The Big Ideas@Berkeley Contest Is Open!

The Big Ideas@Berkeley contest is now underway — offering $300,000 to help you turn your idea into reality.

Believe in the Power of Your Ideas!

Calling all Cal Students!   Dust off the drawing board and prepare to think big!   The Big Ideas@Berkeley contest is now underway — offering $300,000 to help you turn your idea into reality.

Now in its seventh year, Big Ideas@Berkeley gives students the opportunity to channel their passion for social change into creative and pragmatic solutions. The 2012/13 contest will include new categories and offer more workshops and mentorship opportunities. Both undergraduate and graduate students are encouraged submit proposals in one of the following categories:

    • Global Poverty Alleviation
    • Creative Expression for Social Justice
    • Clean & Sustainable Energy Alternatives*
    • Financial Literacy*
    • Improving Student Life
    • Information Technology for Society
    • Maternal & Child Health*
    • Promoting Human Rights*
    • Scaling up Big Ideas

(*New Category in 2012-2013)

As past participants know, Big Ideas is more than a contest; it’s an entire ecosystem designed to provide funding, encouragement and advice to Berkeley students. In addition to the chance to attend writing and budget workshops, applicants are matched with mentors from social enterprises, industry, and non-profits – who are eager to help students develop their ideas.

With three info sessions (9/5, 9/18, & 10/4) and two workshops (9/26 & 10/18) Big Ideas is designed to support students from all parts of campus. “I greatly appreciate the resources Big Ideas devotes to students throughout this process because I did not have much experience writing proposals… I felt I had support all along the way,” said Diana Pascual Alonzo, whose project Youth Leadership Now won the Creative Expression category in 2011.

The Big Ideas Contest officially opened on September 4th, 2012.  Pre-proposal applications are due by November 6, 2012.   For more information about rules, categories, resources, funding, and contact information, please visit the Big Ideas website at

Meet the 2024 Big Ideas Award Winners!

2024 Rudd Family Foundation Big Ideas Pitch Day & Awards Celebration

This year’s Rudd Family Foundation Big Ideas Contest received 160 applications from UC Berkeley students and its partner campus, the University of Sussex (UK), demonstrating the commitment of over 400 graduate and undergraduate students to addressing the world’s most pressing social challenges, from womens’ health, climate change mitigation, and financial access for underserved populations. Following a thorough review by experts across academia, industry, and the venture community, 28 finalists emerged. Of these, 20 are led by women, half are led by undergraduate students, and 23 are led by POC students. 

Grand Prize Winner, Code Blue with the 2024 Pitch Day Judges. Left to right: Judge Ashok Gadgil, Judge Dawn McGee, Ashmita Kumar, Co-founder & CEO of Code Blue, and Judge Paul Williams.

On May 1st, 2024, the UC Berkeley community came together to honor all of the teams that participated in the 2023-2024 Big Ideas Contest, as well as to crown this year’s Grand Prize Winner. 

Read about each award winner below!

About Big Ideas: Established in 2006 at UC Berkeley and managed by the Blum Center for Developing Economies, The Rudd Family Foundation Big Ideas Contest has evolved from a yearly contest at Berkeley into a comprehensive innovation ecosystem. This platform supports UC Berkeley students throughout the year with a variety of resources, including talks by industry experts and alumni, mentorship opportunities, toolkits, and a range of  workshops focused on innovation and social entrepreneurship. Throughout its history, Big Ideas has fostered over 4,000 innovative projects, involving more than 10,000 students, and has distributed $3.2 million in prizes to 600 top projects. These winning initiatives have subsequently secured approximately $1.2 billion in additional funding. 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 Big Ideas Winners:

Big Ideas Grand Prize Winner​

Team Members: Ashmita Kumar

Code Blue is a plugin built into users’ devices that is designed to detect the early signs of stroke by analyzing already-in-use video and audio streams. It then alerts emergency services and the user’s emergency contact on onset of symptoms to expedite medical intervention, preventing long-term damage and death.

Big Ideas Grand Prize Finalist

Team Members: Ojas Karnavat

Synaptrix Labs is revolutionizing mobility for severe motor impairments through brain-computer interfaces. Their flagship device, Neuralis, leverages EEG signals from the visual cortex, and enables precise wheelchair control via evoked potentials. Neuralis redefines independence, offering unparalleled freedom through cutting-edge brain-computer interface technology for paraplegic patients with ALS or SCI.


Big Ideas Grand Prize Finalist

Team Members: Titli Thind

Narmadaई co-creates sustainable, affordable, and culturally relevant homes for communities displaced by India’s Sardar Sarovar Dam, currently living in 12′ by 16′ tin-sheds. The team will use permaculture design, scalable natural building techniques, and local community knowledge to build homes that bring joy and a host of co-benefits.


Big Ideas Grand Prize Finalist, California Climate Action Prize

Team Members: Kayla Leung, Samuel Nahusuly

SeaWipes proposes a revolutionary shift in single-use hygiene products by introducing biodegradable wet wipes made from seaweed-based bioplastics and fabric. Addressing environmental concerns associated with traditional wet wipes, which contribute to sewer blockages and microplastic pollution due to non-wovens (plastic fibers), SeaWipes offers a sustainable, quickly decomposing alternative.


Big Ideas Award Winner, FinTech for Social Good Recognition Prize

Team Members: Aarush Gupta, Aaryan Chanda

In the United States, over two million individuals hold arts degrees, but under 10% are able to pursue art as a full-time profession. ArtistX addresses this gap with a groundbreaking platform where fans invest directly in artists. Fans purchase coins tied to artists’ digital popularity allowing them to profit as the artist becomes more famous.

Big Ideas Award Winner, California Climate Action Prize

Team Members: Paul​ Bryzek​, Ashutosh​ Tiwari​, Kritika​ Mishra

CarbonSustain offers carbon emissions accounting and AI-driven insights for SMBs, streamlining emissions management across all scopes and facilitating cost-effective decarbonization journeys, akin to a TurboTax for emissions reporting. CarbonSustain simplifies carbon accounting for SMBs, enhancing savings and brand value while aligning with key legislations like California’s Climate Accountability Package.

Cottage Co.

Big Ideas Award Winner, Supply Chain Diversity Prize

Team Members: Mairi Creedon

Cottage Co. is a virtual incubator and digital marketplace for home-based food businesses across the United States, starting in the San Francisco Bay Area’s Alameda County. The platform integrates an online marketplace with a customized, self-paced incubator so that home-based food business entrepreneurs can be sure they’re operating safely and legally while expanding their reach to new customers.

Big Ideas Award Winner, California Climate Action Prize

Team Members: Sanjana Gurram, Pooja Patel, Bryan Wong

EquiPad is a sustainably designed disposable pad alternative, conveniently provided in a roll format for easy accessibility and no need for new infrastructure. The company’s mission is to make our pads free and readily available in all public restrooms just like toilet paper. 


Big Ideas Award Winner, California Climate Action Prize, Supply Chain Diversity Prize

Team Members: Carmela Wilkins

fufu is a food design research hub empowering Black/African Diasporic communities to reclaim their rights as food citizens for food sovereignty. Beginning with our pilot, an up-cycled plant-based Jamaican hand pie, we are fostering community-driven food solutions to boldly address the complexities of Food Apartheid.


Big Ideas Award Winner, Supply Chain Diversity Prize

Team Members: Kaone​ Tlagae​, Risper​ Rwengo​, Anjana​ Shekhar

Habari is the eBay of small and medium-sized artisan businesses in Africa; a conduit for these artisans to regain their creative power and independence from big predatory corporations, expand their reach to US-facing markets, generate long-term income that can transform their lives and local communities.

Movement As Leadership

Big Ideas Award Winner

Team Members: Colby Sameshima

Movement as Leadership is an evidence-based, dance-based, leadership development and team-building modality that increases authentic social connection at work. MAL aims to fight the loneliness epidemic and reduce employee attrition, starting with pilot workshops at Pixar and UC Berkeley Haas.


Big Ideas Award Winner, California Climate Action Prize

Team Members: Mia Wesselkamper

PLU stickers are the new age equivalent of plastic straws — a symbol of the significant environmental challenges posed by seemingly inconsequential items. To enable development of fully compostable PLU stickers, Nopa has developed a compostable adhesive using a drought resistant and heat tolerant plant.

Open Credit

Big Ideas Award Winner

Team Members: Jenny​ Su​, Tiger​ Souvannakoumane​, Edward​ Chan​, Annie​ Guo​, Pavitraa​ Parthasarathy

Open Credit is the next generation credit bureau helping lenders expand credit access by providing lenders exclusive access to real-time data not available in credit bureaus. Open Credit helps lenders improve their ability to service their customers, enabling better decision-making and financial inclusivity for all.

Big Ideas Award Winner, California Climate Action Prize

Team Members: Prerana​ Gambhir​, Neil​ Shah​, Claudia​ Vazquez​, Apurv​ Naman

Pyronaut revolutionizes wildfire risk management by leveraging AI analysis of diverse data sources, including third-party satellite and first-party drone imagery, to deliver precise wildfire risk assessments for properties and communities. It is also a proactive mitigation platform that lowers the physical, emotional, and monetary losses to communities caused by wildfires.

The MEGAN Protocol

Big Ideas Award Winner, HealthTech CoLab Prize

Team Members: Maxwell​ Johnson​, Valentin​ Astie

The MEGAN Protocol offers a groundbreaking, AI-powered diagnostic tool for Parkinson’s disease, combining a wearable sensor system with a reinforced-learning algorithm for comprehensive neurological assessment. It democratizes healthcare access, ensures early detection and monitoring, and significantly reduces diagnostic costs, making it a revolutionary solution in the field of neurodegenerative diseases.

UC Berkeley Big Ideas Contest Finalists Announced 

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 or email

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.

UC Berkeley’s Big Ideas Contest Builds Student-Led Social Innovations

Kira Erickson and Ivan Jayapurna, Founders of High Tide, were awarded the 2022-2023 Rudd Family Foundation Big Ideas Grand Prize of $10,000.

By K.J. Bannan

Paige Balcom (2nd from left) and members of the Takataka Plastics team

Paige Balcom, the co-founder, co-CEO and CTO of Takataka Plastics, is changing Uganda — one plastic bottle at a time. 

In 2017, Balcom, who earned her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, was settling into campus life after spending a year in Uganda on a Fulbright research grant. Only a month into her first semester, Balcom heard about the Rudd Family Foundation Big Ideas Contest, which encourages and empowers students to solve social issues. She knew she wanted to get involved, but was initially stumped for a meaningful idea. While talking to her father about potential research topics, however, he reminded her about the pollution problems they had both witnessed in Gulu, Uganda. Plastic waste is a significant problem there, affecting the environment, people, and ecosystems, she says. 

“The streets are full of trash — full of plastic waste — and a lot of it was burned too, creating soot and air pollution and toxic fumes. I wanted to make sure that Ugandans also thought it was a problem, so I started talking to some Ugandan friends. They agreed that plastic waste is a really big issue,” Balcom explains. Once she found the problem she wanted to solve, she formed a team with other students on campus. “We went to the library one Saturday morning less than a week before the Big Ideas proposal was due, and just sat there for hours doing a brainstorming session,” she adds.  

The beginnings of Takataka Plastics came together during that long Saturday among the stacks. The team came up with a company name, Trash to Tiles, and envisioned a process where polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles — the kind used for bottling water and soda — would be transformed into usable products such as building tiles and furniture. The process would also aid people in the community by creating jobs and income. 

Although Balcom had participated in other student contests as an undergraduate, the year-long Big Ideas Contest was unlike anything she had done in the past, she says. 

“The Big Ideas Contest really helped set the foundation for a lot of the initial ideas of Takataka,” she explains. “The frameworks and the processes that we went through in the application really pushed us to make rapid prototypes, get feedback from potential customers, do surveys, test the market, formulate a business plan. It really helped accelerate the prototyping process and turn our idea into a viable business.” 

Today, Takataka Plastics employs 45 full-time staffers and 200 part-time plastic collectors in the community. It is the only company in Uganda that locally recycles PET bottles at scale, making a huge difference in the quality of life for Ugandan people. More than 75 tonnes of plastic waste have been diverted from the environment and about a million people have been educated about sustainable waste management practices. Just as important, she says, is that the entire end-to-end process — from collection to new product creation to sales — happens within the city of Gulu. 

“It’s a circular solution where the waste is collected, processed into products, and sold all within the same community,” Balcom says. “We keep all the value-add local so it benefits the local economy and creates more jobs.”

A History of Access and Inclusion

Balcom’s experience is a textbook example of the social innovation that the Big Ideas ecosystem catalyzes. 

The contest itself was launched on the UC Berkeley campus in 2006 with a founding mission to support students looking to create social change. While that initial charge still holds true today, the contest has evolved dramatically over the past 18 years. Big Ideas, once a small, single-semester white paper competition, has grown into an academic year-long ecosystem that provides an array of invaluable resources to aspiring student innovators. “We have learned a great deal about how to best support the ambitions of students who seek to develop technologies, services, and programs that have the potential to make a positive impact on the world,” explains Phillip Denny, the director of the Big Ideas Contest. 

As a result of annual student surveys and continuous reflection, Big Ideas has expanded its portfolio of activities to include skill development workshops, a social innovator speaker series, comprehensive feedback on applications, one-on-one advising, industry mentorship, and team building opportunities for all students. “Our goal today is to increase and diversify the number of students who want to use their energy and talent to make a difference in the world,” says Denny. “Anyone can think of themselves as an innovator, whereas not everyone considers themselves to be an entrepreneur. Big Ideas is a domain where anyone — from the classic business school entrepreneur to the performing arts innovator — can tap into the resources necessary to pursue their vision for positive social change.” 

“Anyone can solve a problem,” Steven Horowitz, Ph.D., principal of Ovidian Group, agrees. “We are getting students and big ideas from all departments,” says Horowitz, who volunteers as a judge and is a mentor for second-round contestants. “You can get an MBA, you can get an engineer, get someone in psychology, social work — really anybody with a big idea.”

Over the years, Big Ideas has intentionally developed how it serves students casting a lens of inclusivity and accessibility. From student outreach to workshop selection, to the eight categories it supports, which include a range of topics to appeal to everyone – from Art & Social Change to Global Health to Financial Inclusion and more, there’s something here for everyone. This approach has fostered one of the largest and most diverse innovation ecosystems in the country. 

In a typical year, Big Ideas receives approximately 300 applications representing more than 1,000 students from over 100 different majors across campus. More than 65 percent of participants are undergraduates and half are women, and combined they hail from more than 35 countries. When it first launched about 60 percent of all the entries were coming from engineering or business students. Now, although those two majors comprise between 30 and 40 percent of contestants, applications come in from all over the campus including journalism, dance, natural resources, and nutritional science majors. 

“From the beginning, our focus has been on catalyzing new types of innovators and reframing the definition of ‘the typical entrepreneur,’” says Denny.  “We wanted to get students from all across campus on the path of advancing social good earlier in their academic careers because it doesn’t take a Ph.D. or 30 years in industry in order to do something meaningful.” 

A Successful Methodology: From Ideation to Implementation

There are two distinct phases in the Big Ideas program. During the pre-proposal application period, which takes place during the fall semester, students are tasked with writing a three-page concept note that identifies a pressing social problem and proposes a creative approach to solve it. The second phase, known as the full-proposal stage, occurs in the spring semester, when the teams that have the most innovative ideas are selected to develop an eight-to-10–page implementation strategy for their social venture. During these two phases, Big Ideas teams move from the ideation stage to the implementation-ready stage. 

“Over the course of the academic year, we identify the most creative and high-impact solutions being developed by students across UC Berkeley, and then enable them with the skills, networks, strategy, seed funding, and recognition that are critical to helping them take the next steps towards realizing their ‘Big Idea,’” Denny says. Big Ideas continues to support its alumni long after the competition ends, too. Big Ideas alumni are connected to the myriad of accelerator and incubator programs located on the Berkeley campus, in the Bay Area, and beyond.

The Somo Africa Team in Nairobi, Kenya.

This is why the Big Ideas Contest is so revolutionary. Students who enter the contest essentially embark on their own customized pre-accelerator program. Amelia Hopkins Phillips, along with team member George Rzepecki, found this out firsthand back in 2015 when they entered the Big Ideas Contest. Their idea, Somo Africa, grew out of the time Hopkins Phillips spent in Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya in 2012. She was working at a school in the impoverished region, which was home to 250,000 people living in less than one square mile. 

Somo was designed to help local social entrepreneurs change their communities from within, Hopkins Phillips explains, breaking the cycle of poverty by empowering Kenyans to succeed in business. During the team’s research period, they discovered that local business owners faced simple yet debilitating issues such as a lack of business recordkeeping. Without records and documents such as profit and loss statements, it was nearly impossible for them to succeed. They couldn’t apply for loans, for example, or get other types of credit. Somo envisioned bringing training and tools to low-income businesses, such as in accounting, marketing, and sales — key skills that could improve business outcomes but weren’t necessarily intuitive or easy to learn independently. 

That year Somo was chosen to move ahead into the second phase of the contest, eventually winning a first-place award.

“We work in urban areas, rural low-income areas, and we support businesses from either that initial stage of starting or just in the early days of building their businesses,” Hopkins Phillips says. “We provide them with everything they need to be able to start and grow. We finance businesses, provide advisory and training services around that, and we help them access markets outside their local communities.” To date, Somo has trained over 6,650 entrepreneurs, 56 percent of whom are women and 87 percent are youth, across Kenya and Tanzania and provided micro-loans and grants to more than 420 businesses, which has led to the creation of over 10,000 local jobs. 

Like Somo’s entrepreneurs, no one who enters the Big Ideas Contest needs to have business experience either, Denny says. All they need is an idea and the desire to make a difference. That benefits students as well as the world at large. 

“When I talk to investors, they’re always asking me about what the latest, greatest big idea is. And through Big Ideas we have lots of success stories about the innovations launched through our program that are making an impact across the globe,” he says. “But what I like to add is that you have to think about the students themselves. We are the earliest of early-stage social innovation programs where students may just have vague ideas that are often still rattling around in their heads — and we’re helping them translate those ideas into implementation strategies so they can get going.”

Finding Support — and Inspiration

Manny Smith (far left) and the EdVisorly leadership team

Manny Smith, the current founder and CEO of EdVisorly, is another typical Big Ideas participant. His entry into the Big Ideas Contest was one of 438 pre-proposal applications in 2019. That year, the EdVisorly vision was imagined as a platform designed to revolutionize the community college–to–four year university transfer experience and improve degree attainment. Smith had a special affinity for this mission as a first-generation college student who came to Berkeley by way of the U.S. Air Force Academy, from which he graduated in 2012. In 2019, he applied to the UC Berkeley Haas MBA program

Smith, who developed satellite systems and software during his time in the military, credits working with mentors Steven Horowitz and Phillip Denny as a significant part of his team’s success. “When I separated from active duty in the Air Force, I came off of very large and advanced technology programs,” he explains. “But what I didn’t know was how to communicate that value in the civilian business world.” 

He didn’t know how to create a venture-backable pitch deck, he says, and he lacked a network that had this expertise. The Big Ideas mentors, however, taught him these foundational skills and more. He learned from experts how to best build a business, including attaining budgeting skills and creating a tangible business strategy and timeline. 

“In the real world, you have to write proposals,” Smith says. “You don’t just have an idea and a pitch deck and then hope that it works. You have to write a proposal to a customer. With the Big Ideas Contest, you have to do the exact same thing. In my opinion, it was, by far, one of the best experiences that we had at Berkeley in terms of entrepreneurship and business.”

The team’s big idea was one of the 27 winners the year he applied. Today, EdVisorly is a nationwide community college-to-university transfer platform — the first of its kind. 

“Community colleges educate six million freshmen and sophomores every year in the United States,” Smith adds. “Eighty percent of freshmen entering community college aspire to attain a bachelor’s degree, however, only thirteen out of a hundred will ever achieve this. EdVisorly is changing that.”

Since winning the Big Ideas Contest, EdVisorly has racked up significant investments, including a pre-seed and seed-funding round. This type of capital infusion for Big Ideas Contest applicants isn’t unusual. In fact, it’s something that Denny says is most spectacular about watching everyone go through the application process: The contest generates a huge return on investment. 

Companies such as EdVisorly is just one of more than 3,000 social venture applicants that have received support from Big Ideas with 550 of the projects winning awards that average between $7,000 and $8,000. “We’ve awarded about $2.5 million in prizes. And what’s been really cool to see — the 550 winners who received awards have gone on to leverage an additional $1.2 billion in additional financing through venture capital, foundations and grants, crowdfunding through friends, family rounds,” he says. “$1.2 billion — it’s just really amazing.” 

“I am fortunate to get to work with these extraordinary student innovators who are so passionate, intelligent, and committed to making a difference,” Denny adds. “Their energy inspires me on a daily basis because I see what they’re putting into it and know that they’re the ones with the power to build a better future.”

2023 Rudd Family Foundation Big Ideas Grand Prize Pitch Day & Awards Celebration

Kira Erickson and Ivan Jayapurna, Founders of High Tide, were awarded the 2022-2023 Rudd Family Foundation Big Ideas Grand Prize of $10,000.

Kira Erickson and Ivan Jayapurna were awarded the Rudd Family Foundation Big Ideas Grand Prize of $10,000.

Following months of designing, workshopping, mentoring and pitching, High Tide, a student team working to produce a bio-based coating for compostability and recyclability, took home top honors at the 2023 Grand Prize Pitch Day and Awards Celebration, the Rudd Family Foundation Big Ideas’ annual finale. Judges gave High Tide, one of 23 finalists to appear at the May 3 event at UC Berkeley’s Blum Hall, the $10,000 Grand Prize.

Read more about Grand Prize Pitch Day here!

Lessons Learned Building a Plastic Recycling Startup in Uganda

Since 2020, Takataka Plastics has transformed Uganda’s discarded bottles and packaging into tiles, face shields, flower pots, chairs, coasters and phone holders. (Engineering for Change)

Since 2020, Takataka Plastics has transformed Uganda’s discarded bottles and packaging into tiles, face shields, flower pots, chairs, coasters and phone holders. (Engineering for Change)

Meet the 2023 Rudd Family Foundation Big Ideas Finalists

By Anehita Okojie

Last summer, Louisa Keeler was in her home state of Texas researching ways the government could support survivors of intimate partner violence. Navigating available resources was difficult, “but trying to get those services while going to school, or raising children, or getting to work — that was much more difficult,” Keeler says. Two colleagues, Ruth Ferguson and Sohail Kamdar, also noticed related themes working with survivors of sexual harassment and discrimination, but also ways in which technology could empower individuals to access secure community services. 

The Sepal team (from left): Sohail Kamdar, Louisa Keeler, and Ruth Ferguson (Sepal photo)

Keeler, Ferguson, and Kamdar are all Master of Public Policy students who developed the idea of Sepal, “a simplified, safe haven for finding the care you need by thoughtfully connecting you to knowledgeable providers.” The three, who will graduate this year, had worked on a class project with a couple peers that focused on support for survivors after traumatic events. After the completion of the project, Keeler, Ferguson, and Kamdar all wanted to continue building on the concept and “were encouraged to apply to Big Ideas as a launchpad to engage with our curiosity and energy to create something bigger!” After the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the Sepal team, who had met in Mark Coopersmith’s social entrepreneurship class, examined the effects of the Supreme Court’s decision from a policy perspective and identified an opportunity to reduce barriers to access healthcare resources. 

Their idea secured them one of the 19 final-round spots in the 2022–23 Big Ideas Contest, UC Berkeley’s flagship social innovation program. This year, the contest received 160 applications from UC Berkeley students and alumni — representing more than 500 students, 80 disciplines, and 15 countries — and addressing pressing social issues in everything from food insecurity to workforce development to social injustice. Of the final-round teams, half of the projects are led by women and half have a URM co-founder. 

Working alongside Big Ideas finalists in the next stage of the competition will be teams from two additional programs that are partnering with the Big Ideas Contest. Four teams from the Lab for Inclusive FinTech (LIFT) “FinTech for Social Good” Initiative are advancing innovations that can unlock the potential of digital financial technologies to benefit underserved populations around the world. This initiative is made possible thanks to the generous support from Binance Charity and Ripple Impact. Six UC Berkeley alumni-led teams will also take part in the final round of Big Ideas through the Mastercard Foundation Alumni Scholars “Impact Fund.” This program, led by the UC Berkeley Center for African Studies, supports social innovations anchored in African countries that focus on creating economic opportunities for their communities.

Sisters Nazineen Kandahari (left) and Nilufar Kayhani (right) (Photo by Mohammad Karimzada)

Another Big Ideas finalist, the Sofreh Salamati team, is made up of sisters Nazineen Kandahari (BA) ’17 and (MSc) ’20 and Nilufar Kayhani ’22, as well as Fareha Moulana Zada ’23 and Anisha Chandy ’23. The team came together because of the sisters’ “shared commitment to creating an equitable and inclusive world,” says Kandahari, now at the UC Berkeley–UCSF Joint Medical Program. In 2020, the sisters founded Afghan Clinic, a public health initiative for Afghan people, and Sofreh Salamati is one of the projects that the initiative focuses on. Sofreh Salamati is a novel gathering specifically designed to meet the needs of Afghan refugee women through health education, social networking, and spirituality, addressing misinformation and myths. In the Afghan community, sofrehs are gatherings “held by Afghan women for spiritual, cultural, and social reasons,”  Kandahari says. Sofreh Salamati will host gatherings to pair together cultural traditions with health education to address the needs of refugee communities as they transition to the United States. The team plans on using sofrehs as a public health intervention by bringing Afghan refugee doctors to gatherings who can educate women about healthcare in a way that is tailored to their needs as Afghan women. 

Three of the four Sofreh Salamati team members are Afghan refugee women and their inspiration for the project “comes from living through the journey of being forcibly displaced from our home, establishing life in a new country, and experiencing how many American institutions — political, economic, social, educational, healthcare — are not built to serve everyone equally,” Kandahari says. 

During the pre-proposal application period, the Big Idea Contest provided teams with resources such as entrepreneurship skill development workshops, team-building and networking opportunities, and startup advising. The finalists, who emerged from an extensive review by a network of over 150 experts from academia, industry, and the startup community, will receive ongoing support, including personalized mentorship.

In Sepal’s case, this contributes to its goal of connecting and empowering users with navigable healthcare options to identify and address traumatic experiences. The platform’s trauma-informed approach helps users figure out the first step in their healthcare journey by connecting them to knowledgable providers. Users are presented with questions on what health issues they want to address. Based on the information provided, Sepal presents them with tailored resources that are both available and accessible. On the other side, Sepal gathers information from providers such as health clinics and social workers and shares this information on its platform, allowing users to make informed decisions about their health. 

Sepal, Sofreh Salamati, and the other finalists have been paired with mentors who will support the development of their ideas during this last stage of the competition. In addition to mentorship, teams will have access to feedback, networking opportunities, and resources. The Sepal crew found the Big Ideas competition rewarding because of its relationships with its mentor, Olivia Nava, an Oakland-based design, strategy, and organizational development consultant, as well as its existing network, “who have taken the initiative and time to give us feedback and thought partnership.” The three have worked closely with Nava; their advisor, Bay Area entrepreneur Bilal Mahmood; and social entrepreneurship professor, Mark Coopersmith, to fully conceptualize the Sepal platform. 

“Coming into Big Ideas we knew our greatest challenge would be building the business side of our ideas,” the team says. By engaging with their mentors, along with feedback from both healthcare providers and individuals, the team has been able to combat challenges, and through the contest, they’ve found a supportive and encouraging community and critical resources needed to build their knowledge base and gain confidence to create their product. 

“The most fun part of this competition was reading the judge’s feedback!” says Sofreh Salamati’s Nilufar Kayhani. “Since the judges are from varying professional backgrounds, it was nice to have perspectives outside of medicine and public health on our project to promote health broadly.”

This year’s Grand Prize Pitch Day and Award Celebration will be May 3 at UC Berkeley’s Blum Hall (RSVP Here!)

The 2022–23 UC Big Ideas Program Finalists:

2ndWind - Inclusive Ownership Transition for SMBs

Big Ideas Finalist

LIFT "FinTech for Social Good" Initiative Finalist

In the US, there are 70 million baby boomers who own 2.34 million Small and Medium Businesses (SMBs) in the country, employing more than 25 million people. Small businesses are the backbone of the American economy and have generated 64% of new jobs annually. Unfortunately, up to 70% of current owners will not be able to sell their businesses when they are ready. The large number of retiring owners, coupled with the uncertainty of successful exits, poses a threat to millions of jobs and jeopardizes the owners’ safety net for a comfortable retirement. 2ndWind aims to create a more efficient platform to facilitate SMBs’ transitions, helping retiring owners achieve their retirement’s goals, whilst continuing the creation of job opportunities and prevent layoffs associated with SMB closures.

Birth By Us

Big Ideas Finalist

The US is currently in a maternal health crisis. Even though 84% of maternal deaths in the US are preventable, the maternal mortality rate steadily rises, disproportionately affecting Black people who are currently 3-4 times more likely to die in childbirth compared to their White counterparts. Birth By Us is an innovative technology that provides comprehensive check-ins at sequential points in pregnancy and postpartum through quality questionnaires that give Black birthing people personalized health insights and top-tier, culturally responsive, and Black–specific resources. Upon completion of each questionnaire, the app analyzes and uncovers users’ top concerns, yielding tailored visit preparation and recommended resources. In addition to this, Birth By Us plans to include auxiliary healthcare providers such as doulas, lactation consultants, etc. to help mothers build their best, holistic care team. With this, BBU empowers Black mothers and birthing people to shape their birthing experience while giving providers and hospital systems the necessary insights to best support their birth. We intend to expand to other marginalized populations to help everyone achieve their best birthing experience.

BlackPrint Technologies

Big Ideas Finalist

As cities expand, keeping up to date records of properties becomes harder and harder. Municipal governments simply don’t have the infrastructure to maintain accurate and timely geospatial data to help them carry out public services. Current methods for land mapping require costly airplane flights, complex drones, expensive LiDar equipment, and a team of geospatial analysts to parse the complex information into usable data. This is why BlackPrint created mapping-as-a-service, a subscription based product that allows municipalities to obtain the most up to date information about their land on a yearly basis. All of this while maintaining low costs, rapid delivery times, and seamless integration into current softwares. The BlackPrint team leverages computer vision algorithms to extract 3D building footprints from satellite imagery, essentially creating a digital twin of the terrain from across the world.

Café con Cariño

Big Ideas Finalist

Café con Cariño is a specialty coffee business and hub dedicated to carving a new path within the coffee industry by creating opportunities for economic freedom for migrants and BIPOC workers. We have identified three significant hurdles that impact the entry of BIPOC individuals into the coffee business–a toxic food service industry, overrepresentation of white leadership, and a business landscape that prioritizes profit over creativity. We will address these hurdles by curating an experience predicated on 1) worker collaboration, 2) educational and literacy building, and 3) culinary experimentation to ensure that immigrant and BIPOC workers are allowed the opportunity to cultivate comprehensive skills in the foodservice industry. The Café Hub will host a comprehensive support network for rising service industry professionals by facilitating direct access to industry specific skills-building, legal advice, and knowledge shares that are focused on empowering individuals to lead, innovate, and push for a cultural shift in the industry.


Big Ideas Finalist

Protein therapies are front and center of medical treatments with over 80 drugs approved worldwide and over 170 in active clinical development. Downstream processing of protein products accounts for 50 – 80% of the total cost of production, with a large portion of expenses going towards the protein extraction process. With the protein production industry currently valued at $284.5 billion, there is a demand for a cheaper, more sustainable, and energy-efficient alternative. Using genetic engineering, Cellyse proposes a novel lytic technology which offers researchers and fermentation companies a way to extract recombinant proteins with only water. Our technology can expand biologics production through its ease of use and nontrivial cost reductions—paving the way for more affordable and equitable healthcare globally. Beyond optimizing extraction, our genetic construct also allows for valuable nutrients otherwise lost in purification to be recycled in the fermentation process, eliminating waste from over 255 million liters of cell culture media annually.

Comenta Care

Big Ideas Finalist

Dementia is one of the costliest conditions for society. Last year, $321 billion was spent in the US on dementia healthcare, 3x more per person than someone without dementia. One in three caregivers suffers from depression which is 7x more prevalent than the general population. This problem will only continue to grow as the number of Americans living with dementia doubles by 2050. Although the market has several potential solutions, all of them fail to effectively reach and engage caregivers. Comenta Care reimagines dementia care by providing dementia care coaching to family caregivers as a service in partnership with clinicians. They leverage a telemedicine model built around trained dementia care coaches backed by a core clinical team of dementia specialists. By doing so, Comenta Care hopes to change the current paradigm of care that leaves families feeling overwhelmed with nowhere to turn and clinicians feeling helpless with finite resources and limited time.


Big Ideas Finalist

While Endometriosis, a chronic disease that causes aberrant endometrial-like tissue growth outside of the uterine cavity, affects more than 200 million women worldwide and can lead to severe symptoms impacting reproductive health, the current diagnostic methods available are primarily invasive and costly, making the diagnostic inaccessible to women in pain. EndoDetect team sought to create a novel, noninvasive diagnostic for endometriosis using menstrual effluent that can both qualitatively and quantitatively measure the presence of these biomarkers in menstrual effluent. In addition, a predictive model to predict the likelihood that a patient has endometriosis based on demographic data and clinical symptoms will be developed based on the data gathered. The team works with gynecological and endometriosis specialists, menstrual cup and endometriosis foundation corporate representatives, endometriosis advocates, local K12 teachers, and college professors to create educational materials and tools to raise people’s awareness of such disease.

Engineering Probiotics for Combating Vitamin A Deficiency

Big Ideas Finalist

Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is one of the leading contributors to malnutrition around the world, causing blindness, stunted physical and mental development, and disease vulnerability. South Asia has one of the highest rates of VAD in the world, especially among children and pregnant mothers. Vitamin A supplementation has been cited as one of the most effective ways to combat VAD, but current methods, including high-dose injections every 6 months, dietary diversification, daily vitamin A supplements, and biofortification of crops, fall short because of a lack of strict government regulation and cultural incompatibility. This team’s yogurt-based, engineered probiotic starter is able to integrate into the existing culture of South Asia, increasing the likelihood of adherence and giving families power over their own nutrition. Once consumed, the engineered probiotic, S. boulardii, will continuously synthesize the vitamin A precursor beta-carotene in the gut, providing constant supplementation to vulnerable populations and reducing the need for government intervention.

Enjuba Initiative

Big Ideas Finalist

Seventy-four percent of Uganda’s population is under the age of 30. Many of the youth are idle, waiting for work to come their way. It does not! By 2021, 41% of the youth were neither employed nor in education training, and the unemployment rate was 17%. Youth employment in Uganda is mainly attributed to limited education, which leads to a critical skills gap and mismatch between the workforce and schools, negative attitudes towards specific types of work, and general factors related to poverty and inequalities. management. Enjuba initiative aims at using a savings approach as an alternative to address some of these challenges. Enjuba initiative aims at socio-economic empowerment among youth of all genders. The initiative will bridge the skills gap and enhance young people’s competitiveness through vocational skills development, mentorship, social capital development, partnerships with local businesses, entrepreneurship, and digital skills. Participants will be introduced to business management and social capital development skills, thereby enabling them to establish and expand the market for their businesses.


Big Ideas Finalist

There are two main issues affecting bee survival today. Varroa mite, a parasite which is difficult and laborious to detect and treat, and climate change, causing more drastic temperatures and temperature changes, making winter survival more difficult for bees. These issues have caused a year-over-year population declines of 40-50% in bee colonies, a far greater number than the 30% of decades prior. HexaHive aims to solve these problems by utilizing technology to empower beekeepers and help them fight against these issues decimating bee populations. HexaHive will easily integrate into existing beehives and beekeeping practices and utilize novel technologies to detect varroa mite, monitor internal hive metrics, including temperature, and have climate control systems to warm or cool hives as necessary. Through the use of HexaHive, both seasoned and novice beekeepers will have a greater degree of control and understanding of what happens in their hives, leading to greater bee survival.

High Tide Coatings

Big Ideas Finalist

Over 7 million tons of plastic-coated paper are produced annually. Nearly all of which is destined for landfill. Paper can be recycled up to 25 times, but when it’s coated in plastic to protect against leakage, it is not compostable or recyclable. High Tide aims to solve this pervasive problem by producing a bio-based coating from renewable resources that enables compostability and recyclability at end of life. High Tide is designing materials for current and future waste management systems. Its coatings will comply with existing recycling and composting infrastructure, as well as degrade harmlessly in natural ecosystems and landfills. High Tide’s long-term vision is to be a leading material company helping move the world away from petroleum-based plastics. A successful future will be one where highly recyclable and degradable materials like paper can replace plastic packaging, and be discarded in blue AND green waste bins.


Big Ideas Finalist

In India, three out of every five individuals are victims of groundwater contamination. 67% of rural Indian households do not have the wherewithal to treat their drinking water owing to financial constraints. Only 21% of the population living in major cities can afford a safe and clean passage to drinking water. The current solutions prevalent are either wells and piped drinking water from government institutions, bottled water jars, or RO water purifiers. Paanio is a $1 water purifier that uses graphene-based nanotechnology-enabled 5-stage dual purification to remove microbial contaminants, heavy metals, fluorides, and other organic/inorganic pollutants. Inspired by a simple bottle cap, Paanio is ultra-portable and extremely easy to use. Paanio’s non-electric purification mechanism purifies over 75 liters of groundwater for just a dollar, or less than Rs 1/liter. Paanio is an inexpensive and easily maintainable solution that can result in filtered groundwater for over 70% of rural India.

Parity Lab

Big Ideas Finalist

Systemic inequities manifesting through language, caste, geography, religion, and literacy have kept powerful women leaders across rural India from accessing resources to end violence in their own communities. One in three women faces violence in her lifetime. 50-67% of Dalit and Indigenous women in rural India, one of the most oppressed group of women in the world, face sexual violence. Parity Lab is an innovative community accelerator for rural women-led organizations that foster community-driven solutions to end gender-based violence. Parity Lab is an embedded support system that provides capacity building, coaching and community for 1.5 years. Parity Lab aims to support grassroot organizations through Organization Capacity Building (Fundraising; Data; Communications), trauma-informed coaching in local languages for founding teams, and access to a subscription-based 24*7 legal helpline


Big Ideas Finalist

Whether looking for personal, sensitive reproductive care or crisis support, there is a need for an easy-to-use platform that helps you connect to the care you need. Sepal is a helping hand that guides and empowers you through everything from navigating healthcare options to identifying and addressing a traumatic experience. Its trauma-informed approach meets users where they are, and doesn’t require them to have the answers before getting started. Sepal doesn’t begin by asking, “What do you want to do about this?” Instead, it says, “Let’s figure out our first step.” In a sea of confusing and overwhelming information, Sepal is a simplified, safe haven for finding the care you need by thoughtfully connecting you to knowledgeable providers. Its mission to assist care seekers and providers alike makes it a valuable tool for the entire market.

Sofreh Salamati

Big Ideas Finalist

Despite the large and increasing population of forcibly displaced Afghan immigrants in the U.S., there is limited information about their health status and health service utilization. Among this already marginalized population, women are at a higher risk for worse health outcomes given their unique sociocultural barriers to health and healthcare. With over 66,000 Afghan immigrants in the San Francisco Bay Area as of 2019, there is an unaddressed need to ensure Afghan women are supported with attaining health and obtaining healthcare services in the U.S. Sofreh Salamati is a novel gathering, designed specifically to meet the needs of Afghan refugee women and created by Afghan refugee women. With our initiative, we facilitate health education and the health benefits of spirituality, address pervasive misinformation and cultural myths, and uplift the strengths that Afghan women already have. As a result, Sofreh Salamati will address practical and sociocultural barriers to healthcare and empower women to feel confident in imagining, seeking, and maintaining good health.


Big Ideas Finalist

SurMice aims to facilitate closer collaboration between universities and zoos by using surplus lab mice as “feeder mice” for zoos in order to cut costs, resource waste, and energy usage for both parties. It is focused on the development of a platform that can standardize this practice across multiple universities, rather than isolated instances of partnerships. This larger platform allows for more detailed matching of prospects and rerouting mice in the event of a supply issue. It also allows other institutions to get involved more easily, potentially averting some portion of the 18,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gasses released in 2011 from a singular Boehringer Ingelheim facility in Connecticut, or the 15 tons of animal waste produced by a single Novus Pharmaceutical facility in 2011. SurMice’s goal is to help educational institutions and wildlife centers undercut the abusive practices of the billion dollar feeder mouse industry, while curtailing lab related biological waste.

The Impact Collective

Big Ideas Finalist

More than 85% of social enterprises shut down within the first three years of operation. A major reason for this is limited access to specialized technical expertise and talent, which is essential in the initial, crucial stages of developing a solution. Emerging and early stage social enterprises either lack the required resources or direct them to other pressing needs to stay afloat. These services are costly largely due to the need for highly skilled and technically trained people. This results in institutional and operational hurdles, and limited growth for these impact organizations. Simultaneously, there is a rapidly growing pool of students and industry professionals looking for social sector learning opportunities. The Impact Collective harnesses this opportunity and embodies the value of building a network and ecosystem for collective action – the collective mobilizes and matches students and industry professionals with social enterprises who have technical needs. It brings together industry professionals, domain experts, and students from various disciplines and technical areas to form interdisciplinary technical consulting teams to serve impact organizations for social change.


Big Ideas Finalist

Farmers in poor countries such as in sub-Saharan Africa tend to have low incomes for reasons that are outside of their control. These problems will only grow more difficult in the coming years, as climate change, urbanization, and growing populations combine to increase demand for food while putting more burden on the suppliers. While many different solutions will be needed to address these problems, they all have a common denominator: they must make farmers more productive, whether by increasing access to capital, technology, or know-how. Poultry is an under-exploited path to prosperity for farmers around the world. To address this gap, Umodzi—a for-profit social enterprise—provides off-grid, turn-key poultry hatcheries to agricultural co-ops, starting in rural Malawi. Umodzi finances and sources startup capital (such as solar panels, batteries, and incubators); trains the co-ops in standard operating procedures; markets and sells the poultry; and shares revenue with the co-ops. In addition, other benefits include clean drinking water for the co-op and the surrounding community, cooking gas, women empowerment, and a nutritious source of food.


Big Ideas Finalist

Constraints on the availability of electric power limit the number of vehicles that can be deployed at one location by EV fleets. Commercial properties pay demand charges based on the fifteen minute period of highest power consumption each month, which determines 30-70% of their power bill. As a result, there are substantial barriers to EV charging at multifamily residences. By using a proprietary, AI-based charging scheduler and advanced charging hardware, WattConnect delivers energy savings when the power grid is most reliant on expensive, nonrenewable energy, then pays EV owners for providing power from their batteries back to the building during times of peak demand. WattConnect promotes transportation equity by providing a revenue stream for EV drivers that offset the higher costs of EVs relative to gasoline vehicles. At the same time, WattConnect facilitates the transition to renewable energy by reducing the strain of EV charging on the power grid.

Undergrads Explore Financial Inclusion in Second Berkeley Changemaker Big Ideas Class

Xavier Aguirre Villarreal’s father is a farmer in Coahuila, Mexico. “We get to work with a lot of people from very different places in Mexico,” the senior exchange student says. That includes individuals from very poor communities in the northern state. Aguirre Villarreal’s family does its best to give its agricultural workers the best work and wages it can, but the very small towns they live in, he says, “are disconnected from the cities. They don’t have grocery stores, they don’t have big stores; they just have local stores,” like tortillerías, butcher shops, and hardware stores. 

Coahuila, Mexico (photo by Rubén Mendoza Cabrera)

Seventy-four percent of Mexicans don’t have access to credit; only a third have received education in financial matters. Their financial options are limited.

Aguirre Villarreal, who’s majoring in law at Tec de Monterrey in Mexico and minoring in business at Berkeley, came across UGBA192N.4: Berkeley Changemaker™: Big Ideas, a course on financial inclusion: “ensuring access to affordable financial services such as savings, payments, insurance and credit in both the developing world and in more developed markets like the US.”

“I’ve always wanted to make a change in these communities,” Aguirre Villarreal says of his father’s workers, “and I thought it would be a good idea to take this class and maybe develop a project to implement in Mexico.” 

“A perfect cauldron for producing actionable solutions”

The social entrepreneurship course, the first topic-oriented curricular offering of the Big Ideas program, is a partnership with the Center for Social Sector Leadership at Berkeley Haas School of Business. It is an integral part of the Berkeley Changemaker™ initiative, a campus-wide initiative designed to activate undergraduates’ passions for social change and help them develop a sharper sense of who they want to be and how to make that happen. The Big Ideas Contest is a UC-wide innovation ecosystem, housed at Berkeley’s Blum Center for Developing Economies, that provides training, networks, recognition, and funding to interdisciplinary teams of students with transformative solutions to real-world problems. The course ran the first eight weeks of the Spring 2022 semester and was taught by Joe Dougherty, a partner at the social-impact consultancy Dalberg Advisors and an instructor at Haas.

“Financial inclusion doesn’t get the recognition it should as a vehicle for improving well being and lifting people out of poverty,” said Big Ideas Director Phillip Denny. “This class is a perfect cauldron for producing actionable solutions, what with Berkeley students’ passion for improving the world, Joe’s deep expertise in this field, and the resources of Big Ideas, Berkeley Changemaker, Haas, and the Center for Social Sector Leadership.” 

“I couldn’t agree more,” added Rich Lyons, chief innovation and entrepreneurship officer and part of the Berkeley Changemaker team. “The financial inclusion focus makes room for progress across all three sectors — private, public, and civic — and the changemaking skills this course develops are pivotal.”

The course follows Fall 2021’s first-ever Berkeley Changemaker: Big Ideas class, taught by Jorge Calderon, in which teams of students identify a social or environmental problem, develop an impactful solution to implement through a business model, and ultimately pitch their startup concept to a panel of expert judges.

Going forward, the topics of spring-semester Berkeley Changemaker™ Big Ideas classes will change year-to-year based on student priorities. For the first year, “we looked at the student interest in the Big Ideas categories and noted financial inclusion was getting more and more interest,” said Nora Silver, a Haas professor and founder and faculty director of the Center for Social Sector Leadership.

The goal is to maximize learning and social impact.

“It seems to me that there are a number of ways to learn information,” Silver said. “One I favor is learning by doing, so anything experiential has a learning advantage to it. And since there are many ways to learn how to do something, why not learn it over a topic in which you have interest or concern? It was from that orientation that the idea emerged to have a class in which students learn how to have a positive social impact on an issue they cared about.”

“Really important life skills”


It turned out the right instructor to teach making a social impact also had deep experience in financial inclusion. Dougherty has spent much of his career working in financial inclusion in developing countries, and has taught undergrad and graduate courses at Cal for several years.

In addition to covering financial inclusion in the US and low- to middle-income countries — what it is, how financial systems work, how people get excluded, what can be done about it — the class covers the three C’s of any Berkeley Changemaker™ class: communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. Early in the semester, students started working in teams, which culminated in final presentations where they shared either an idea for a financial-inclusion program or an assessment of an existing system or business. Dougherty brought in guest speakers in the financial inclusion field, including Cal alum Radha Seshagiri, director of Bay Area nonprofit SaverLife, and Courtney Cardin, co-founder of Aura Finance.

“It’s pretty awesome for students so we can get in touch with these successful people,” said Xeyu Wu, a junior studying civil engineering whose group did an analysis of TomoCredit, a credit card with no interest, fees, or required credit history.

Only a minority of Dougherty’s students were business majors: others came from STEM fields, political science, and development studies. “It was like a breath of fresh air to start this class,” Dougherty said. “The students were really engaged, really asking good questions. They’re a really diverse group, coming from several countries and lived experience related to the financial inclusion space.” 

Financial inclusion is a very timely topic, he added. “Just in the last decade, the number of people who were served by a formal financial institution has skyrocketed because of technology. From a financial inclusion point of view, it’s a tremendous opportunity because it means the transaction cost for financial service providers has dropped radically and allows them to serve people affordably.” 

Students also learned fundamentals for themselves, given that basic financial literacy is not typically taught at any level of schooling. “People get well into their 20s without knowing how compound interest works,” Dougherty said. “People get into their 50s without knowing how compound interest works! These are really important life skills that people are not always given an opportunity to learn.”

“Really puts you in the shoes of people who are excluded”


Aguirre Villarreal’s group project was called NamaCard, with “nama,” he said, a Nahuatl word that can mean “protect” or “progress.” People in small towns in Mexico, like those who work for his family, would use NamaCard at their local stores much like a debit or credit card. 

Given how difficult it is for many Mexicans to access credit, NamaCard won’t require a credit check. “We are trying to incentivize these marginalized communities, inside these little towns, to migrate from a cash system to a card system,” Aguirre Villarreal said.

By using machine learning to analyze users’ social media and their spending with the card, NamaCard would begin to build a credit score that users can then leverage in the larger financial system. And as they build their credit score, a user can access perks from their bank, such as a better credit line or an in-app financial-education class about, say, stocks or investing. It would be a positive feedback loop, where building credit unlocks better financial education, which informs better financial action.

In Mexico, Aguirre Villarreal explained, in order to receive a deposit from someone, a place has to be registered as a bank. NamaCard would partner with a bank like Banamex, which would act like a community development financial institution, lending money to local businesses like tortillerías, butcher shops, and hardware stores, from which card users could then withdraw and deposit money, making their lives easier. (These actions would be backed up by a mobile authentication process). And a fee paid by these stores that accept NamaCard would allow the stores to see customer spending trends, which could help make the businesses more targeted and efficient.

Amid learning the ins and outs of insurance and savings, credit and loans, and all the steps needed to build a financial startup — and putting that to use in the setting of a small town in Mexico — what stuck with Aguirre Villarreal the most was the hardship and exclusion faced by everyday Americans. 

“I was really shocked by the situation around the world,” he said of financial exclusion and insecurity, “but I was most shocked about the situation here in the US. Being Mexican, we have always looked to the US as a successful country; I believe most people around the world have this view of the US.” The reality, he learned, was that nearly half of Americans cannot pay a sudden bill over $400.

“The class really puts you in the shoes of people who unfortunately are excluded or banned from financial systems,” he said. “You get to think about how lucky we are. That was what I most liked about the class.”