Arts Entrepreneurship Comes to Big Ideas Contest

With all of the excitement and funding directed at artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain, and gene editing, it is hard to remember that one of the most consistently innovative and financially robust sectors in the United States is the “creative industry.”

Richard Andrews, Lecturer, Arts Entrepreneurship.

With all of the excitement and funding directed at artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain, and gene editing, it is hard to remember that one of the most consistently innovative and financially robust sectors in the United States is the “creative industry.”

According to a March 2019 National for the Endowment of the Arts report—the contribution of culture and art to the U.S. economy is $800 billion per year, bigger than economic output of Sweden. The report noted that more than 5 million Americans work in the arts-and-culture economy, generating nearly $400 billion in wages in 2016 from 35 key arts-and-culture fields, such as broadcasting, movies, streaming, publishing, the performing arts, and arts-related retail.

One of the people who knows this information best is Richard S. Andrews, who teaches arts entrepreneurship at Cal. Andrews has worked in arts management for over two decades—serving as associate director of the UC Berkeley Center for New Music and Audio Technologies and executive director of the Eco Ensemble—and has witnessed dramatic changes to the arts driven by digital outreach, distribution, and streaming and the culture of “free” content on the Internet. In an interview in Blum Hall, he pointed out that the vast majority of successful musicians today no longer make their income from song or album sales but from tickets for concerts and tours; meanwhile, streaming services and YouTube have become the new middlemen.

These changes, Andrews says, have increased the need for education not just in arts management but in arts entrepreneurship. Since 2013, Andrews’ courses have attracted students from arts and non-arts majors interested in the tools, techniques, and concepts needed to invent, launch, and sustain a business in the creative sector. He has even written a book on the subject, just out from Routledge.

Explains Richard: “My course is practical and hands-on.

Art & Social Change Workshop

We go through the main business idea: What is the product or service you are offering? What problem does it solve? What needs does it address? How will you understand the premise of such a product or service in the marketplace? Can you do marketing analysis? Can you understand competition or partners? The thing about the arts as a business is you’re not necessarily trying to take customers away from the gallery or theater down the street. You might actually be collaborating with them.”

Richard Andrews teaches Arts Entrepreneurship classes and workshops along with guest lecturers.

This spring, with support from the Big Ideas Contest and the Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology, Andrews will teach LS 105 Arts Entrepreneurship Mondays 2-5 pm. In addition, he will offer a seminar tailored to Big Ideas finalists and non-finalists in the Art and Social Change track, which will meet four times during the semester. Students will learn concept development, marketing analysis and marketing plans, fundraising, legal issues, financial management, and then submit a business plan outline and present a short pitch. Guest presentations will include people from California Lawyers for the Arts, crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter, and alumni working in various creative fields.

For Big Ideas Director Phillip Denny, the class and seminars are intended to provide Big Ideas applicants in the Art and Social Change track with instruction, feedback, and support as they develop and refine their art-based social start-up concepts. Denny notes that the Arts and Social Change track was developed eight years ago to diversify the ideas, projects, and students coming into the social innovation contest that now attracts 1200 students per year across all 10 University of California campuses and two foreign universities.

“We wanted to get more students from outside engineering and business,” explained Denny. “We wanted to get more women engaged. We wanted to open up entrepreneurship to other parts of the campus. We want to get more out-of-the-box ideas. And that has happened.”

Among the students who have benefitted from both the Big Ideas Contest and Andrews’ arts entrepreneurship class is Skylar Economy, who received her BA in Film & Media Studies in 2016 and has since co-founded Photogénie Films. “FITE Film,” a short documentary directed by Economy about four formerly incarcerated students at UC Berkeley and their path to higher education and success, was honored with the 2016 Clinton Global Initiative Selected Commitment, Fast Company’s World Changing Idea Finalist 2016, and Red Bull Amaphiko Social Entrepreneurship Finalist 2016.

Economy credits the combination of the Big Ideas Contest (FITE Film won first place in the Art & Social Change track in 2016) and Andrews’ course with her setting her on a path to arts entrepreneurship.

“Now I own an art business,” she said in a 2019 video interview. “If you had told me that when I was a freshman in college, I would never have believed it.”

2020 Big Ideas Finalists Announced!

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

In November 2019, the Big Ideas Contest received a record pre-proposal applications, representing over 1,200 students across 12 campuses. After a preliminary round, 43 teams were advanced to the final round. These teams will now compete for awards ranging from $5,000 to $20,000. Winners will be announced in early May 2020.

Social Impact Tracks

Art & Social Change

The challenge for this track is to develop an innovative art project that meaningfully engages with issues of advocacy, justice, and community-building. The initiative may use any art form — visual/ conceptual art, photography, new media, video, dance, theater/performance art, music, creative writing, or other forms. Art must be central to the project, and the proposal must reflect an informed understanding of the particular art form(s) being used, as well as of the communities being served.

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

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

School: UC Berkeley
Impactify addresses the disconnect between motivated and skilled individuals on the one side and under-resourced social projects on the other side. This inefficiency is an obstacle to positive social change in communities. By providing a platform for like-minded users and equipping users with useful skills and matching them to the most suitable engagement opportunities nearby, Impactify revolutionizes the way local problems are solved. When signing up for the application, users are asked to indicate which social causes they care about and which skills they already possess. Based on this information, users will be shown nearby events, open tasks, and ideas for social initiatives that have been posted by others. Users can easily swipe through those opportunities to indicate interest, add their own ideas or events to the platform, and invite friends to join. By creating such a virtual market place, Impactify aims to encourage, educate, and equip changemakers in their communities.

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

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

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

Cities & Communities

The challenge for this track is to describe a novel solution to engage and enhance the wellbeing of communities, campuses, and cities. These innovations should stimulate new thinking to address key physical, social, or economic challenges facing geographic locales ranging from university settings to global metropolises. Solutions may focus on a wide range of areas, including but not limited to: improving the living conditions of urban environments, promoting civic engagement, sharing knowledge and information, making transportation options more accessible, and empowering individuals to improve their own well-being.

Mansa Taxi
School: Makerere University
One of Kampala’s main forms of transportation is the matatus (a 14-16 seater van/bus). These vehicles operate without strict regulation or organization, causing heavy traffic jams, congestion, and accidents that result in increased vehicle emissions and degraded ambient air quality. Mansa Taxi’s solution is a token-based system for matatu bookings and payments whereby passengers pre-purchase tokens that entitle them to a specific travel distance, and therefore a specific destination, accessible via phone smart and feature phones. Through Mansa Taxi, matatus are tracked in real-time to ensure that they follow proper driving guidelines, passengers don’t have to scuffle to get seats, and remittances from trips are wired to drivers. Mansa Taxi will lend order to a currently chaotic transport system and allow better planning for passengers, matatu operators, and owners, alleviating the heavy congestion caused by these matatus as well as their significant contribution to air pollution in the city.

School: UC Berkeley
Climate change is the single largest issue threatening a sustainable future for humanity. Mushroom is focused on addressing the intention-action gap, the difference between what people say they want to do and what they actually do, for individuals who are interested in contributing to the fight against climate change. Using behavioral economics to help users make sustainable lifestyle choices, Mushroom facilitates emissions reductions and builds community around protecting the environment. The application uses a diagnostic test to generate quests that align with user interests and commitment levels. These quests challenge users to make incremental steps toward establishing sustainable habits, using gaming elements like streaks and leaderboards to keep user motivation high and minimize attrition. Mushroom tracks these lifestyle changes and quantifies the emissions reductions associated with them, grouping similar users and fostering friendly competition between them. By showing users that others are also working towards similar goals, Mushroom creates a community around battling climate change.

School: UC Irvine
Over the past four years there have been approximately 34 million acres of land lost to wildfires in the U.S. The mission of Singe is to extinguish wildfires before they grow to a size that needs firefighter intervention, or slows down the fire until support is available. This increases response effectiveness and decreases yearly fire damage costs. The Singe modules are automated fire extinguishing units placed in an array and anchored in high risk fire zones. The units are temperature sensitive activating at close to 200 Fahrenheit and are filled with a biodegradable high expansion extinguishing foam, each able to cover an estimated 150 square feet. This modular system can be placed in forested areas and around at risk homes, aiming to be a life saver, cost reducer, and provide fire awareness. Singe aims to be a global product/service and be considered the go-to first line of defense for incoming fires during fire season

Strategic Wind Turbine Deployment to Reduce Wildfire Risks
School: UC Berkeley
California has been experiencing increasingly worsening forest fires that affect millions. The direct cause of many of these forest fires are from power lines being downed by high winds and winds spreading the fire. This model proposes to slow winds by 40 – 50% by deploying wind turbines along the path of the Santa Ana winds in mountain passes. Since the mass of air moving through an area can’t change, converting the kinetic energy of the wind results in a squared reduction in velocity. The solution reduces wind speeds while using the energy for green causes, like using it to power other green technology for on-site use, such as direct carbon capture. This can prevent fires that may result from storing or transporting the energy from the wind farms. By slowing winds, this model can quickly and effectively reduce the forest fires in California, and in the world, fighting the consequences of climate change.

The Mobius Project
School: UC Berkeley
These days, tech companies constantly have to admit that they are not fully equipped to deal with all of the ways bad actors can use their platforms or technologies to cause harm – and the ways their product can disproportionately harm particular groups of people. The Mobius Project is a knowledge and research platform that provides practical ways to incorporate abusability testing into existing product life cycles and teams, drawing from existing expertise from privacy, security, scholars, and digital activists. This platform is a multi-sided digital marketplace that includes three main features. It will provide abusability bug bounties that provide a forum where verified experts can discuss abusability risks and propose solutions. It will develop fundable tools and frameworks around abusability that can be implemented into various parts of the software development project life cycle. Finally, the Mobius Project will provide a searchable database of potential abuses for product teams in the planning stages.

Tiny Home in My Backyard: A Vehicle for Change
School: UC Berkeley
The magnitude of the Bay Area’s unsheltered homelessness population, underscored by an absence of temporary shelter options and an insufficient supply of supportive housing, makes the crisis one of the most visible in the nation. To combat the homelessness crisis, this project proposes the construction of solar-powered tiny homes. The homes have the potential to address and scale various components of decarbonized affordable housing units that, in partnership with community organizations and city governments, would serve local homeless populations in need of housing. Though several localities have employed similar interventions, it is imperative that new housing and construction be compliant with renewable energy innovations to mitigate their environmental impact, as building accounts for nearly 40% of global energy-related carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions. This project represents an opportunity for students from diverse departments to learn about sustainable design principles through hands-on experience in all phases of development, from design to construction to performance evaluation.

Vigillent Home Fire Protection System
School: UC Santa Barbara
The technology used to fight against wildfires has evolved, but the technology to reduce risks of structural damage has not. Vigillent Wildfire Protection Systems seeks to save lives, homes, and communities from wildfires by deploying automatically operated, self-contained, and easily installed fire protection systems that are designed to provide families with an affordable last line of fire defense. Vigillent’s systems apply an adequate protective blanket of class environmentally responsible fire retardant on a home’s roof, eaves, ventilation, outer walls, structural lining, and entire defensible space using a self-powered and remotely activated fluid delivery mechanism. Vigillent’s technology is designed through qualitative and quantitative research analysis from market validation interviews, while interpreting relationships between society and global climate change factors that contribute to wildfire tendencies. Vigillent’s technology protects families and their most valuable assets, is verbally supported by fire chiefs, for its ability to decrease risk without increasing liabilities, and provides insurance incentives for attaining Vigillent’s protection.

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

Education & Literacy

The challenge for this track is to create innovative solutions that address the underlying barriers to quality education and literacy. Proposals may focus on the design, development or delivery of education and literacy solutions that can be domestic or international in scope. All proposals should clearly demonstrate the relationship between the proposed intervention and its impact on education and literacy.

Green Teach App
School: UC Santa Barbara
The current environmental crisis has generated a spark of interest and demands by youth, who are demanding solutions as well as more applicable knowledge on how to be better environmental stewards. The Green Teach App will promote international sharing of environmental stewardship approaches designed by K-12 teachers and implemented in their classrooms. It will provide a digital, easy access, and affordable tool for educators interested in covering the academic content dictated by the standards specified by their school’s district or country, while educating students about pressing sustainability issues and current environmental challenges. Green Teach will provide K-12 teachers with a robust database of lesson plans categorized by country, language, grade, core subject, and environmental topic covered. Other tags will include the evaluation mechanisms used for the lesson, any outdoor or indoor hands-on activities or projects done in the lesson, as well as labels for lessons designed for instruction with students with learning disabilities.

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

OutReach Assistant
School: UC Berkeley
Higher education in the United States has become less accessible to underserved ethnic minorities, immigrants, and those from more socio-economically distressed communities. While there are many factors that contribute to the cumulative disadvantages in equity within our country, education is among the most evident and consequential. For decades, community colleges have served as a feeder program for those who have aspired for higher education, but have neglected the needs of disadvantaged students due to a lack of effective communication. Today, OutReach Assistant by SIGMA is leveraging the latest technology in data analytics, machine learning, and software development to building and designing scalable and affordable technology that makes it possible for faculty and administrators to better connect with underprivileged students who are otherwise overlooked as well as students who are self starters. This software will set the standard for outreach and engagement across California community colleges as it continues to eliminate achievement gaps in education.

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

University Climate Index
School: UC Berkeley
Underrepresented minority (URM) students, African-Americans, American Indians/Alaskan Natives, and Hispanics, as defined by the Council of Graduate Schools account for 15% of doctorates awarded by U.S. institutions in 2016. Yet URMs makeup more than 30% of the U.S   population. This problem is not detached from our reality at UC Berkeley. This project will create a University Climate Index: a sustainable system for assessing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) at academic institutions, starting with UC Berkeley’s College of Engineering. The two key components of this idea include a UCI Math Model to interpret DEI data into index that representative departments’ (or institutions’) recruitment and retention of URM students and a UCI Framework that other academic institutions can use as a guide towards computing their own UCI with our Math Model. The goal is to use commonly available data sets that reflect an academic institution’s efforts towards DEI in their environment.

Energy & Resources

The challenge for this track is to encourage the adoption of clean energy and/or resource alternatives that are sustainable and have the potential for broad impact. Proposals may focus on the design, development or delivery of green energy solutions that can be domestic or international in scope. All proposals should clearly demonstrate the relationship between the proposed intervention and its impact on the environment.

Five Leaf
School: UC San Diego
While reusing and recycling materials used by clothing brands and manufacturers is necessary to deal with the mass of clothes accumulating in aged inventories, it does not significantly improve environmental footprint. This is because the rate of clothing production and consumption is expected to accelerate. Ultimately, sustainable fashion means less fashion, which contradicts the mainstream business model of producing and consuming more. Five Leaf’s color-changing fabric enables fashion brands to reduce the volume of clothes produced while allowing consumers to reuse their clothes in ways that were previously not possible. This idea will reduce the risk of brands overproducing or overstocking their inventories by introducing a   versatile color-changing fabric for the consumers to customize themselves, directly connecting supply with demand. By applying a customer acquisition model, Five Leaf’s clothes are designed to eventually become cost-competitive with fast fashion, while encouraging slower consumerism by extending the life of clothes.

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

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

Financial Inclusion

The challenge for this track is to propose novel products, services, tools or mechanisms that either address unmet needs of the financially underserved, or help extend existing services to populations at the unbanked “last mile.”

School: UC San Diego
Due to the lack of transparency and the absence of price regulations in the U.S., medical supply and pharmaceutical companies are increasingly exploiting this imbalance of information and lack of regulations to jack up the prices for their products, making the cost for basic healthcare needs unaffordable for patients. FairMed is an internet platform that optimizes the supply chain for clinics to both obtain better pricing and streamline their restocking procedures. The platform uses an algorithm to determine the optimal way to form an aggregated order, while not violating products’ designated restock deadlines. This platform both reduces the cost of resupplying and the administration effort for the clinics. Using the profit and cash flow generated by the platform, FairMed reimburses patients a percentage of their medical bills when visiting FairMed associated clinics. Such practice brings in more customers and further incentivizes the clinics to use FairMed and thus creates a positive feedback loop.

School: UC Berkeley
Modern-day student loans fail to align with the interests of the students and many people incurring their massive student debt are never going to be able to get out from under the weight of these bills. Having gained popularity only recently, Income Share Agreements (ISA) attempt to resolve this problem by tying the future earning potential of the student post-graduation to the people tasked with helping the student succeed. Legacy, is a peer-to-peer lending platform, where an investor called a “legatus” can enter into ISAs called with their “legacies.” Named after the Roman practice of providing philanthropic opportunities to their high achieving youth, Legacy will help foster talent that otherwise would’ve gone overlooked. Legacy aims to broaden the reach of ISAs to more people by providing a peer-to-peer platform where industry professionals can connect and support younger versions of themselves from their alma mater.

School: Makerere University
Youth in Uganda start business ventures with ​little or no knowledge of financial management or good business practices and with limited access to capital. About 50% of this population has little or no assets to put up for collateral for loans and they do not come from rich families to get capital. Without these resources, businesses are bound to fail, resulting in a vicious cycle of youth unemployment, food insecurity, and under performance of the economy. Lyzapay is a mobile application platform that gives both financial literacy and access to capital to business owners in Uganda. The application analyzes the entrepreneur’s personal data, business financial records, assets, and financial literacy to compute a credit score. This is integrated with a financial advisory platform that has a series of customized training modules and tools tailored to suit the Ugandan setting. Lyzapay will enhance the local entrepreneurs’ knowledge of financial management and good business practices.

School: UC Irvine
Data shows that anti-spam laws and apps have not slowed the increasing trend of spam calls. This is because these anti-spam attempts are addressing the symptoms (spam techniques) and not the cause (financial incentives). RoboCash’s vision is to end all robocalls and spam, by addressing the economic incentives that drive every scam call. RoboCash’s proprietary method places “cash-back” options on both sides of a phone call and works in a user-friendly way by rejecting all unknown numbers unless they leave a five cent “NanoDeposit.” Unknown callers get the NanoDeposit back if their call lasts more than 25 seconds or if the user doesn’t pick up. Otherwise, if the user hears the usual scam language and hangs up before 25 seconds, they collect their NanoDeposit. RoboCash’s vision is to provide value to telemarketers and users as a middleman with a disruptive business model that distributes the profits amongst everybody involved.

Food & Agriculture

The challenge for this track is to encourage the development of innovative solutions or approaches that address complex challenges in food systems and agricultural development. Proposals submitted to this track may focus on areas such as enhancing agricultural production, increasing food security, promoting sustainable farming practices, and/or creating equitable access to nutritious food. Proposals may be aimed at campus-based programs, local/domestic issues, or international efforts.

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

School: UC Irvine
Currently, over a third of all food produced in Africa is lost post-harvest, approximately enough to feed a total of 48 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa, leading to greater imports of food that cripple local farmers. While some companies try to combat this loss by providing more storage units, their efforts are too slow and too costly to scale around Africa. EatLink serves to tackle this issue with a monitoring device that detects when and where food spoils. The location data can pinpoint the locations during food transport and discover where the cracks in the harvest-to-store pipeline occur to prevent future losses in the same places. The device itself is cost effective and easy to operate and install, allowing unprecedented growth and results over a brief period of time during its initial implementation. Through the use of big data analytics, EatLink serves to preserve food lost in transport and revitalize the African agricultural economy.

Faba Friends
School: UC Davis
Chickpeas have become a popular source of plant-based protein, reflected by an increased focus on sustainability and veganism. Despite chickpeas being a more sustainable source of protein compared to meat, it leaves behind a valuable functional ingredient: aquafaba, which is the water that remains after cooking chickpeas. While aquafaba is perceived as a waste stream by most of the food industry, this wastewater can be upcycled into unique products. Faba Friends is a frozen dessert bar filled with a creamy, aquafaba “ice cream” and coated in chocolate. Similar to a chocolate bar, Faba Friends can be broken into smaller bite-sized pieces and shared among friends and family. The frozen dessert bar can be consumed as is, or blended to create a protein packed smoothie. This is the first frozen dessert that utilizes upcycled aquafaba as its primary ingredient. By turning a waste stream into a value-added product, Faba Friends offers a delicious, sustainable, protein-packed frozen treat.

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

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

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

Global Health

The challenge for this track is to describe an intervention that would alleviate a global health concern, either domestically or internationally. Proposals submitted to this track should (a) demonstrate evidence of a widespread health concern faced by resource-constrained populations, and (b) develop a system, program, or technology that is culturally appropriate within the target communities and designed for low-resource settings.

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

ChemCath: A Real-time Intravascular Chemical Monitor
School: UC Berkeley
Real-time, continuous monitoring of patient health is of utmost importance to detect life-threatening problems in a timely manner. Currently doctors rely on patient symptoms or blood draws to detect physiological imbalances organ injury. However, these imbalances and injuries can occur quickly and failing to respond to these in a timely manner can lead to significant deterioration of a patient’s health. ChemCath is a sensor-embedded modification of a current catheter that will enable early identification of these deleterious events by continuously collecting physiologic and chemical data. Leveraging recent advances in micro- and nano-science, ChemCath’s biosensors will quickly detect changes in pH to start, but future work will facilitate measurement of other important biomarkers such as sodium, potassium, and glucose. ChemCath will also pave the way for close at-home monitoring of patients on home health, preferentially benefiting the elderly, disabled, and those in rural communities who have a more difficult finding access to healthcare facilities.

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

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

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

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

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

The Rescue Cot
School: Makerere University
According to Uganda Road Sector Support Initiative, Uganda has the second highest rate of road traffic accidents in Africa and the world after Ethiopia. The transportation and rescue services at the accident scenes are inadequate and inappropriate and the Uganda Police, which is the main emergency rescue team in the country, often lacks assistive devices at accident scenes. This means that emergency responders have to lift and carry the victims by hand to their vehicles. A big gap thus remains for evacuation of casualties from scenes of accidents on Ugandan roads. The Rescue Cot will contribute to improving patient safety through reduction of body movements and detecting the patient’s critical condition. This low-cost stretcher will be 3-folded portable pole evacuation resource that includes metallic rods with two hinge joints, cloth, straps, caster wheels, and a pulse-oximeter, which can measure the patient’s critical condition by detecting the heart rate and oxygen saturation of the patient.

Workforce Development

This category challenges students to develop solutions to assist those who will be adversely affected and displaced by advancements in technology, automation, and artificial intelligence. To this end, students will be required to think about the issue critically and understand the exact nature of jobs that will be displaced. The matter at hand is to help these workers regain not only their lost income but also their purpose and direction in life.

Riverside Studios Entertainment Innovation Incubator
School: UC Riverside
The Entertainment industry is rapidly changing due to the emergence of new technologies, creating a need for skilled labor in areas such as marketing, data analytics, software engineering, and VR/AR development. Despite this technology shift, students have traditionally lacked the training and skills crucial for entering the entertainment industry, creating a larger gap in entertainment workforce development, and thus, economic growth. The Riverside Studios Entertainment Innovation Incubator provides a large space that includes recording studios, film studios, work rooms, equipment, and performance stages. This would be coupled with educational training opportunities, mentorship, project development, marketing, events, and funding to help propel student ideas into tangible products or services. This incubator program solves a major issue in workforce development and education for the Entertainment industry and   provides new opportunities for students to succeed in the entertainment world

School: UC Berkeley
Unemployment and underemployment are problems that affect roughly 70% of all Americans with hearing impairments. Signum is a video chat platform created to solve this problem. Designed as a workforce development tool, Signum utilizes a machine learning model to translate video of ASL gestures to text, easing communication for people with hearing and speech impairments who can only communicate in ASL. Although several other startups are currently developing similar technologies, Signum distinguishes a gap in the market due to its emphasis on providing an inexpensive and non-intrusive means of communication targeted towards removing barriers in the workplace. Signum’s current target market is “functionally deaf” ASL users in the workforce between 18- and 35-years old. In the long term, Signum will be used in conjunction with popular workforce video chat platforms such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Cisco WebEx to expand to a broader audience and impact millions of lives.

Sike Insights
School: UC Los Angeles
The world is clearly moving towards increasingly remote employment, especially since housing costs continue to rise in large cities. Remote work is clearly a part of the future of work, but there are still major hurdles to be overcome before remote work can replace in-person work. Remote teams are often less effective, because teammates don’t have strong working relationships with each other. Sike Insights aims to eliminate the difference between remote and in-person work. Its solution is an AI-powered Slackbot that helps remote teams work better together by improving communication. This bot, named Kona, uses deep learning to analyze the way each team member communicates within Slack. It then smartly delivers actionable insights about how remote team members should interact with each other. This will help teams communicate effectively, work through conflicts, and feel more engaged with the team, ultimately improving how teams communicate while working remotely.

Culturally Reflective Architecture

Aboubacar Komara, founder and president of Kaloum Bankhi, says his upbringing in both Guinea and the United States has shaped how he understands architecture.

How Kaloum Bankhi Builds Homes with Low-income Communities in Guinea

By Emily Denny

Aboubacar Komara, founder and president of Kaloum Bankhi, says his upbringing in both Guinea and the United States has shaped how he understands architecture.

Matt Turlock and Aboubacar Komara won first place in the Big Ideas Contest in 2019 for their innovative approach to architecture in low-income communities.

Born in Guinea, Komara moved to the U.S. in 2013 and graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in architecture in 2018. Komara explains that the combination of cultural values from both countries inspired the mission behind Kaloum Bankhi–a registered NGO in Guinea that maximizes existing and limited housing space for people in the slums of Kaloum, located within the capital city of Conakry.

The Kaloum Bankhi team incorporates the local identity into its designs is by including African prints as a design element in its renovations.

“I don’t think this project would be possible without Aboubacar and the ways he brings his cultural experiences and architecture together,” said Matt Turlock, a 2019 graduate of UC Berkeley master’s programs in architecture and structural engineering and a Kaloum Bankhi team lead.

In 2019, Kaloum Bankhi won first place in the Big Ideas Contest for its process-focused design to maximize existing spaces by co-designing with residents and providing building skills. Big Ideas Mentor Jason Moses, founder and director of–a social enterprise improving slum conditions and upgrading informal settlements worldwide– inspired the Kaloum Bankhi team to build their mission statement and understand architecture as “art that brings social change.”

“The communities are the ones dealing with these problems and we believe that the real solutions come from them,” said Komara of his organization’s collaborative approach, which includes incorporating the community into the design and building process and teaching people how to build their own self-sustaining structures.

Currently, many residents of Kaloum live in insufficient living spaces with poor sanitation. Among Kaloum Bankhi’s aims is to maximize existing space by adding movable walls and features within newly constructed homes.

Komara credits his education at UC Berkeley for teaching him how to ask “Why?”–why, in this case, some communities reside in inadequate housing and architectural solutions are out of reach. He also credits his personal ties to the region for stressing the necessity of a bottom-up approach for community development, with a strong focus on culture and identity.

The Kaloum Bankhi’s housing prototype is built with a process-focused design to maximize existing spaces by co-designing with residents and providing building skills.

One way Kaloum Bankhi incorporates local identity into its designs is by including African prints as a design element in its renovations. After building the first prototype, Komara and Turlock learned that including familiar patterns into the walls of the homes led community members to see them as “not something that was imposed on them, but rather a part of their own culture,” said Komara.

The Kaloum Bankhi team, located in Kaloum, also helps equip local community members with the skills to build the homes. “We want the communities to come away with not just new shelter and a durable home, but the skills to keep building in a community,” said Turlock.

Since 2018, Kaloum Bankhi has built two prototype structures, the first in Kissosso and the second in Kaloum, both neighborhoods in Conakry. By spring 2020 the team hopes to have begun retrofit of four households, with further homes to follow. However, throughout their prototyping, the team has adapted approaches and plans to gain approval from the community. For example, Kaloum Bankhi is aiming to use only recycled materials, hoping to renovate with wood, but wood is an unfamiliar material to Kaloum locals who traditionally use concrete and cement bricks.

“Culturally people don’t feel safe in wood. So one thing we have been working on is how to make people trust the kind of building we are doing,” said Komara.

The members of the Kaloum Bankhi NGO, based in Guinea, meet with local leaders to discuss their participation in Kaloum Bankhi’s mission.

Gaining the trust of community members through connections with local leaders has been essential to Kaloum Bankhi’s progress. Before meeting with the local leaders, the Kaloum Bankhi team had ambitious plans to renovate homes in four different localities of Kaloum’s 13 different neighborhoods. However, after meeting with the leaders, they were advised to focus their construction on just one community, to make a more visible and convincing impact for locals.

The Kaloum Bankhi team aims to apply its sustainable building and community processes to other regions of Guinea and internationally with the intent to benefit marginalized and vulnerable communities. Komara and Turlock have been working on a project in another region of Guinea to expand a school to hold more students, and they are working on an amphitheater project for community gatherings in Los Angeles with The WOW Flower Project.

“Our concept is to become a social enterprise that uses architecture to bring social change to disadvantaged areas,” said Turlock.

Inspired to Become an Innovation Ambassador

After receiving mentorship from the Big Ideas Contest, Amy Liu, founder and CEO of Partners in Life, became an Innovation Ambassador for both the 2018-2019 academic year and now the 2019-2020 one.

Amy Liu of Partners in Life

By Veena Narashiman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supporting Low-Income Entrepreneurs in Nairobi

When Amelia Hopkins Phillips, executive director of SOMO, graduated from UC Berkeley in 2016, her plan was to move to Nairobi, Kenya for six months and then return home. Yet three and a half years later, she’s still there.

How Amelia Phillips Brought her Big Idea to Kenya

By Emily Denny

When Amelia Hopkins Phillips, executive director of SOMO, graduated from UC Berkeley in 2016, her plan was to move to Nairobi, Kenya for six months and then return home. Yet three and a half years later, she’s still there.

One of the catalysts for Phillips’ extended stay was the Big Ideas Contest. In 2015, she won first place for SOMO, which identifies, trains, funds, and mentors entrepreneurs looking to drive social change by building enterprises in their own low-income urban communities. Her idea–motivated by previous work with an educational nonprofits which, she said, “exposed her to a lot of unsustainability in the NGO culture in Nairobi ”–was to come up with an idea that could last.

Phillips was also influenced by what she saw at Cal. While majoring in International Studies, she said she constantly noticed the number of resources accessible to her friends and classmates who wanted to start their own businesses in the Bay Area. She questioned why these same resources weren’t accessible in the low-income communities of Kenya.

For that reason, Amelia and her co-founder, George Rzepecki, built Somo to provide training and tools to help low-income Nairobi entrepreneurs build businesses that could change their communities from within. SOMO, which is the root of a Swahili word meaning “lesson,” argues that “we all have lessons to learn from each other and by investing in the right people, we help break the cycle of poverty and help bring long-term stability to urban slum areas.”

Over the past five years, SOMO has grown from a proposal submitted to the Big Ideas Contest to a viable nonprofit, which receives close to 2,000 applications annually from entrepreneurs looking to launch their business ideas. Every year applicants who are accepted undergo a 12-week bootcamp, in which they learn business startup skills and receive funding for their business ideas. Last year 79 participants underwent these bootcamps, and this year there will be a least 170 participants looking to launch their business ideas. So far SOMO helped launch 58 businesses, partnering with them for two years through their acceleration program, that have served up to 140,000 customers and created 258 jobs.

“While Nairobi is a very entrepreneurial place, the lower-income communities are cut off from the resources to launch businesses,” said Phillips, “We at SOMO want to provide the resources that aren’t usually accessible in low-income, urban areas to entrepreneurs who want to start socially-focused business ideas.”

SOMO works within multiple communities in Nairobi and recently expanded to Kisumu in Western Kenya.

“A lot of people who we work with have been told their entire lives that their businesses can’t grow past a certain point,” Phillips said. “We give the hard skills they need to run a business, sure. But more than that, we provide confidence that allows them to grow as people and create lasting impact in their communities.”

When Hilda and Diana, a mother-daughter team, attended their first entrepreneur training class with SOMO, they wouldn’t speak up in class.

“The mother did not speak English and the daughter was only 19 years old and super shy,” said Phillips.

Since the training, not only have Hilda and Diana successfully launched the reusable diaper company, Hidaya Diapers in Korogocho, they also have pitched their business to large audiences and most recently were featured on a national TV station, on NTV Kenya.

“These are two women who would barely speak to me when I first met them. Now they are the two most confident women that I know,” said Phillips.

Phillips aims to help businesses become sustainable, adding “even if SOMO is no longer working with our entrepreneurs in a hands-on way, or even if SOMO closes down tomorrow, the supported businesses and the impact they are creating will last beyond us.” Currently all besides one of the businesses the organization has invested in have been cash-flow positive within 8 months of starting.

One such example of thriving business is Verics, a hydroponics enterprise that received training and funding from SOMO in 2016. Hydroponics is a farming method that doesn’t use soil, and can produce higher yields of crops, requiring less water and decreasing the chance for pollution to contaminate crops. Verics now has now set up 13 small farms across settlements in Nairobi.

Similarly, Hidaya Diapers is providing sustainable and higher income work by employing single mothers in low-income areas. The company aims to improve the health and hygiene of young children and decrease environmental impacts by eliminating waste.

All of SOMO’s 23 person (and growing) team, with the exception of Phillips and one other are Kenyan; and more than half of her team are from the areas SOMO works within. In addition, four of SOMO’s team members are past entrepreneurs who went through SOMO’s training program. “Having our entrepreneurs as team members is really important because they understand our program better than anyone,” said Philips. “We involve the community with everything we do. We are apart of it, not separated from it.”

Recently, SOMO expanded to Kisumu, and Phillips expects to keep expanding.

“Our plan is to expand to Mombasa, a city on Kenya’s eastern coast, and then the goal in the next few years is to go international with our program,” said Phillips, mentioning SOMO’s incipient partnerships with similar organizations in India and Mexico.

What’s Your Big Idea?

Do you have an early-stage, social-impact driven idea? Are you a student looking for the support and resources necessary to solve important issues that matter to your generation?

Only 2 Weeks Left to Apply to the UC BIg Ideas Contest!

By Emily Denny

Do you have an early-stage, social-impact driven idea? Are you a student looking for the support and resources necessary to solve important issues that matter to your generation?

Apply to the Big Ideas Contest by November 20!

Every year the Big Ideas Contest supports aspiring student innovators across the entire University of California system by providing the resources they need to launch, fund and scale their “big idea.” Since its founding in 2006, over 7,000 students have participated, from 100 different majors, collaborating on over 2,400 proposals. Big Ideas has awarded $2.4 million in prizes across over 400 winning teams. These teams have used this modest seed funding — and the targeted mentorship provided by a network of over 1,500+ judges, mentors and sponsors — to collectively secure over $650 million in additional investment.

Students receive extensive feedback from judges, access to skill development workshops and networking opportunities, and are connected with experts for a 6-week mentorship period during the final round. They also have the chance to win up to $20,000 in awards!

So, why should you apply? Our Big Ideas alumni explain it best.

“The Big Ideas process turned our idea into a plan. Big Ideas challenges participants to develop innovative yet feasible solutions to society’s gnarliest issues. Big Ideas has opened doors to additional funding and growth opportunities. ”

Take a risk, and use your skills and passion to solve important social issues!


Apply by November 20th, 12:00 Noon!


Looking for more information? Check out our website for more information on this year’s application requirement and details on how to apply!

Q&A With Big Ideas Winner Emily Huynh, Fractal

Big Ideas spoke with Emily Huynh to learn about the inspiration behind her Big Idea, Fractal, and what she and her team are currently working on.

Providing Accessible Medical Care through Low-Cost Fracture Detection

By Emily Denny

Treating bone fractures in the developing world is increasingly difficult due to the lack of x-ray accessibility. Emily Huynh, a senior at UC Berkeley studying Bioengineering, thought: if bone fractures were diagnosed and treated properly in an affordable way, large populations of people could avoid the chronic pain, disability, and socioeconomic disadvantage that mistreated fractures cause. This past spring, Huynh and her team won third place in Big Ideas’ Hardware for Good category for a medical device that provides orthopedic care in underdeveloped countries and remote settings called Fractal.

Big Ideas spoke with Huynh to learn about the inspiration behind the idea, what she and her team are currently working on, and how Fractal can create a positive impact to communities in the developing world.

Q: How is Fractal a solution to the growing numbers of untreated and mistreated bone fractures in the developing world?
A: There is about one orthopedic surgeon for 700,000 people in Nigeria — that’s a long waiting room. Despite the fact that the number of mistreated fractures is growing in developing countries, the number of professionals trained to treat these fractures isn’t growing with it. If bone fractures are not treated properly issues like bone-shortening, chronic pain, infection, and in an extreme case amputation can occur.

Fractal allows a clinician — one who may not have five years of training in orthopedic residency, but are familiar with the medical environment to triage patients — to rapidly diagnose and treat patient’s fractures properly, and accelerate recovery. By providing developing countries with an inexpensive, accurate tool for diagnosing and monitoring of bone fractures, we will facilitate better orthopedic care and reduce the incidence of mistreatments, misdiagnoses, and the ensuing complications.

Q: How is Fractal’s technology different than traditional technologies used to diagnose bone fractures?
A: The most common technology is x-ray, but abroad this can be inaccessible because x-ray is expensive to buy and maintain. A common alternative to x-ray is portable ultrasound which is relatively cheap, but it is hard to read, especially for fractures. Fractal fills this gap: it’s inexpensive like ultrasound, but is quantifiable and easy to use.

Fractal leverages and automates existing solutions in order to detect bone fractures without the use of imaging. We are basing the technology off of a technique physicians used before x-ray and ultrasound was invented called auscultatory percussion. It’s the same idea as when a doctor places a stethoscope on your back and asks you to breathe in. We are applying that same kind of “apply an impulse and listen to what you hear” methodology to the leg. By sending controlled audio waves through the bone, Fractal records and analyzes the sounds physicians listen for during bone auscultation, eliminating the chances of misdiagnosis that may occur without the proper equipment.

Q: How can you ensure Fractal is trusted in remote communities?
A: For patients in remote areas of many developing countries, going to urban care centers where people can be treated properly, can sometimes take days of walking. So, traditionally people living in these remote areas depend on bonesetters to treat a fracture. We do not want to upend or disagree with these trusted bonesetters, but to facilitate their care. If we are able to gain the trust of local caretakers, I think that Fractal could become a very helpful tool in treating larger populations of people.

Q: Through a partnership with The Lemelson Foundation, Fractal and other Big Ideas applicants in the Hardware for Good category participated in environmental responsibility workshops. How do you hope to implement sustainability into Fractal’s prototype?
A: Big Ideas’ Hardware for Good category was really interesting because sustainability is something innovators don’t really think about because we are so focused on how our product is going to work, how we are going to market it and how we are going to sell it.

The body of Fractal is printed with PLA (polylactic acid) which can be melted down and recycled. We are also hoping to create a service where if a device is broken it can be sent back to us. Once we receive the broken device we can repurpose it for the parts that don’t work. This will extend the device’s end of life, ultimately allowing us to limit our waste.

Q: How has your own academic interests led to the development of Fractal?
A: When I came to Berkeley I structured my coursework around learning how to build medical devices. I learned about hardware, how to build it, how to write the code so it can communicate, and how to do hands-on prototyping. Justin Krogue is my partner for Fractal. He is a fifth year orthopedic resident at UC San Francisco (UCSF) who rotates at San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH). When Krogue came to me with this idea, I ran with it. I thought Fractal tied my Bioengineering degree and skills together in a way that addressed social concerns.

Q: How have mentors and medical industry experts contributed to the development of Fractal?
A: Mentorship is one of the most important things that comes from Big Ideas. I was connected with Jeffrey Lu who won Big Ideas a few years ago. He made a big difference to my proposal because he is still in the start-up phase himself and provided significant insight from his experience to identify areas of improvement for both the proposal and the device itself. He helped me envision how to create a device that can be successful and I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor.

Dr. Nirmal Ravi from eHealth Africa has experienced how developing countries such as Nigeria, Tanzania, and India have an inadequate healthcare infrastructure due to a lack of personnel and high equipment and maintenance costs, making it difficult for all communities access appropriate care. He has helped us get a better understanding of how we should market to developing countries. A lot of people reach out to developing countries thinking they can’t help themselves. We wanted to ensure that we assimilate with these countries and work into their culture to try and help solve this problem.

Q: What is your vision for Fractal over the next few months and what do you look forward to the most as you continue with Fractal?
A: Right now we are trying to go to a couple conferences to gain exposure and see if anyone else in the academic community has opinions and advice on the Fractal. We also currently collecting data at UCSF and SFGH on more tibia and hip fractures and of course looking for funding. In the long term, we hope to partner with Muhimbili Orthopaedic Institute in Tanzania so we can send our devices to become a part of a global clinical trial.

As my team and I continue to take these next steps, I look forward to seeing how Fractal can help just one patient and enable them to live a normal life. I am excited to see how Fractal can positively impact a community.

Environmentally Responsible Inventing

In Fall 2018, with support from The Lemelson Foundation, the Big Ideas Contest introduced a pilot “Environmental Responsibility Program” which offered a curriculum on sustainable design approaches.

Big Ideas Integrates Sustainability into Its Competition

By Emily Denny

“Sustainability is something innovators don’t really think about because we are so focused on how our product is going to work, how we are going to market it, and how we are going to sell it,” said Emily Huynh, a senior studying biomedical engineering at UC Berkeley.

Last spring, Huynh won third place in the Big Ideas Contest’s Hardware for Good category for Fractal, a medical device that provides low-income countries a tool to diagnose and monitor bone fractures. Huynh said that one of the challenges when building the Fractal prototype was how best to incorporate environmental concerns.

In 2018, Big Ideas responded to Huynh’s knowledge gap by introducing a pilot Environmental Responsibility Program into the contest. Supported by The Lemelson Foundation, the program offers a curriculum on sustainable design approaches.

In August, Big Ideas hired an environmental design fellow to support the program, Mimi Kaplan, who is a master’s student at the Goldman School of Public Policy. Kaplan recruited Jeremy Faludi, a Dartmouth College professor and expert in green design and engineering; and together, they have developed two Inventing Green workshops for Big Ideas contestants in the Hardware for Good category.

“Having studied sustainable development at Columbia University, I have relevant academic experience to support Jeremy in developing the workshop content in a way that was suited to the needs of the students,” said Kaplan. “After college, I worked with the Milken Innovation Center in Jerusalem, assisting and managing the logistics and coordination of conferences and workshops on agtech developments and water management in Israel and in California.”

Big Ideas teams in the Hardware for Good category attended the first environmental workshop in the fall semester and the second in the spring.

“The purpose of the first Inventing Green workshop was to introduce students to the concepts of environmental design and circular economy, which includes using locally sourced and environmentally responsible materials and making recyclable and modular products,” said Kaplan. “The purpose of the second workshop was to give students the tools to implement these concepts in their designs and training to help make them confident in doing so.”

Emily Huynh and her team at Fractal attended the Inventing Green workshops, and then restructured how their medical device was built. The Fractal team reported the workshops helped them understand that the production phase of a medical device has the highest impact on the environment. As a result, they decided to use PLA (polylactic acid), a plastic that can be melted down and recycled, to print the body of the medical device.

“Learning about the process of sustainable design led us to reconsider how our product is going to work, how are we going to market it and how are we going to sell it.” said Huynh. “We are also hoping to create a service in which, if a device is broken, it can be sent back to us. Once we receive the broken device, we can repurpose it for the parts that don’t work. This will extend the device’s end of life, ultimately allowing us to limit our waste,” said Huynh.

Similar to Fractal, team members from the Sonic Eyewear Project (SEP) also reported that the workshops helped them reconsider the production of their prototype. Darryl Diptee, founder of SEP, won second place in the Big Ideas’ Hardware for Good Category in 2019 for developing a technology that enables people who are blind or visually impaired to use echolocation to better navigate their surroundings.

“The sustainability workshops helped us introduce and infuse sustainable approaches into our product development,” said Diptee on the workshops. “As a result, we are implementing green sustainability into SEP by using renewable plastics. We are also working on a clip-on product that can be affixed to existing eyewear, eliminating the need to buy an additional pair.”

Kaplan noted student feedback on the challenges of integrating sustainable design into their inventions. “In a roundtable feedback session at the end of the contest year, multiple teams mentioned the difficulty of local sourcing, modularization, and ensuring circularity of their products if it meant justifying a higher up-front cost to investors,” she said. “The group discussed methods for overcoming this challenge, including how to pitch the long-term financial savings that sustainable design brings as well as the importance of environmental responsibility.”

Overall, Kaplan said the workshops increased contestants’ confidence in applying principles of sustainable design in their invention process, and that the workshops had an impact on participants’ perception of the design process cost, ease of manufacturing, marketability, and quality.

In the spring, Dr. Maria Artunduaga won Big Ideas’ first-place prize in the Hardware for Good category for Respira Labs, a startup for a medical device that tracks and monitors lung health, providing an early warning for COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) attacks.

“It’s our social responsibility as innovators to be mindful. The sustainability workshops helped us at Respira Labs realize that you can build a prototype while also being mindful of the environment.” said Dr. Artunduaga.

Already aware that healthcare sector accounts for nearly 10 percent of U.S. carbon emissions and generates an average of 25 pounds of waste per patient each day, the Respira Labs team saw the workshops as an opportunity to reconsider how its prototype can incorporate sustainable design. Respira Labs intends to use reusable sensors as well as tie the use of smartphones to the COPD technology, eliminating the need for excess medical devices.

In addition to learning how to reduce waste during the production process, teams in the Environmental Responsibility Program also reported learning that sustainable design can reduce legal risk, final product cost, and increase innovator creativity and motivation.

“This year, we plan to again offer a workshop on environmental responsibility in product design for student teams creating physical products,” said Kaplan. “We also plan to take Big Ideas students to maker spaces in the Bay Area, and to share through lectures and conferences what we have learned in implementing the Big Ideas environmental responsibility curriculum with the support of The Lemelson Foundation.”

Big Ideas Judge Jill Finlayson: Mentoring and Marveling at Founders

Big Ideas sat down with long-time judge and mentor Jill Finlayson to learn more about what makes her optimistic about the future of technology.

By Veena Narashiman

There are few people as committed to judging the Big Ideas Contest as Jill Finlayson. A lifelong advocate of mentorship and a graduate of UC Berkeley, Finlayson has been a Big Ideas mentor since the competition’s inception in 2006. She currently serves as director of Women in Technology Initiative at CITRIS (Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society) at UC Berkeley, where she supports research and initiatives to promote the equitable participation of women in the tech industry.

Previously, Finlayson led mentorship and incubator and accelerator programs for Singularity University Ventures, ran the Toys category for eBay, managed a community of social entrepreneurs at the Skoll Foundation, and consulted for the World Bank, Gates Foundation, and the Ford Foundation. Her passions include social entrepreneurship, open government, civic tech, startups, education, innovation, women, mentoring, tech for good, impact, and leadership.

Big Ideas sat down with Finlayson to learn more about what makes her optimistic about the future of technology and what brings her to Big Ideas.

Your background is fairly diverse—from running eBay’s Toy category to consulting for the World Bank. How has working in different sectors informed your view on technology’s role in society?
The nice thing from working in so many avenues is that you get to see similarities between supposedly different sectors. It really increases your empathy and understanding at a systemic level. But it also gives you the advantage of a cross-sector lens to view potential collaborations. None of these efforts exist in a vacuum—to get working on issues with deeply entrenched root causes, you will work with governmental agencies as well as the private sector, large organizations, and startups. If you are able to take the metrics used in social enterprises and marry them with the design thinking and urgency used in tech startups, you’re at a huge advantage.

How do you see the landscape for women entrepreneurs today? Do you see a change in culture from when you first started out?
The biggest win has to be awareness. We have enough data for people to see and understand how harmful microaggressions can be. We have studies that show discriminatory practices toward female academics and Venture Capitalists asking biased questions toward female founders—this data makes it easier to help people understand the challenges and make needed behavior and system changes.. Though the technical workplace may still have significant attrition for women, we’re seeing better and more informed policies that promote equitable participation. The notion that people “have to be a guy” is decreasing. Companies are placing more value on stereotypically “soft skills”—things like communication, collaboration, and global mindset, and they are devoting more resources to fostering inclusive leadership which will lead to a more level playing field.

How important are female founder/role models to burgeoning entrepreneurs or engineers? What do you think people can get out of mentorship?
Mentorship is beneficial in a myriad of ways. We’re a great sounding board—it can be a bit lonely at the top, so having someone to bounce ideas off of is such an asset. Mentors offer valuable criticism, forcing you to either have a sound rationale or to pivot. It’s much easier to change course early before you invest a lot of time and money. Finally, we offer a network. Every day, I think about who I can connect my team with to inform their solution. We are your ultimate champions, and hopefully, our cumulative knowledge may help you bridge sectors.

All this to say that mentoring is also benefiting us! Mentors are able to feed off the dynamic energy of founders, while constantly learning from complicated startup challenges. It’s an opportunity for us to leverage hard-earned knowledge to help create concrete applications and to help founders achieve their potential and their vision. Founders have the same energy throughout the globe—you will feel at home in any startup space from in the world because they are filled with people trying to solve big problems. Anyone with the courage and excitement to build something from nothing is someone I want to work with.

What are the most important qualities of a successful founder?
You have to be in love with the problem—not the solution. A founder must pivot, and you cannot afford to be too attached to anything. Imagine what you think success would look like, what kind of metrics you would use to demonstrate impact for an ideal scenario. These questions can guide you to figure out what you would like to achieve.

The best teams have a shared vision and psychological security; you want to make sure that your team members are able to say something crazy without being penalized. This comes with avoiding micromanaging, having the belief that your team is qualified, and doing your best to support them and remove any barriers to their success. Diversity in backgrounds is important to avoid blindspots and foster innovation, but ensure that everyone shares the same exponential vision for the company.

Helming a newfound project is equally as exciting as chaotic. Be ready to learn and strive to engineer serendipity – put yourself in places where you might meet collaborators and discover best practices from other sectors. Figuring out how to marry what you learn in one sector to another one can be challenging, but it brings immense fulfillment and sustainable innovation.

Ultimately, you have to be ready to think BIG. You might do a pilot as a proof of concept, but you are not here to fix a little thing. Try to think systemically and don’t be afraid to challenge assumptions.

What is unique about the startup world? Do startups have the resources to challenge the status quo?
Startups are the only ones with the ability to attack systemic issues! Founders are the ones who want to disrupt the status quo and thus are uniquely incentivized to move fast. We desperately need people to keep asking the question of why. More often than not, our assumptions and the bounds of our problem statement are based on our own experiences. Without diverse creators and people constantly challenging assumptions, solutions will fail to serve everyone.