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.
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 is the Founding Manager of the Health Technology CoLab and the Program Manager for the Big Ideas Contest. She recently graduated UC Davis in June of 2021 with a bachelors in Biomedical Engineering and a minor in Technological Management. At UC Davis, she led the BioInnovation Group, a student-led research group, and launched several programs providing resources for students to begin or advance their scientific career. In her spare time, you can find her exploring new restaurants, hiking, or trying out a new recipe.
Vardaan is a second year student at UC Berkeley double majoring in IEOR and Engineering Math & Statistics with minors in EECS and Data Science. His areas of interest are financial technological innovation, social entrepreneurship, and mathematical modeling. Vardaan himself was a finalist in the Big Ideas Contest! Besides his curricular interests, Vardaan is an avid adrenaline junkie and sports enthusiast; scuba diving, long-distance running, motorsports, badminton, and football (soccer) are all his alley.
Austin is a junior from Indonesia studying Computer Science and Economics. His interests range from full stack development to AI and data engineering. In his free time, he enjoys playing the electric guitar, playing basketball, and traveling to new places.
Pranav is a fourth year student at UC Berkeley majoring in Economics with minors in Data Science and Global Poverty & Practice. His areas of interest are economics research, nonprofit consulting and development work. Outside of Big Ideas, Pranav is a member of 2 campus clubs, Project RISHI and The Berkeley Group. For fun, Pranav loves to watch and play soccer, drink dirty chais, listen to Indian Music, and watch movies from around the world.
Lily is a third-year transfer student at UC Berkeley majoring in Urban Studies and planning to minor in Journalism. Her areas of interest are community relations and development, particularly utilizing communication tools like social media for community outreach. In her free time, Lily enjoys wheel-thrown pottery, listening to podcasts and music, and baking
Zehra Jafri is a third-year JD candidate in intellectual property law at University of California, Hastings College of the Law. Zehra graduated with a B.S. in Human Biology, Health, and Society from Cornell University in 2019. She is an innovation ambassador for both UC Hastings Law and UCSF. At UC Hastings, she led Belonging, which was a 2020-2021 Big Ideas award winner. Zehra will be an incoming associate attorney at the global law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius in Silicon Valley, where she deals with patent, trademark, trade secret, and copyright disputes. Her clients range from startups to large corporations.
In her spare time, you can find her creating healthy fusion recipes, indulging in her love for graphic design by making ads and voiceovers for Amazon vendors, or playing basketball. She is very excited to introduce more graduate students to Big Ideas and inspire those without a business background to innovate and foster an innate entrepreneurial spirit.
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!
Ankita Ahluwalia is a second-year major in Computer Science with Business Applications at the University of California, Riverside. She is the Founder and Executive Director of POWAN Initiative, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that advocates for equitable education through a variety of free e-learning solutions. She is an Innovation Ambassador for UC Riverside. She tutors students in rigorous subjects, spearheads meetings where she collaborates with other innovative minds, and communicates with teachers and organizations to ensure K-12 students’ success. She has extensive experience in marketing, fundraising, and leading teams to accomplish deliverables. Additionally, she participates in various hackathons and works alongside entrepreneurs in two other startups as well.
In her spare time, she enjoys creating new recipes, watching “Shark Tank”, playing with her Shih-Tzu puppy, and reading mystery novels. She is greatly looking forward to inspiring more undergraduates to follow their big ideas to become social entrepreneurs.
Andy Li is the founding member of Aggie Ventures, a venture capital investment club on the UC Davis campus that he co-founded with his colleagues to provide a streamlined network to connect on-campus startups with local and Silicon Valley investors. He is currently serving as an Innovation Ambassador for UC Davis. Andy is a senior majoring in managerial economics and minoring in accounting and technology management. At UC Davis, Andy is involved with various organizations, including student government (ASUCD), where he serves as Chief of Staff to the Office of the External Affairs Vice President, and also sits on the Business and Finance Commission as well as the UCSA Finance and Capital Strategies Committee. He’s also a member of the Student Startup Center, the Blackstone Launchpad program, and the Mike and Renee Child Institute of Innovation. In his spare time, Andy enjoys hiking, cycling, kayaking, martial arts, tennis, golfing, going to the cinemas, reading thrillers, and traveling to far-flung places.