amounts ranging from $5,000 to $10,000. In September 2020 the seven top projects will participate in a pitch competition for Grand Prize honors and an additional $10,000 award (The exact date and time for Grand Prize Pitch Day will be announced in July.)

About Big Ideas: The Rudd Family Foundation Big Ideas Contest provides students with funding, support, and mentorship for developing their social ventures. Since its launch in 2006, Big Ideas has received over 2,500 proposals, supported more than 8,000 students from multiple universities, and provided seed funding for participants that have gone on to secure over $650 million in additional funding. The Big Ideas contest is made possible through the generous support of the Rudd Family Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation-Acumen Student Social Innovation Challenge, and the University of California Office of the President, as well as track sponsors CITRIS and the Banatao InstituteAssociated Students of the University of California (ASUC), and the Blum Center for Developing Economies.

Grand Prize Finalists

To learn more about these teams and their projects, please contact the Big Ideas staff at

(Italics below indicate the project’s Primary Social Impact Track and designated Team Lead)

AIDS-Tech (Makerere University)
Social Impact Track(s): Global Health
Team: Brian Nyiro, Bright Sharon Amanya, Brenda Nakandi
The broader access to antiretroviral drugs has led not only to considerable reductions in morbidity and mortality but, unfortunately, has increased the risk of virologic failure due to emergence and potential transmission of drug-resistant viruses. AIDS-tech will be a portable point of care diagnostic test that detects HIV drug resistance mutations in patient blood samples within 120 minutes, with an estimated sensitivity of 80-90% at an estimated cost of $50. A rechargeable battery (8-hour half-life) will be fitted to support a full day’s testing to use in field settings where access to electricity is limited. Results will be interpreted with a naked eye (observing color change on the strips), hence eliminating the need for computers and software. This will aid timely acquisition of resistance results and guide clinicians on which regime to start the patient and thus improve treatment outcome. It will also aid in the World Health Organization’s target to limit the number of patients with HIV.

Grand Prize Finalist

BioMilitus (UC Davis)
Social Impact Track(s): Food & Agriculture, Energy & Resources
Team: Ferisca Putri, Trevor Fowles, Lydia Palma
Agricultural co-products and other food wastes are used as feedstock for insects, which are later harvested for biomass, rich in proteins and fats valued as animal feed ingredient. Consequently, the bioconverted food waste is transformed into a microbially active insect compost known as frass, which may be used as a soil amendment for crops. Given that 3 million tons of organic waste are generated each year from California alone, this resource represents a significant opportunity for insect bioconversion. BioMilitus leverages the bioconversion potential of black soldier fly larvae (BSFL) as a solution for bridging the gap between the increasing global food demand and abundant organic waste. In order to realize the idea’s full potential, BioMilitus has further innovated this process through the engineering of growing conditions, specialized blends of wastes used as feed stock, and specially bred lines of insect larvae targeted for more efficient bioconversion of waste.

ChemCath (UC San Francisco, UC Berkeley)
Social Impact Track(s): Global Health
Team: Serena Blacklow
Even a patient monitored every 4 hours can undergo quick physiological changes (e.g. shock) that threaten their health because they are not detected fast enough. ChemCath is a sensor-embedded modification of a current catheter that will enable early identification of these deleterious events by continuously monitoring physiologic and chemical data without requiring blood draws. Leveraging recent advances in micro- and nano-science, ChemCath’s biosensors will quickly detect changes in pH to start, but future work will facilitate measurement of other important biomarkers such as sodium, potassium, and glucose. Though initially intended for hospital use, ChemCath will also pave the way for close at-home monitoring of patients on home health, preferentially benefiting the elderly, disabled, and those in rural communities who have more difficulty accessing healthcare facilities.

Earth Voices (UC Davis)
Social Impact Track(s): Art & Social Change, Energy & Resources, Education & Literacy
Team: Bernardo Bastien, Raiza Pilatowsky
The majority of American adults think global warming is happening, but almost half of American adults do not think it will affect their personal life. This is because of political bias and psychological distance to the consequences of climate change. Many projects, such as video-blogs, summer camps, and public outreach activities have been tackling these challenges to increase public engagement and desirable attitudes towards environmental problems. Earth Voices is an interactive podcast that guides listeners through an immersive experience, while walking a predetermined route in a city. Listeners would learn more about the different spheres of the Earth system and their relation with society through an embodied experience that will bring them closer to understanding the climate and the modern environmental problems society faces, as well as visualize themselves as part of the solution. Earth Voices will be available for free online and through main podcast platforms.

EdVisorly (UC Berkeley)
Social Impact Track(s): Education & Literacy, Energy & Resources, Cities & Communities
Team: Manny Smith, Christian Millsop, Alyson Isaacs, Daniel Smith
EdVisorly is pioneering equitable access to higher education, and we understand that many aspiring community college students cannot commit as much time to planning their academic journey. Higher education in the United States has become less accessible to underserved ethnic minorities, immigrants, and those from socio economically depressed communities. While there are many factors that contribute to the cumulative disadvantages in equity within our country, education is among the most evident and consequential. Today, EdVisorly is leveraging the latest technology in data analytics, machine learning, and software development to simplify and optimize the community college degree planning process. EdVisorly will allow students the unbiased freedom to plan faster and pivot seamlessly in their education with full transparency and support, resulting in increased enrollment, retention, and graduation rates.

Grand Prize Finalist

FakeNetAI (UC Berkeley)
Social Impact Track(s): Art & Social Change
Team: Raymond Lee, Vijay Singh
Over one billion hours of video are uploaded to the internet daily. Deepfakes, videos manipulated using deep learning techniques, represent a tiny fraction of those videos but are growing rapidly, doubling in the past nine months. Deepfake quality is improving to the point where the best are unidentifiable by human reviewers–and already have been used for nefarious purposes, including inserting a person into pornography or manipulating politics. As a result of the growing quality and ability to insert Deepfakes into a sea of uploaded content, the risk of their spreading and causing damage for content hosting companies is increasing. It is critical to be able to identify and react to Deepfakes by flagging or removing them. FakeNetAI’s Deepfake detection technology enables content hosting platforms to detect Deepfake content to counteract this growing threat. FakeNetAI’s technologies allow companies to respond to the threat even as Deepfakes continue to grow exponentially.

Grand Prize Finalist

FootMo Kit (Makerere University)
Social Impact Track(s): Food & Agriculture, Workforce Development, Financial Inclusion
Team:Richard Mushusha, Bernadine Kichoncho, Leonidas Kyarisiima
Sub-Saharan Africa has one of the world’s fastest growing human populations. The expansion of the livestock population is necessary to address this population growth, however the output depends critically on livestock productivity, which is generally poor across the region’s various production systems. Currently, 25% of livestock in sub-Saharan Africa die due to highly contagious and viral Foot and Mouth disease and 65% of this livestock in Uganda is predominantly cattle. FootMo Kit is a hand-held device that detects Foot and Mouth Disease in livestock in hard-to-reach and under-served areas through early disease detection. The kit is simple to use and is a low-cost device that is put in the mouths of a cattle that detects the disease against the antigen content in the saliva. FootMo Kit addresses poverty, well-being, and sustainable development, as well as empowers farmers to detect diseases without relying on the veterinary doctors.

Gastro-Bag Project (Makerere University)
Social Impact Track(s): Global Health
Team: Nabuuma Olivia Peace, Cheptoek Davis, Marissa Donadio, Alexandra Walker
The mortality rate for neonates in Uganda with Gastroschisis is 98% compared to high-income countries with less than 4%. Gastroschisis is a congenital anomaly birth defect in which abdominal organs protrude through a small opening right of the umbilical cord. The difference in the survival rate between low-income countries and high-income countries is largely caused by failure to keep the neonates hydrated, nourished, and infection-free while their bowel is outside the abdomen. This is because silo-bags used to put the bowel back into the baby’s abdomen cost approximately $240 which is 140% of the average monthly income in Uganda. The Gastro-Bag Project has developed and tested a low-cost silo-bag for treatment and management of Gastroschisis using locally available materials in Uganda at a cost of less than $5. The Gastro-Bag Project intends to demonstrate feasibility and improvements in quality, efficacy, operability, costs, and accessibility of Gastroschisis to improve human health.

Grand Prize Finalist

HelioVap (UC Berkeley)
Social Impact Track(s): Energy & Resources
Team: Kelly Conway, Casey Finnerty, Druva Chandrasekhar
Across the 2,700 islands of Indonesia, one in eight households lack clean water access. Traditional desalination technologies have too high energy requirements, costs, and brine discharges to be implemented in these coastal communities. As a result, households often purchase bottled water, which is both expensive and environmentally damaging. HelioVap is a floating, stand-alone desalination device that can provide reliable water access to coastal communities through an off-grid, zero-liquid discharge process that directly uses sunlight to separate seawater into its fundamental components. HelioVap is being designed to produce 75 L of water per day, which should be sufficient to meet the drinking and cooking requirements of five households through the utilization of alternative energy sources including sunlight, wind, and natural temperature gradients. This technology does not threaten biodiversity in the coastal ecosystems that over 50% of the population relies on for income, and the use of alternative energy sources reduces cost and carbon emissions of the process.

Impactify (UC Berkeley)
Social Impact Track(s): Cities & Communities, Art & Social Change, Education & Literacy
Annie Sheoran, Jennifer Pfister, Daniel Haim, Soniya Parmar Anahita Saidi
Impactify is an app that aims to mobilize young people for social or environmental justice action by (1) educating them on the most urgent societal challenges and (2) showing them concrete, effective ways to be a changemaker. We believe anyone can be a changemaker. Our research showed that GenZ wants to be part of the solution, not the problems (climate crisis, rising inequality, racism, sexism etc.). However, most young people do not know how concretely they can contribute to change. This should not be an obstacle for social justice action, as there are so many different ways anyone can make a difference and stand up for human dignity and the planet. Impactify’s solution will not only raise awareness on societal and environmental issues, but also suggest effective social engagement opportunities ranging from advocacy work to volunteering.

Lyzapay (Makerere University)
Social Impact Track(s): Financial Inclusion, Workforce Development, Education & Literacy
Team: Dickson Mwesiga, Solomon Oshabaheebwa, Samson Natamba, Paul Muwanguzi, Syson Natukunda, Tony Blair Nasasira
Youth in Uganda start business ventures with ​little or no knowledge of financial management or good business practices and with limited access to capital. About 50% of this population has little or no assets to put up for collateral for loans and they do not come from rich families to get capital. Without these resources, businesses are bound to fail, resulting in a vicious cycle of youth unemployment, food insecurity, and under performance of the economy. Lyzapay is a mobile application platform that gives both financial literacy and access to capital to business owners in Uganda. The application analyzes the entrepreneur’s personal data, business financial records, assets, and financial literacy to compute a credit score. This is integrated with a financial advisory platform that has a series of customized training modules and tools tailored to suit the Ugandan setting. Lyzapay will enhance the local entrepreneurs’ knowledge of financial management and good business practices.

Mabinju Borehole Project (UC Davis)
Social Impact Track(s): Global Health, Food & Agriculture, Energy & Resources
Team: Shana Roostaie, Claire Winter, Krista Blide, Sergio Jimenez, Aidan Ferguson
In the community of Mabinju, Kenya, 3,500 people have limited access to clean water for agriculture and basic needs. Lake Victoria, the main water source in Siaya county where Mabinju is located, is infested with water hyacinth and contaminated with fluoride and traces of copper (II) and zinc (III), which cause rapid spread of disease throughout the region. The Mabinju Borehole Project will address the lack of accessible clean water in the region by installing a borehole that uses a solar-powered pump to extract groundwater. The project aims to provide enough potable water for the community’s needs. With this accessibility, the residents will no longer have to rely on polluted, stagnant water from Lake Victoria. The rate of water-borne illnesses, such as cholera and dysentery, will decrease and the community’s income and food, which relies substantially on their agriculture, will further thrive with an abundance of clean and accessible water.

Matica (Makerere University)
Social Impact Track(s): Education & Literacy, Art & Social Change
Team: Brian Matovu, Julius Mugaga, Solomon Oshabaheebwa, Lydia Akino, Fredrick Bulondo
Mathematics is vital in the development of elementary skills like creativity, problem solving, and innovation, yet many children go through school with little knowledge and skill in the subject. Understanding the subject of mathematics is necessary because it not only drives improved performance in STEM, but also improves general intelligence to solving everyday challenges. Matica is a novel, low-cost mathematics game that improves mathematical learning, critical thinking, and mental work among children in Uganda and other resource-limited countries without proper infrastructure and capital investments to use high-end technologies. Matica  allows learners to have fun with mathematics, while they play and interact with their teachers, parents, and peers. It has been designed as an eccentric mathematical social learning tool for learners to improve basic skills in mathematics, arithmetic computations, competencies, and interests through social interaction and playing like other ordinary card games, employing Matica’s mission to provide every child the platform to love and succeed in Mathematics.

Mindset & Milestones (UC Los Angeles)
Social Impact Track(s): Art & Social Change, Education & Literacy, Workforce Development
Team: Diondraya Taylor
While the battle for gender equity continues, girls have to be prepared to succeed in society as it stands. That requires the confidence to fight for a seat at existing tables and the confidence to create new ones. Plainly stated, girls need educational and engaging spaces. Mindset & Milestones seeks to address the problem of self-efficacy, confidence, and opportunity deficits for girls by introducing them to entrepreneurial learning curriculum. The primary delivery of the curriculum will be via the workbook “Mindset & Milestones: A Girl’s Guide to Thinking Like An Entrepreneur” and in-person workshops. Entrepreneurship is not only a powerful way to exercise problem-solving skills, but it also allows girls to find the value in their ideas and find a way to succeed in the face of adversity. In the end, the vision is for girls to leave programs feeling like they have the ability to create something from nothing and contribute to any environment.

NeoMotion AI (UC San Francisco, UC Berkeley)
Social Impact Track(s): Global Health
Team: Mathias Vissers, Wei-Kai Lin, Nikhil Yerasi,
Stroke rehabilitation is often inaccessible, expensive, and requires a lot of scarce, highly trained professionals. By harnessing the processing power of smartphones in combination with recent advances in artificial intelligence, NeoMotion AI will be able to improve rehabilitation at a worldwide scale. NeoMotion AI is run on AI-based pose estimation algorithms and it optimizes them for usage on smartphones without internet connection. Using a smartphone camera and this software, the solution involves tracking the coordinates of every joint of the upper and lower limbs, proving patients, rehabilitation specialists, and physicians with a tool to track patient’s rehabilitation progress over time. At a later stage, performing rehabilitation exercises in front of a smartphone would allow patients to receive personalized exercise corrections or new and adaptive exercises suggestions. NeoMotion AI can provide an engaging rehabilitation experience for stroke patients through a social platform, creating a sense of community, and a more integrated management system for physical therapists or physicians.

PIC.ME (UC Santa Barbara)
Social Impact Track(s): Education & Literacy, Workforce Development
Team: Talitha Buschor, Arjun Gathwala
Approximately one third of people with autism are nonverbal, resulting in a rising need for a user-friendly, socio-culturally relevant means of assistive technology to help them communicate. PIC.ME: Personalized Interactive Communication Made for Everyone is an app that can be downloaded onto a personal smart device, such as a smartphone or tablet, for people with exceptional needs, such as autism, or other language disabilities. Users can personalize pictures used for picture exchange communication that are culturally and socially relevant to their lives, record vocalizations for words and sounds to match pictures, and practice language and social skills with games. This app will not be limited to people with autism, but will be accessible for any person living with a disability that causes a loss of the ability to effectively communicate. PIC.ME will not only make assistive technology more available to all, but it will make the right of communication more equitable for all.

Signum (UC Berkeley)
Social Impact Track(s): Workforce Development, Education & Literacy, Cities & Communities
Team: Sahil Mehta, Arth Vidyarthi, Raghav Singh, Suyash Jaju
Unemployment and underemployment affect roughly 70% of all Americans in the deaf community. Signum is a video chat solution created to solve this problem. Designed as a workforce development tool, Signum utilizes a machine learning model to translate video of ASL gestures to text, easing communication for people with hearing and speech impairments who can only communicate in ASL. Although several other startups are currently developing similar technologies, Signum distinguishes a gap in the market due to its emphasis on providing an inexpensive and non-intrusive means of communication targeted towards removing barriers in the workplace. Signum’s current target market is “functionally deaf” ASL users in the workforce between 18 and 35-years old. Signum will be used in conjunction with popular workforce video chat platforms such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Cisco WebEx to expand to a broader audience and impact millions of lives.

Grand Prize Finalist

Sundial Foods, Inc. (UC Berkeley)
Social Impact Track(s): Food & Agriculture, Global Health, Energy & Resources
Team: Jessica Schwabach, Siwen Deng
Meat consumption in the United States has risen in recent years, and despite a variety of activism efforts, the trend shows little sign of slowing down. The alternative meats industry seeks to provide sustainable alternatives to meat in order to provide the experience of meat consumption without the environmental cost; however, current products are expensive, highly processed, and rarely healthy. Sundial Foods’ mission is to alleviate the global environmental and public health burden of concentrated animal agriculture. Sundial Foods is revolutionizing the alternative meat industry by developing a new method for the creation of these products that relies upon a biological approach to meat structure in order to inform the creation of a product that looks, cooks, and tastes like animal chicken. The processing method in development is significantly more efficient than the methods currently used in the alternative meat industry, and makes use of whole plant ingredients rather than micronutrient-depleted protein isolates.

Suppression of Evaporation and Percolation Water Losses with Novel Infiltration Insert Method to Improve Plant Yield Utilizing Carbon Sequestration (UC Santa Barbara)
Social Impact Track(s): Food & Agriculture, Energy & Resources
Team: Visala Tallavarjula
Increasing global population requires 70% more food production by 2050, predominantly cultivated in developing countries and areas with an arid climate. Irrigation consumes more than 80% of the world’s fresh water. Traditional irrigation practices suffer from evaporation and percolation loss of freshwater and existing efficient technologies are very expensive and not economically viable for developing world. The purpose of this innovation is to develop and implement an economically viable technique and devices to reduce irrigation water loss and apply them to micro-irrigation to help small farm owners in the developing world. The proposed infiltration system inserts under drip emitters mimic SDI and delivers water to the root zone. Then engineered perlite/peat-moss topsoil beds suppresses evaporation loss by locking water in the pores and a percolation control layer at the root zone uses charcoal amendment to retain water and improve root health/plant yield, ultimately working to reduce the water footprint of agriculture in arid regions.

Grand Prize Finalist

The Automated Ambu Bag System (Makerere University)
Social Impact Track(s): Global Health
Team: Peter Kavuma, Maureen Etuket, Joseph Tumwesigye, David Kato
There is a dire need to invest in intermediate care bridging from the resuscitative efforts in the Emergency Units and the supportive care offered by the intensive care units in Uganda. This leads to a high prevalence of missed opportunities for patients requiring advanced ventilatory support at Emergency Units. This is due to there being only 33 Intensive Care beds with Mechanical Ventilators for the whole population of Uganda. The Automated Ambu BagSystem (AABS) is automated and designed to provide controlled ventilatory support to patients with respiratory failure. The project is aimed at utilising the existing and relatively affordable bagging technology proving vital features of an Advanced Ventilatory Support System. The principle of the bag is through the compression of the Ambu Bag, which uses a piston run by a mortar. The device is light and of medium size, which allows it to be easily moved to different bed stations without it being stolen.

The Mobius Project (UC Berkeley)
Social Impact Track(s): Cities & Communities
Team: Nicole Chi, Ji Su Yoo
These days, tech companies constantly have to admit that they are not fully equipped to deal with all of the ways bad actors can use their platforms or technologies to cause harm – and the ways their product can disproportionately harm particular groups of people. The Mobius Project is a knowledge and research platform that provides practical ways to incorporate abusability testing into existing product life cycles and teams, drawing from existing expertise from privacy, security, scholars, and digital activists. This platform will gather a community of people interested in combating platform abuse, tools and frameworks that product teams can integrate into their software development project life cycle, and a searchable database of platform abuses to make it easier to identify product risks.

Theater to Heighten Community Voices: Dharavi Slum (UC Davis)
Social Impact Track(s): Art & Social Change, Cities & Communities
Team: Lauren Low, Sarah Covault
Dharavi slum in Mumbai, India, which boasts a unique economy and culture, is currently threatened with destruction due to the government’s plan for redevelopment. This project seeks to use theater as a means of uplifting community voices to preserve the neighborhood. Through a series of workshops, young participants will develop creative means of telling their personal stories about the positive aspects of their community, as well as the challenges they face. This will culminate in the creation of an original show, which will be performed for both slum residents and the greater Mumbai area, celebrating community voices and combating negative perceptions about the slum. The project also serves as a means of qualitative data collection in a severely under-researched area. This project seeks to promote a humanizing perspective of a particularly marginalized group of people ​with the hopes that the government and wider Mumbai society will learn about the wealth of culture Dharavi holds​.

TRIPLE C: Clean Clay Cookstoves (UC Berkeley)
Social Impact Track(s): Art & Social Change, Workforce Development, Global Health, Energy & Resources
Team: Tina Piracci, Alexander (Sandy) Curth
According to the World Health Program, more than three billion of the world’s population do not have access to clean cooking facilities and still rely on solid fuels such as wood, animal dung, charcoal, crop wastes, and coal for cooking and heating. These fuels are burned in extremely inefficient and highly polluting stoves and one of the world’s greatest environmental health risk factors is exposure to the emissions from these cooking stoves. This project proposes a new mechanism of self-generated air flow that boosts combustion and helps neutralize smoke. The proposed 3D printed clay stove is a doubly walled enclosure with a hollow in between, incorporating built-in apertures at the base of the exterior wall and at the top of the interior wall. The stove could be manufactured locally on-site using clay that is almost free and available anywhere. The stove capitalizes on additive manufacturing technology to leverage local material into high performing micro-infrastructure that offsets environmental and economic costs.

Viberent (UC San Diego)
Social Impact Track(s): Energy & Resources
Team: Tiffany Wang, Diana Valdes, Richard Miller, Tatiana Podhajny, Jefferson Lei, Ruixiao Liu, Arthur Miranda, Khoa Nguyen, Nam Nguyen, Tanay Patil, Aku Saraf
While it is essential for fashion brands to reuse and recycle clothes, their efforts will not significantly reduce their carbon footprint in the long run because the rate of clothing production and consumption is only going to accelerate. Sustainable fashion ultimately means less fashion, which contradicts fashion’s current linear “take, make, and waste” model. This project helps fashion brands achieve on-demand production by supplying color-changing fibers to be spun into garments, minimizing the risk of overproduction. At the retail store, shoppers will be the ones to customize the color of their garments at the color-changing stations. Viberent’s technology has the potential to redefine the 3 R’s: Reduce textile and dye waste, Reuse clothes in a completely new way, and use Recycled material to create color-changing fibers. Let’s close the loop and transform linear fashion into circular fashion.

Walls to Bridges (UC Santa Cruz)
Social Impact Track(s): Cities & Communities, Education & Literacy
Team: Alyssa Tamboura, Alyssa Scarsciotti, Paola Leon, Shelby Richards, Daisjah Sheperd
Walls to Bridges is a pilot program in partnership with the Conflict Resolution Center of Santa Cruz (CRC) designed to address communication issues between incarcerated parents and their adult-age children in Santa Cruz. Using restorative justice practices and principles, the program will facilitate confidential dialogues regarding the impact of incarceration on relationships and planning for communication resolutions, such as letters, phone calls, and visits. The dialogues will take place between incarcerated parents and their adult-age children within a Santa Cruz County jail. The process focuses on the procedural aspect of healing, like what steps need to be taken to address the harm and reduce the adverse outcomes for families impacted by incarceration. A research aspect will inform for potential expansion with the CRC as well as replication for other restorative justice or criminal justice reform organizations. Walls To Bridges has the potential to inform the public of familial incarceration challenges and help make policy recommendations.

Grand Prize Finalist

When You Were Young (UC Berkeley)
Social Impact Track(s): Art & Social Change, Global Health, Financial Inclusion
Team: Tracey Quezeda
When You Were Young represents a previously untold story about child sexual abuse and healing from the perspective of a black woman, through her own courageous emergence on screen. This impact campaign, accompanying the film, will be the first to address the needs and interests of the audience by focusing on black girls and women and creating a safe space for public conversations, specifically in black communities. The lack of such films has historically left communities of color feeling invisible, a feeling that is only compounded for a victim of child sexual abuse. The film follows Aqueila Lewis, an adult survivor of child sexual abuse, as she works to confront the generational cycle of child sexual abuse within her family. When You Were Young’s campaign will include a pre-viewing guide featuring support and resources for people directly impacted by child sexual abuse, as well as indirectly impacted allies, family members, and community.

Wise Earthcare (UC Los Angeles)
Social Impact Track(s): Energy & Resources, Global Health
Team: Pradnya Parulekar, Belinda Lau, Scott Panitz, Ingrid Vining, Amish, Chhita, Will Hawkins
Over 1.2 billion plastic toothbrushes are thrown away in the United States every year–enough to fill up 1,100 shipping containers. The problem is that 99% of those toothbrushes are made from plastic that is non-recyclable and they end up in landfills or the ocean, contributing to the increase of pollution. The solution is a toothbrush that is 100% biodegradable, clinically validated by the American Dental Association, which is delivered directly to the consumer via subscription, retail, and dental offices. These products will be both clinically effective and sustainable and will include an array of oral care products, including toothbrushes for adults and kids, electric toothbrush replacement heads, floss, floss picks, toothpaste, and mouthwash. With validation from the ADA and both dentists and consumers regarding the design, this product can ensure that patients/users are receiving the best possible oral healthcare products, while still playing a positive role in the sustainability movement.

Amplifying Marginalized Voices through Film

Skylar Economy, independent filmmaker and co-founder and director of Photogénie Films, notices a gap in the stories large media companies tell.

Big Ideas Winner Skylar Economy on Arts Entrepreneurship

Skylar Economy has pursued a career in arts entrepreneurship, co-founding Photogénie Films and directing and producing documentary films that amplify the voices of marginalized communities.

Between semesters at UC Berkeley, Skylar Economy, independent filmmaker and co-founder and director of Photogénie Films, interned for CNN’s documentary unit. Although the experience gave her valuable filmmaking skills, the 26-year-old from San Diego said it also made her notice a gap in the stories large media companies tell.

“I pushed so hard for stories that mainstream media may not have been covering and they were always rejected,” said Economy, which made her realize her skills “could be used elsewhere.”

Journalists are taught to remain detached from their stories, Economy explained, yet when directing her own films, she hopes to do the opposite. 

“It feels so weird to work with people, or to film them, and not have some kind of bond with them or try to help them outside of the film,” she explained. 

Since graduating from UC Berkeley in 2016 with a BA in Media Studies, Economy has pursued a career in arts entrepreneurship, co-founding Photogénie Films and directing and producing documentary films that amplify the voices of marginalized communities.

“Film is such a huge tool… it has a story, a visual component and artistry,” said Economy on her quest to challenge audiences’ judgments or preconceptions about different communities. 

Arts entrepreneurship, however, hasn’t been an easy career path. On top of running Photogénie Films, Economy works as a freelance filmmaker, balancing work that guarantees an income with her own creative projects.

“It’s about managing your freelance work, while not overdoing yourself and also being true to maintaining time for your own art as well,” said Economy, noting she often finds herself working long hours and weekends to find time for telling the stories she loves.

Economy, 2016 Big Ideas winner, believes the power of film can challenge audiences’ judgments or preconceptions about different communities.

“When I’m highlighting people and the real issues they face, it makes me want to do it even more,” she explained. “I become even more energized to create a film.”

During her sophomore year, Economy took Richard Andrew’s arts entrepreneurship class, which she said, “Opened my eyes to everything that goes into an arts business” and inspired her to apply to the Big Ideas Contest. In 2016, she won the Contest for directing and producing “From Incarceration to to Education (FITE),” a documentary that depicts the experiences of formerly incarcerated UC Berkeley students. 

That same year, the premiere of “FITE” on the UC Berkeley campus sold out, which Economy said exposed her to the power of filmmaking. After the premiere, audience members wanted to know how they could help the students she documented. 

She explained that recently a community college student, who had previously served 19 years in prison and viewed the “FITE” screening on the UCLA campus in 2017, was recently admitted to UC Berkeley as a transfer student. The student told her viewing the film had inspired him to keep pursuing education. “That impact alone was absolutely incredible,” she said.

Since “FITE”, Economy has directed and produced several other short documentaries she sees missing from mainstream media. Currently, she is directing her first feature-length documentary “Lifers” about the Lifers Group, a hip-hop group that formed in the Rahway State Prison in the early 1990s. In 1992, the group became the world’s first hip-hop band to be nominated for a Grammy while incarcerated. 

Clarence Ford, Producer, and Economy, Executive Producer and Co-Director, of “FITE”, a documentary that depicts the experiences of formerly incarcerated UC Berkeley students, won the Big Ideas Contest in 2016.

Economy explained the idea for the film was inspired by Maxwell Melvins, founder of the Lifers Group, who reached out to her after viewing “FITE”.  She remembers Melvins told her, “What you did through your film, we do through our music.”

Economy said she and Melvins aim to show that inmates can defy odds and battle stigma. The producers of “Lifers” are currently nearing the end of their development phase and looking for funding. 

Economy underscored that although being an arts entrepreneur, freelance journalist, and independent filmmaker isn’t always easy, if she “can make an impact with every single film that I do,” her goal will be achieved.

Big Ideas Mentor and Innovation Ambassador: Breaking Down Barriers for Social Entrepreneurs

As a new media professional, working with emerging technologies and Big Ideas Mentor and Innovation Ambassador, Parul Wadhwa says social innovation can improve the lives of marginalized communities.

Parul Wadhwa

New media professional and Big Ideas Mentor and Innovation Ambassador, Parul Wadhwa, hopes to make social innovation more accessible for marginalized communities.

As a new media professional, working with emerging technologies and Big Ideas Mentor and Innovation Ambassador, Parul Wadhwa says social innovation can improve the lives of marginalized communities. She thinks pursuing social entrepreneurship, however, continues to pose barriers for the student, women, and minority innovators who can make the biggest impact. 

Big Ideas sat down with Wadhwa to learn more about her interests in social entrepreneurship, the impacts of virtual reality as a new media platform, and how she dedicates her career to breaking down these barriers in order to make entrepreneurship more accessible for minority groups.

Why is social entrepreneurship important?

Social entrepreneurship solves important problems by creative innovations, but it also keeps in mind the kind of people who are affected or benefiting from it. There are a lot of interesting innovations that are taking place in the world right now and a lot of people, especially our marginalized innovators, get left behind. Social entrepreneurship makes space for all kinds of people.

Wadhwa works with emerging technologies, AR/VR/XR, which she believes can create empathy for social causes.

Why do you think it’s important for students to have access to resources and leadership when pursuing a new venture?

There is a difference between having an idea and seeing it come to fruition, whether that's in the form of a company or in the form of an innovation, a product, or service. We all have great ideas, but how these ideas can be beneficial, speak a universal language, and impact a larger audience is a totally different equation. As a Big Ideas Innovation Ambassador, it was very interesting to reach out to undergraduates at UC Santa Cruz and the larger UC community to tell them how a platform like Big Ideas can be instrumental in shaping impactful companies. Students have a lot of interesting ideas and they are very enthusiastic about creating change in the world. I think that platforms, like Big Ideas, tap into that very enthusiastic energy and make sure that those ideas come into fruition.

What are some changes to the entrepreneurial field you think are necessary in order to make it more accessible for women, students, and minorities?

There’s a lot of gatekeeping that happens in entrepreneurship and you see a lot of people keeping different kinds of people outside. There need to be a lot more training programs, there need to be incubators, there needs to be a lot of accelerators that are specifically focused on providing that access and opening up resources for women, students, and minorities.

What do you think is the power of virtual reality to effectively tell the stories of marginalized communities?

Virtual Reality (VR) has the ability to create empathy for the social causes that you are talking about and it’s important to bring that technology into the hands of people who would never have the opportunity to access it. VR is such a powerful, immersive environment because it can teleport people to be in someone else’s shoes or interact with somebody they have never met before.

Why do you think it’s important to support women in entrepreneurial environments?

Being a woman entrepreneur myself and having gone through the challenges, I feel that it’s really important for me to give back to that community and to build a solid system of support for people to make sure that they have access to the opportunities that I had. A platform like WiseHer is really close to my heart because we are a bunch of interesting entrepreneurs from all around the world, mostly women, who are using our expertise to develop small innovations for entrepreneurs anywhere around the world.

I get the opportunity to work with businesswomen in India and Nigeria who have great ideas, but have never had access to micro-investments or have even been taught about business. The fact that a small idea, for women mostly in India or Nigeria, could take them to a platform where they can support their families and build a business that can bring change in the world, is something so exciting, unique, and organic to see.

What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to aspiring student entrepreneurs?

I think my biggest take away from working with students and being an entrepreneur myself, is that as women, minorities, and students, we often don’t have a lot of faith in our ideas. And the biggest challenge that we face is who do we talk to? And is my idea going to be stolen? My biggest advice is don’t be afraid to talk about your idea and have confidence in it. The more you talk about your idea, the greater the chances you will come across the right people and the right resources which will help you shape that idea into an innovation.

Any final thoughts?

There’s a lot more that goes into an innovation than just having a seed idea, so talk about your idea as much as you can, look out for mentors as you can, and access the kinds of resources that are available around you. In short, be enterprising and strategic.

It’s time that we start innovating outside of the buildings and start talking and connecting to as many people as we can, especially the people we are creating the product and innovation for.