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

Program Manager

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.

Ally Mintzer

Marketing & Operations Coordinator

Spencer Hamilton

Web Developer

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.

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.

Brandon Chan

Marketing & Operations Coordinator

Brandon Chan is a 3rd year Economics Major with a minor in Data Science at UC Berkeley. He is passionate about helping others break into entrepreneurship through his role as Co-President of Entrepreneurs@Berkeley, an organization aiming to turn students into entrepreneurs. Some industries that he is interested in are Edtech, SAAS, and AR/VR. In his free time, Brandon enjoys working out, playing basketball, and golfing. 

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

Andy Li

UC Davis

Zehra Jafri

UC Hastings

Kyra Trinh

UC Irvine

Paolo Shamoon

UC Los Angeles

Ankita Ahluwalia

UC Riverside

Marina Akhavein

UC Santa Barbara

Zehra Jafri

(508) 801- 3297

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.

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.

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.

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.

Kyra Trinh

Kyra Trinh is a 4th year Mathematics major with a concentration in Finance and a minor in Management. She fosters a passion for social impact through her various positions in pro-bono consulting, volunteer teaching experience, and her work at UC Irvine’s Blum Center for Poverty Alleviation. As a returning Innovation Ambassador, her goal is to get more STEM students involved in social entrepreneurship through Big Ideas. In her free time, she enjoys learning and creating dance choreographies, exploring bookstores, and taking walks around campus.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Paolo Shamoon

(310) 985-1855
Paolo Shamoon is a junior at UCLA studying Political Science and Film. His love for entrepreneurship began in high school where his first idea for a philanthropic app “LinkUp” was born. At UCLA, Paolo works closely with student-founders as President of Bruin Entrepreneurs. Previously, he was the managing director of Startup Labs, a student-run accelerator program for early-stage startups. Currently, Paolo and his friend Kalvin are working on a startup called Tradeup which went through the Techstars x Blackstone fellowship and Startup UCLA summer accelerator. When not focusing on entrepreneurship, he enjoys reading, learning new languages, and playing Tetris. As an Innovations Ambassador, Paolo wants to help provide both new and established student entrepreneurs with the resources they need in order to succeed with their Big Idea.

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.

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.

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.

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!

Ankita Ahluwalia

(714) 862-4116

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

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.

Marina Akhavein

 (415) 215-8323

Marina Akhavein is a creative entrepreneur majoring in Biopsychology with a minor in Technology Management. Most recently, she was a finalist with her team in UCSB’s New Venture Competition and was accepted into Berkeley Skydeck’s Hotdesk Incubator. An active member of the Santa Barbara startup community, Marina shares innovative resources, collaborative opportunities, and networking events through her weekly startup digest. Her goal is to bring value to mission-driven startups with her strategic intuition and creative talents in graphic design and video editing. Currently, she is the Brand Director at Ditto, an invite-only app for spontaneous hangs. As an Innovation Ambassador, Marina will provide resources and guidance for UCSB entrepreneurs wanting to take their idea to the next step.

Cheukai Makari

Cheukai is a 4th year Business Administration & Global Studies double major. She has a passion for social impact consulting and sustainable economic development in West Africa. Social impact innovation and entrepreneurship is an intersection of her pursuits that she has enjoyed exploring and is excited to expand on as she returns to her 3rd year as Big Ideas Innovation Ambassador! She continues to diversify her expertise in development economics through wide array of internships and experiences, from her time as a Global Networks Intern for the Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA) to interning as a Global Research Analyst at Goldman Sachs. She is currently serving as the Senior Advisor of the Haas Undergraduate Black Business Association on campus as well as a Leadership Scholar. In her free time, Cheukai likes to hammock, sit in nature with friends, practice yoga, and travel any chance she gets!