UC Berkeley Big Ideas Contest Finalists Announced 

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28 Student Teams Showcase Innovation and Diversity

Berkeley, CA – February 1, 2024

Following an extensive review involving over 100 industry and startup experts, 28 student teams (full list provided below) have been selected to advance to the final round of the highly competitive Rudd Family Foundation Big Ideas Contest. This year’s competition received an impressive 130 applications, reflecting the ingenuity and commitment of over 400 graduate and undergraduate students to solving the world’s most pressing social challenges. In addition, the Contest received 30 applications from its international partner, the University of Sussex (U.K.)

A noteworthy trend in this year’s applications is the significant integration of artificial intelligence (AI) with nearly 50% of the projects leveraging aspects of AI to address a broad array of challenges that include: conducting wildfire threat assessments using aerial drones, revolutionizing mobility for individuals with severe motor impairments, and addressing the systemic farm labor shortage in the U.S. Other common themes also emerged, highlighting the multifaceted approach of UC Berkeley students to address pressing global issues. In addition to the prevalence of AI-focused projects, there is a notable surge in FemTech innovations aimed at addressing a broad range of women’s health challenges. These projects showcase the students’ dedication to leveraging technology and services for the betterment of women’s health, spanning areas such as reproductive health, maternal care, and mental well-being.

This year’s contest witnessed a surge in innovations dedicated to tackling climate-related challenges, both in California and globally. With a heightened awareness of the urgent need to address environmental issues, students are showcasing inventive solutions to combat climate change, enhance sustainability, and contribute to a more resilient future. “UC Berkeley students continue to impress us with their innovative spirit and commitment to addressing a wide spectrum of global challenges,” said Big Ideas Director, Phillip Denny. “The emergence of FemTech innovations and projects addressing climate challenges demonstrates the depth and breadth of our students’ engagement with critical issues that impact society.”

Also noteworthy is the fact that 20 of the 28 finalist teams are led by women, underscoring Big Ideas’ commitment to fostering an inclusive and equitable environment for aspiring innovators and early-stage startups. Additionally, 14 of the finalist teams are led by undergraduate students, highlighting the diversity of talent across various academic levels.

The finalists are set to embark on an intensive journey as they enter the final round of the competition. Each team will be paired with a mentor, providing valuable guidance and support as they refine their projects. They will have access to a robust set of skill development workshops, team-building opportunities, and networking events. Among the newest workshops offered to finalists will be a training on Supply Chain Diversity, developed in coordination with the procurement team at the University of California Office of the President. This offering is designed to support early-stage founders by showcasing the opportunities of a diverse and inclusive supply chain for sourcing their technologies and products, and how this approach can enhance the overall value and likelihood of success for startups.

2023 Grand Prize Winners, Kira Erickson and Ivan Jayapurna, co-founders of High Tide

The core focus for Big Ideas finalists over the next months will be the development of comprehensive 9-page implementation strategies and the development of compelling 90-second elevator pitches. Big Ideas will culminate on May 1 at the Big Ideas Grand Prize Pitch Day and Awards Celebration from 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm (RSVP forthcoming.) This event promises to be a showcase of ingenuity and passion, where the finalists will present their projects to a distinguished panel of judges and a diverse audience, including industry leaders, faculty, and fellow students.

The Big Ideas Contest not only celebrates innovation but also provides a platform for students to transform their ideas into impactful ventures. With a strong emphasis on mentorship, skill development, and networking, the contest nurtures the next generation of leaders and change-makers.

For more information about Big Ideas, or the upcoming Grand Prize Pitch Day and Awards Celebration, please visit bigideascontest.org or email bigideas@berkeley.edu.

About UC Berkeley Big Ideas Contest: The UC Berkeley Big Ideas Contest is an annual competition that empowers students to use their skills, knowledge, and creativity to solve the world’s most pressing challenges. The contest provides a platform for students to develop and showcase their innovative ideas, fostering an entrepreneurial spirit and a commitment to positive change. It is made possible thanks to its generous partners which include: The Rudd Family Foundation, Blum Center for Developing Economies, University of California Office of the President, the Associated Students of the University of California, Lab for Inclusive FinTech, UC Berkeley Center for African Studies

The 2023–2024 UC Big Ideas Finalists:


Big Ideas Finalist

ArtistX is a platform transforming the music industry by enabling fans to invest directly in the artists as individuals, not just their artwork. Fans gain a personal stake in the artist’s digital footprint by investing in coins tied to each artist and coin values are reflective of metrics such as streaming numbers and social media engagement. This investment goes beyond conventional support as it’s a tangible share in the artist’s burgeoning career with the artist’s coin value reflecting real-time digital statistics. ArtistX leverages the XRPL blockchain for transparent, secure transactions, ensuring a direct and intermediary-free channel between artists and fans. ArtistX is more than just a platform, it’s a MOVEMENT to democratize music by giving artists financial independence and fans the opportunity to be part of their favorite artist’s journey.

Carbon Sustain

Big Ideas Finalist

Carbon Sustain is carbon emissions accounting and insights as a service for enterprise. Carbon Sustain streamlines scopes 1,2, & 3 emissions, boosts savings, and helps companies elevate their brand. Carbon Sustain offers AI-driven actionable insights facilitating a cost-effective journey to Net Zero while enhancing the environmental aspect of its brand image. Powered by legislation tailwinds including the US Inflation Reduction Act and California’s Climate Accountability Package, CarbonSustain delivers a service akin to a TurboTax for carbon emissions reporting for small & medium businesses. Carbon Sustain works with companies per Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13 climate action using AI insights to optimize the decarbonization journey.


Big Ideas Finalist

The number one reason people do not purchase electric vehicles is charge anxiety– the worry about navigating the charging ecosystem. This anxiety is only exacerbated for those in multifamily buildings with no means to charge their car at home. ChargeNest is a software network of electric vehicle charging stations that drivers can access through our phone app. Stations on our network are available for rent on a nightly basis, turning dormant hours for these stations into a convenient home-charging experience for apartment dwellers and other EV drivers without home charging access. This gives people a reliable, convenient charging experience that simulates the ease of home charging, the charging method most preferred by drivers. ChargeNest not only removes this charge anxiety from our customers but also allows them to charge overnight when electricity prices are their cheapest.

Code Blue

Big Ideas Finalist

Code Blue is a consumer-facing app designed to detect early signs of stroke for all people. The app analyzes photos and speech patterns in audio to identify potential signs of stroke, and alerts the user’s emergency contacts through automated calls and texts if detected, expediting medical intervention. The app offers live detection or the option to upload images or audio clips for analysis.

CogB Theater

Big Ideas Finalist

Alarming statistics, particularly prevalent in rural communities, highlight the correlation between substance use, depression, and youth suicide rates, emphasizing the imperative for tailored interventions. In response to Wyoming’s mounting mental health crisis, worsened by high suicide rates and limited access to youth-centered art programs, the ‘CogB Theater’ initiative emerges as a novel approach. Project CogB Theater leads by tailoring Cognitive Behavior Therapy exercises for youth through art-based activities. Rooted in the evidence-based Positive Youth Development/Creative Youth Development framework, the project combines CBT with art to promote self-expression, coping skills, and resilience. The goal is to provide transformative art experiences addressing economic constraints and mental health challenges. By prioritizing safety, equity, and creativity, the project strives to comprehensively and sustainably tackle the youth mental health crisis.


Big Ideas Finalist

Connect-A-Roo is a free, personalized mobile application designed to address the pain points of current nonverbal communication, especially within classrooms with kids who have Autism. The app includes personalizable modules as well as sentence and word-building games. Also, visibility adjustment settings are be included and the app is designed to be affordable for low-income families. The Connect-A-Roo team will use modern code, open-source collaboration, and surveys for user feedback. The app’s affordability is ensured through funding from Glass Slipper Initiative, with features being updated frequently to reflect current research findings and implementing user input to combine all the positive aspects of apps that currently exist. Overall, Connect-A-Roo will enhance the way kids with ASD can demonstrate improvement in communication in the classroom to help develop more comprehensible IEP plans, alleviate the financial burden of having to purchase multiple apps and reduce the probability of misdiagnoses.

Cottage Co.

Big Ideas Finalist

Have you ever purchased anything from a bake sale or lemonade stand, or brought home homemade breads, jams, or pickles from the farmers’ market? If so, you’ve been a customer of the cottage foods industry. Cottage foods are prepared for sale in home kitchens and regulated by state and county cottage food laws, which can expand entrepreneurship opportunities for individuals who lack the resources to access commercial kitchens. Currently, there is not an integrated platform to provide both an online marketplace and customized support for cottage food producers through all stages of business growth. Cottage Co. is a web and app-based community and marketplace for cottage food entrepreneurs. The platform will be initially designed to support California cottage food business owners in the Bay Area counties of Alameda and Contra Costa, with the long term focus on serving cottage food entrepreneurs in all 50 states.

Counter Culture

Big Ideas Finalist

Counter Culture, a Human-Food Interaction (HFI) hub, centers Black geographies and African diasporic knowledge to directly confront food apartheid—the systemic denial of equitable food access due to racial and economic segregation. The hub catalyzes change across three pillars: developing climate-conscious upcycled products, fostering citizen-powered service design, and employing data visualization for widespread knowledge sharing. These innovative tools are deployed to empower communities and drive the structural transformation necessary within the food system. The hub’s pilot project is focused on pillar one: creating a climate-conscious edible up-cycled product, in the form of a “Beef” patty utilizing food byproducts setting a tangible precedent for circular innovation.

Debunk Information Verifier

Big Ideas Finalist

Debunk Information Verifier, is a news verification platform for aspiring journalists. The platform uses an automated fact checking Bot to share timely verification tools and resources to equip the journalists with essential media literacy skills. It is run by a dedicated team of Ugandan Fact Checkers and Journalists who produce high-quality how-to-video explainers, lessons, workshops and training to facilitate easy learning for aspiring journalists. It is also a resource center offering mentorship, support, and personalised news verification sessions for student journalists. It will be accessible on web and mobile, with content that is downloadable, shareable, and usable with limited data. The platform will enhance the journalistic skills for next generation journalists and amplifier accurately produced news stories to reach a wider audience to counter misinformation before it spreads further in communities.


Big Ideas Finalist

Period products are currently unsustainable and inaccessible. Research has shown us that this comes down to what products are made out of and how they’re distributed. EquiPad is a sustainably designed disposable pad alternative, conveniently provided in a roll format for easy accessibility and no need for new infrastructure. The mission of EquiPad is to make pads free and readily available in all public restrooms just like toilet paper. This can be achieved by eliminating the barrier to entry for schools and workplaces to implement free pads and by utilizing underused biomaterials. This unique design can use any form of plant waste and be produced with current pad manufacturing infrastructure, which lowers costs while optimizing for sustainability and comfort. With the responsibility of purchasing period products shifted from menstruators to institutions, EquiPad will be a paradigm shift in public menstrual product accessibility.


Big Ideas Finalist

Plagued by age-old patriarchal influences that confine women to abject poverty along with systemic limitations that make access to markets an impossible ideal, Sub-Saharan Africa is anaesthetized to the $26 trillion opportunity that is endowed in its small and medium-sized enteprises led by African women. Habari has spotted this rare and niche opportunity; by serving as a conduit through which these businesses can access markets, expand their reach and in turn, generate income African households and communities, Habari is unlocking the potential harbored by 70% of the informal economy. Through an ecommerce platform that not only shelves the products but sells true and authentic stories of entrepreneurs in Africa, Habari is changing the face of business in Africa.

Homes with Hope

Big Ideas Finalist

‘Homes with Hope’ is a social enterprise aimed at co-designing and implementing carbon-neutral homes for communities displaced by large development projects in India. The first project will be implemented in a village in Madhya Pradesh, where villagers displaced by the Sardar Sarovar Dam live in 10 ft by 10 ft ‘transition huts’ made from tin sheets. The long-term goal is to collaborate with the government to provide affordable, sustainable, and resilient housing. The projects will be co-designed with the local community at the intersection of Laurie Baker’s affordable housing philosophy and Permaculture Design. The innovation includes passive solar designed housing, closed-loop water systems, urban food systems, waste management, skill-building, and employment for local communities.


Big Ideas Finalist

Ida is a reusable menstrual product that is free of suction and low maintenance. We stand out in femtech by reimagining the menstruation experience rather than twigging superficial form factors. As a product-led growth business, we leverage antibacterial material and stent technology for optimal compactability and safety. Ida won’t suction out the intrauterine devices (IUD) like menstrual cups or disks (ouch). Ida won’t funnel into the 200,000 tons of waste per year in the US like pads & tampons. Instead, ida will give menstruators the same control over periods as going to the bathroom. With only an upfront cost, a few months of use will pay for itself. Ida will cater to an audience who is comfortable with using tampons, and will transform menstruation into a no-fuss experience while also advancing SDG 3 (Good Health and Well Being), 5 (Gender Equality), 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), and 13 (Climate Action).


Big Ideas Finalist

Jones is an AI-powered personal finance platform that empowers young people to achieve their dreams. 74% of Millenials and Gen Z report challenges with financial planning. Jones fills this gap by offering personalized financial guidance rooted in community. Unlike existing tools, it allows users to share and view financial trends by hyper-specific demographic factors such as profession, zip code, or immigration status. Jones is deeply mission-driven and aims to democratize financial health for all.

M.A.R.S. unit [Modular-Agricultural-Resilient-Solar unit]

Big Ideas Finalist

Solar power technologies have been introduced worldwide to achieve sustainable development. However, conventional solar technology holds many limitations and there are cases, where the imprudent installation of solar infrastructure is degrading people’s quality of life. Countries in Oceania like the Marshall Islands are extremely vulnerable to accelerating climate change events. Issues in the region usually receive less attention from the international community due to their small size in land, population, and economy. Although the region has high solar potential, the implementation of sustainable solar projects has been stagnating due to the complex combination of the region’s unique social challenges and the limitations that conventional solar technology has. The Modular-Agricultural-Resilient-Solar unit (M.A.R.S.) is a novel compact-modular agrivoltaic solar technology and that is designed in a way that adapts to the unique characteristics of the Marshall Islands and enhances the communities’ socio-environmental resilience.

Movement As Leadership

Big Ideas Finalist

We are in an unprecedented loneliness epidemic, with one-in-two adults in America reporting experiencing loneliness—this same figure is 70% for marginalized identities. Simultaneously, the U.S. is reckoning with record employee dissatisfaction at work, with most employers experiencing greater attrition issues than in years past. A growing body of evidence links the two, arguing that unless we feel truly connected to others in our work environments, we will experience loneliness. Movement As Leadership is an evidence-based, dance-based, leadership development and team-building modality that increases authentic social connection at work.

Nopa — A Biodegradable Adhesive For PLU Stickers

Big Ideas Finalist

The use of price look-up (PLU) stickers is integral to the global agricultural supply chain, streamlining the tracking of produce and enhancing the purchasing experience. However, these seemingly inconspicuous stickers present a massive challenge when it comes to environmental sustainability. The stickers are petroleum-based, rendering them non-biodegradable. This becomes a critical issue as PLU stickers lead to contamination of the composting stream, causing rejection of large volumes of produce which instead finds its way to landfills. Nopa has drawn on indigenous knowledge to develop a method of concentrating a plant extract for application as a fully biodegradable adhesive on PLU stickers. This innovative application of ancient knowledge not only addresses the environmental concerns associated with petroleum-based adhesives, but also aligns with sustainable practices while showcasing the potential of indigenous wisdom in shaping contemporary advancements in packaging technology.

Nurturing Infants in Need

Big Ideas Finalist

Breast milk is essential for infant development, providing unmatched nutrition and immunity. However, not all infants have access to their mother’s milk, making donor milk a vital alternative. The key challenge is preserving donor milk’s complex nutrients and immune properties during storage and processing. Addressing this requires innovative preservation techniques that can maintain the milk’s essential qualities. Thiseffort is crucial for ensuring that all infants, regardless of their circumstances, can benefit from the foundational health advantages of breast milk.

Open Credit

Big Ideas Finalist

Open Credit is empowering lenders to expand credit access for low-income, limited credit history & underserved individuals through alternative data. Open Credit will provide lenders access to a network of Buy Now Pay Later data and alternative data to optimize underwriting. Lenders are incentivized by receiving access to data across other BNPLs, and additionally from revenue sharing for the data they provide to Open Credit.


Big Ideas Finalist

ProAgro is an AI software platform with a two-sided marketplace that matches farmers and farmworkers to optimize their workforce. Through the platform, farms can optimize their request for labor to fit exactly their needs and they can benefit from recommendations and proposals to decrease their labor costs, by distributing and organizing farm workforce over multiple neighboring farms and consequently fit closely their labor needs each day at a time, allowing them for example to exchange their current employees with each other for a short period of time. The farm owner portal entails that there’s a recruitment assistance, employee information management, time and attendance tracking, and assistance with compliance and regulations on visa application. Whereas the farm laborer portal has a background screening and onboarding, legal assistance with an automated H2A application, and development of skills through our online training workshops.

Project Rewrite

Big Ideas Finalist

The STEM gender gap is still far from resolved, however, sparking an early interest can play a significant factor in reducing these gaps which is heavily influenced by the role models students are exposed to in their youth. Nonetheless, STEM textbooks don’t equitably mention the accomplishments of women scientists. As an example, one study published in the Journal of Chemical Education showed that women only constituted “3% of the named science, technology, engineering, math and medical professionals” when examining 10 chemistry textbooks. Project Rewrite strives to bridge the gender gaps that continue to exist in STEM education by “rewriting” elementary school science textbooks with a novel generative AI tool to promote equitable representation in STEM. This big idea seeks to break down the structural barriers in our education system that promote gender biases, thus motivating a generation of young girls to build a life-long passion for science.

PYR Health: PCChM Chip

Big Ideas Finalist

In the realm of cancer care, particularly in developing nations, accessing critical healthcare services remains a formidable challenge. Chemotherapy, while boosting survival rates, presents a myriad of issues, especially for patients in poorer, remote locales with restricted access to hospitals. The cytotoxic effects of chemotherapy on blood cells demand continuous monitoring, yet the current method, the Complete Blood Count (CBC) test, is hindered by its complexity, cost, and inaccessibility. PYR Health offers a groundbreaking solution addresses this by introducing an affordable, at-home CBC monitoring device. By leveraging a microfluidic chip and advanced machine learning, it not only democratizes access to vital healthcare data but also transforms outpatient chemotherapy monitoring. This device empowers patients, enables timely interventions, and revolutionizes healthcare accessibility, while also providing data-driven insights to medical professionals.


Big Ideas Finalist

Pyronaut is fully autonomous drone swarm response system that is able to effectively contain even the most intense wildfires, thereby limiting emotional distress, casualties, and monetary loss. It consists of a set of remotely piloted drones and supporting infrastructure that aims to provide valuable data at the onset of a wildfire to enable more effective asset and incident response management. Semi-autonomous fixed-wing drones are ready to respond to a wildfire at a moment’s notice from strategically located dispatch centers across the wildland-urban interface. One pilot is needed to fly multiple drones in autonomous formation, effectively increasing the capacity of every firefighting pilot. We seek to serve firefighting agencies, first responders, government service providers, and aviation management services.


Big Ideas Finalist

SeaWipes are biodegradable wipes addressing the global environmental and health hazards posed by traditional wet wipes. Current wipes, often made from synthetic fibers, contribute to severe environmental issues, including the formation of fatbergs in sewage systems and the proliferation of microplastics and nanoplastics, which pose significant health risks. Microplastics pollute oceans and food supplies, which results in human consumption of nanoplastics capable of infiltrating cell membranes and damage liver and lung cells. SeaWipes, composed of seaweed and cellulose, offer a sustainable, anti-microbial, and rapidly decomposable alternative, effectively preventing these problems. This project will both mitigate the environmental damage caused by non-biodegradable wipes, and leverage the rapid growth and carbon absorption properties of seaweed, making it a robust, eco-friendly alternative.

Synaptrix Labs

Big Ideas Finalist

Synaptrix Labs is developing Neuralis, a transformative EEG-driven assistive technology addressing the mobility crisis for over 5.4 million Americans and another 50 million across South Asia facing neuromuscular conditions. Neuralis is a discreet EEG-integrated headset with strategically placed dry electrodes decoding signals from the visual cortex, that interfaces with existing wheelchairs for seamless navigation. Its novel AI-based processing pipeline delivers accelerated responsiveness, overcoming industry-wide limitations on decoding speed. With a user-friendly mobile app and cloud integration, Neuralis ensures precise, near-instantaneous translation of users’ intentions into smooth wheelchair movements. Synaptrix, led by a visionary team and supported by esteemed advisors including Nobel laureates and neuroscience experts, is slated for clinical trials at Columbia University in 2024. Synaptrix stands poised to bring this groundbreaking technology to those in dire need.


Big Ideas Finalist

Dysmenorrhea, or period pain, affects up to 90% of menstruating women, with more than 40% experiencing symptoms every menstrual cycle. Consistent with the historical neglect of women’s health, there are a lack of effective and accessible solutions for women experiencing dysmenorrhea. For many women, common over the counter pharmaceuticals are ineffective, intolerable, and associated with significant adverse effects – from nausea to gastrointestinal erosion. Designed for and by women, Tempus aims to develop intravaginal solutions for the delivery of effective pain relief to the uterus and surrounding tissues, circumventing problems posed by oral administration of common pharmaceuticals and offering more targeted therapeutic effects. By creating a product that specifically addresses dysmenorrhea, Tempus hopes to empower women with improved quality of life, drive conversations to destigmatize female pelvic pain, and contribute to widespread change in the treatment of women’s health.

The MEGAN Protocol

Big Ideas Finalist

Building upon the framework of the Visual Spacial Learning Test (VSLT) for Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis, The Megan Protocol is a novel device that serves as a testing platform for the evaluation and tracking of neuroresponsiveness and neurodegradation. The bedrock of this project is a custom TensorFlow machine learning model trained to recognize a handful of predetermined gestures performed by the subject during the test through a microcontroller embedded with the ML model and harnessed to the wrists of the subject. The testing process itself builds upon the foundations of established neurological practices but also allows for the testing of multiple sensory stimuli and the ability to screen both motor skills and memory at the same time. The device provides a uniquely holistic view of a patient’s status, and unlike many other tests, has a much smaller learning curve for those carrying out the testing process and is inexpensive to fabricate.


Big Ideas Finalist

More than 50% of American adults have at least one chronic disease and should monitor blood pressure at home, but don’t. Why? Current methods for blood pressure monitoring are inconvenient and lack actionable insights, limiting effective health tracking for all blood pressure related conditions like preeclampsia, heart diseases, stroke and so on. VitalSense provides a reliable wearable system for regular blood pressure monitoring, enabled by patented cuffless ultrasonic sensors and machine learning algorithms. VitalSense, designed to serve will serve pregnant women and individuals at risk of chronic diseases, establishes reliable personalized health baseline and offer early notification of health risks in a real time and long term.