Meet the Team

Daniel Fletcher

Faculty Director

Phillip Denny

Director

Contact: Email
Dr. Dan Fletcher is the Chatterjee Professor of Bioengineering & Biophysics at UC Berkeley and Faculty Scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He and his laboratory, The Fletcher Lab, study membrane and cytoskeletal organization and develop optical and force microscopy technologies, with applications to immunology, virology, and cancer biology. They also build mobile phone-based microscopes that are being used to detect infectious diseases in developing countries. Dr. Fletcher has been involved with the Big Ideas Contest since 2007 when a team of students, under his mentorship, received a Big Ideas award to test the idea that a camera in a cell phone could be used for low cost, remote, microscopy. The latest version of CellScope, called LoaScope, has proven effective in Cameroon, where it is being used to combat River Blindness (Onchocerciasis), a Neglected Tropical Disease.

Phillip Denny serves as the Senior Program Director of the Blum Center for Developing Economies, a position he assumed shortly after the Center was established in March 2006. Through his leadership of Big Ideas, Phillip has encouraged and supported approximately 3000 interdisciplinary teams to develop creative solutions to today’s most pressing social challenges. Under his direction, the Big Ideas Contest has helped secure millions of dollars in seed funding for student start-ups and recruited over 1,500 industry, government and non-profit experts to judge ideas and mentor participants. He has also been integral in developing key partnerships across academia, private sector organizations, and entrepreneurship networks to strengthen social innovation initiatives across the 10-campus University of California system. As recognition for his leadership of Big Ideas, he received UC Berkeley’s Chancellor’s Outstanding Staff Award in 2015. 

Phillip Denny

Director

Areas of Focus: community building, networks & partnerships, civic engagement, grant/proposal development, team building, strategy

Phillip Denny serves as the Senior Program Director of the Blum Center for Developing Economies, a position he assumed shortly after the Center was established in March 2006. He manages the Big Ideas@Berkeley contest–one of the oldest and most respected student innovation competitions in California. In this capacity, he has encouraged and supported approximately 1,400 interdisciplinary teams to develop creative solutions to today’s most pressing social challenges. Under Phillip’s direction, the Big Ideas Contest has helped secure millions of dollars in seed funding for student start-ups, expanded the contest to 18 campuses, and recruited over 1,000 industry, government and non-profit experts to judge ideas and mentor participants. He has also been integral in developing key partnerships across academia, private sector organizations, and entrepreneurship networks to strengthen social innovation initiatives on campus. As recognition for his leadership of Big Ideas, he received UC Berkeley’s Chancellor’s Outstanding Staff Award in 2015. Prior to joining the Center, Denny held leadership roles in multiple successful grass-roots and political campaigns, specializing in research and communications strategies for both candidates and organizations.

Karenna Rehorn

IA Program Coordinator

Sahil Mehta

UC Berkeley Program Coordinator

Karenna is a 5th year pursuing Biomedical Engineering and a Technological Management minor at the University of California, Davis. Through her various projects she has worked on, Karenna has developed a diverse skill set that applies to both the engineering and entrepreneurship fields. She is currently the President of the BioInnovation Group and engaged in various committees that support student led scientific research and engineering. Her entrepreneurship experience involved participating in an accelerator with an app based startup called Blu. She is very passionate about helping people get the resources they need so that they can further their own innovative ideas. She firmly believes that anyone can be an innovator with the right kind of help. While her studies and activities keep her busy, in her free time she enjoys cooking, going running, and reading.

Sahil is a sophomore studying EECS and intended Business Administration at UC Berkeley. As a previous Big Ideas winner, he joined Big Ideas to contribute to outreach and advising for the contest. Sahil has experience in several other startup accelerators and competitions, including the SCET Collider Cup, CalHacks Fellowship, NSF Innovation Corps, Startup@BerkeleyLaw Form+Fund program, Convergent@Berkeley, and Venture Capital Investment Competition. He is passionate about social entrepreneurship and product management, and is currently co-president of Entrepreneurs@Berkeley. In his free time, Sahil enjoys playing badminton and hiking.

Sahil Mehta

UC Berkeley Program Coordinator

Sahil is a sophomore studying EECS and intended Business Administration at UC Berkeley. As a previous Big Ideas winner, he joined Big Ideas to contribute to outreach and advising for the contest. Sahil has experience in several other startup accelerators and competitions, including the SCET Collider Cup, CalHacks Fellowship, NSF Innovation Corps, Startup@BerkeleyLaw Form+Fund program, Convergent@Berkeley, and Venture Capital Investment Competition. He is passionate about social entrepreneurship and product management, and is currently co-president of Entrepreneurs@Berkeley. In his free time, Sahil enjoys playing badminton and hiking.

Ally Mintzer

Marketing & Operations Coordinator

Diana Fan

Design Associate

Ally Mintzer is a sophomore studying economics, and this is her second year at Big Ideas helping with research and marketing. She ultimately hopes to pursue a career in market governance to promote innovation and economic equality. Outside of Big Ideas, Ally is a research assistant for an ESG metrics project, a writer for the Berkeley Economic Review, and loves learning languages and playing beach volleyball.

Diana is a senior majoring in Cognitive Science, minoring in Computer Science and pursuing a Certificate in Design Innovation at UC Berkeley. As a designer and illustrator based in the Bay Area, she is passionate about design education and working on multidisciplinary solutions for socio-economic innovation. In her time at Berkeley, she’s enjoyed teaching student-run classes, including an Introduction to Illustrator and Photoshop Decal as well as the Web Design Decal. Outside of academics and extracurriculars, Diana enjoys taking care of her plants, cooking Korean food, drawing in her notebook, picnicking, and laying in patches of grass.

Diana Fan

Design Associate

Diana is a senior majoring in Cognitive Science, minoring in Computer Science and pursuing a Certificate in Design Innovation at UC Berkeley. As a designer and illustrator based in the Bay Area, she is passionate about design education and working on multidisciplinary solutions for socio-economic innovation. In her time at Berkeley, she’s enjoyed teaching student-run classes, including an Introduction to Illustrator and Photoshop Decal as well as the Web Design Decal. Outside of academics and extracurriculars, Diana enjoys taking care of her plants, cooking Korean food, drawing in her notebook, picnicking, and laying in patches of grass.

Eumi Son

Writer / Researcher

Spencer Hamilton

Web Developer

Eumi is a senior studying economics and minoring in journalism and political economy at UC Berkeley. She’s interested in public policy, globalization, and issues in economic equality. On campus, she writes for a student-led fashion magazine and is active in Cal’s Undergraduate Economics Association. She’s lived in five cities around the world so far and hopes to live in more. Besides travel, she enjoys R&B and jazz music, scenic hikes, a good run, and cooking for friends. 

Spencer joined the Blum Center to help redesign the Big Ideas website. Initially from Southern California, Spencer came to UC Berkeley to study Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences. He has a passion for the collaborative process involved in working on projects and believes technology is best used as a tool of empowerment. His interests beyond his major include reading, swimming, and cycling.

Spencer Hamilton

Web Developer

Spencer joined the Blum Center to help redesign the Big Ideas website. Initially from Southern California, Spencer came to UC Berkeley to study Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences. He has a passion for the collaborative process involved in working on projects and believes technology is best used as a tool of empowerment. His interests beyond his major include reading, swimming, and cycling.

2020 Innovation Ambassadors

Cheukai Makari

UC Berkeley

Tony Corriea

UC Davis

Kyra Trinh

UC Irvine

Victoria Kuang

UC Los Angeles

Shirley Li

UC Los Angeles

Amin Boroomand

UC Merced

William Wang

UC Riverside

Amy Liu

UC San Diego

Valerie Wiest

UC San Diego

Will Howard

UC Santa Barbara

Alia Roca-Lezra

UC Santa Cruz

Serena Blacklow

UC San Francisco

Alia Roca-Lezra

Alia is a fourth-year undergraduate student at UC Santa Cruz pursuing degrees in Economics and Environmental Studies. She is curious about the intersection between these two fields and how, coupled with innovation, they might help guide a progressive future. Last year, she worked with the UCSC Blum Center on a project that analyzed students’ perceptions of “basic needs.” Its purpose is to inform decisions about on-campus basic needs services and to serve as a source of information for those interested in the topic. Alia believes that students are important social innovators and looks forward to meeting those who are as excited about creating change as she is. She enjoys cooking, exploring cities, performing improvised comedy sketches with her sister (in private), and is excited to be a part of the entrepreneurial community at the UC!

Serena Blacklow

Serena is an MD/PhD candidate at UCSF in the Bioengineering PhD Program, joint with UC Berkeley. Working in both the Desai and Javey Labs, her team is developing an intravascular sensor for continuous monitoring of patients, and the new idea, ChemCath, was a finalist in the 2019 Big Ideas Contest. She believes educating doctors and researchers about entrepreneurship is vital to improve translation of ideas from concept to standard of care in medicine. One place this is happening at UCSF is in the Pediatric Device Consortium. As an Innovation Ambassador, she hopes to help disseminate entrepreneurship resources to our future physicians and investigators and is also especially interested in bringing social awareness into the healthtech innovation space. She is a triathlete, and in her spare time she enjoys volunteering in various teaching, support, and advocacy roles.

Will Howard

A Senior Data Science and Statistics Major at the UCSB, Will is a passionate entrepreneur who strives to master business development, marketing, and strategy. His main passions lie in combining art and entertainment spaces with sustainable development. Will enjoys studying and working in UCSB’s MATlab which focuses on developing technologies such as Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. His goal is to combine these elements into interactive social spaces. This is Will’s second year as an Innovation Ambassador and will bring guiding experience to this year’s program.

Valerie Wiest

Valerie Wiest is currently a 2nd year MBA student at University of California, San Diego’s Rady School of Management. Inspired by watching her mother build and grow two businesses, Valerie launched and grew two businesses of her own. First, building a multi-million dollar environmentally-friendly construction company, then pursuing her passion by creating a fitness business that empowers women through strength training. In an effort to support other entrepreneurs, Valerie co-founded Rady’s Entrepreneurship Club. Valerie believes that everyone has the seeds of innovation and entrepreneurship inside of them and she is passionate about cultivating those seeds and supporting budding entrepreneurs in following their wildest and most passionate dreams. In her spare time, Valerie enjoys spending time with her two young boys, writing, going for long hikes and travelling.

Amy Liu

Amy is a first year medical student at UCSD. She is the founder and CEO of Partners in Life, which uses on-demand, geolocated services to help coordinate healthcare providers. Amy strongly believes in serving the underserved community and advocating for social good. In her spare time, she volunteers with the Asian Pacific Health Foundation to help spread awareness, educate, and screen for Hepatitis B/C and the UCSD Student-Run Free Clinic, serves as a board member of Women’s March San Diego (WMSD), and researches noninvasive diagnostic methods to stage liver disease, with the goal of making diagnosis more accessible and affordable to underserved populations. She also founded a student organization at UCSD called Latin Health Connections to teach future healthcare providers medical Spanish in order to decrease potential language barriers between Latinx patients and their healthcare providers. As a 3rd year Big Ideas Innovation Ambassador, she is excited to continue to connect students and their social ventures to entrepreneurial resources both on and off campus. Some of Amy’s hobbies include kickboxing, hiking, and fishing. She is also in the process of learning to how to spearfish.

William Wang

William Wang is a third year business information system major at the University of California, Riverside. Throughout his time at UC Riverside, he has held multiple leadership positions such as being the Vice President of Finance for UCR’s student government where he governed a $12,000,000 budget and serving as the President of his fraternity with over 100 members. William is also the Founder of DashBill, a finance web application startup. In his free time, William enjoys creating video content for his Youtube channel, weightlifting, and playing basketball. He looks forward to meeting other students who are ambitious and looking to elevate themselves.

Amin Boroomand

Amin is a PhD student in the quantitative and systems biology graduate program at UC Merced. He has been passionate about entrepreneurship since his undergraduate years in his hometown of Isfahan and then later in Bologna, Italy, where he completed his masters. Once a recipient of the Innovators Under 35 Award in Italy, he believes there is massive opportunity for society to train and motivate younger minds to acquire an entrepreneurial mindset, along with entrepreneurship skills. Amin enjoys working with other entrepreneurs, to help them realize their vision and execute their ideas; as such, he seeks to empower his fellow entrepreneurs, direct them to the right resources, and be a sounding board for them.

Shirley Li

Shirley is a third-year International Development Studies and Sociology major at the University of California, Los Angeles. Throughout the various organizations and projects she has worked on, Shirley is well versed in marketing and entrepreneurship. She is passionate about social good initiatives and mental health advocacy, serving on the board for the 2017 Stanford Mental Health Innovation Challenge and as an Innovation Leader at the 2018 American Psychiatric Association’s Innovation Lab. She has also worked in the incubator and accelerator space, working at Quarter Zero’s Incubators and Startup UCLA’s Summer Accelerator. As a first-generation college student, Shirley believes everyone should have an equal opportunity to receive the resources to fulfill their goals. In her free time, she enjoys to read, do yoga, and create the perfect cup of coffee.

Victoria Kuang

Victoria is a third-year Economics major at the University of California, Los Angeles. Ever since traveling to Cambodia the summer before freshman year and witnessing its socioeconomic struggles firsthand, she has been passionate about exploring business’ potential for creating positive social impact. On campus, she is involved as the Co-Founder of UCLA Impact Investing Group and External Vice President of 180 Degrees Consulting, a social impact consulting organization. After interning for the Startup UCLA Summer Accelerator, Victoria realized that she loves being surrounded by the entrepreneurial mindset, and has since performed internships at multiple startups, as well as joined Sigma Eta Pi, UCLA’s professional entrepreneurship fraternity. In her free time, Victoria enjoys photography, videography, hiking, and playing tennis.

Kyra Trinh

Kyra is a 3rd year Mathematical Finance major at the University of California, Irvine. As a product of immigration and a woman in STEM, she is an advocate for innovation through persistence and hard work. Kyra has experience leading a variety of groups, from being captain of her dance team to starting a new student group that optimizes students’ LinkedIn presences. She loves devising and implementing strategies to get others involved and is highly resourceful when finding solutions and opportunities, as she strives to help others in their ventures. Kyra currently works as a Marketing Strategist for both the UCI Blum Center for Poverty Alleviation and for an emerging podcast called Color Forward, which highlights stories of multicultural women. When she isn’t working, studying, or managing her organizations, she enjoys second-hand shopping, trying new food, and binge watching shows on Disney+ and Netflix.

Tony Corriea

Tony is an MBA Candidate at the Graduate School of Management at UC Davis. He is the CEO of Soma Loans Inc, a fintech startup and peer-to-peer lending and investment platform. Tony also has over 5 years’ experience in the banking industry, is a founder and director of the Sac-Bay Entrepreneurship and Innovation Association (EIA), and holds a Bachelor’s degree in communication and 6 Associate degrees in multiple fields. Tony has experience with various pre-seed startup competitions and connections, and—perhaps most importantly—can provide practical advice on your business idea, pitch-deck, executive summary, and general ideas on how to launch your business. Tony is there to meet you on the virtual platform of your choice any time you’d like to bounce ideas off each other. In his leisure, he enjoys reading, writing, giving back to the community, and distance running.

Karenna Rehorn

Karenna is a 5th year pursuing Biomedical Engineering and a Technological Management minor at the University of California, Davis. Through her various projects she has worked on, Karenna has developed a diverse skill set that applies to both the engineering and entrepreneurship fields. She is currently the President of the BioInnovation Group and engaged in various committees that support student led scientific research and engineering. Her entrepreneurship experience involved participating in an accelerator with an app based startup called Blu. She is very passionate about helping people get the resources they need so that they can further their own innovative ideas. She firmly believes that anyone can be an innovator with the right kind of help. While her studies and activities keep her busy, in her free time she enjoys cooking, going running, and reading.

Cheukai Makari

Cheukai is a 3rd year intended Business Administration & Global Studies double major at the University of California, Berkeley. She has a passion for social impact consulting and sustainable economic development in developing nations in Africa. Social impact innovation and entrepreneurship is an intersection of her pursuits that she has enjoyed exploring and is excited to expand on. She has been able to build on these interests with a wide array of internships and experiences, from interning for former Governor Jerry Brown to being a Mckinsey & Company Freshman Diversity Leader. She is currently the president of the Haas Undergraduate Black Business Association on campus as well as a leadership scholar. In her free time, Cheukai likes to hammock, analyze films and visit parks to lay in the sun.