- Big Bang! competitors vied for $92,000 in prizes
- Each top winner gets two prizes
A team of two University of California, Davis, MBA students and a senior computer science major received the $20,000 first prize for the best innovation in the 23rd annual Big Bang! Business Competition on Tuesday (May 23).
Davis-based SchedGo’s intuitive platform leverages artificial intelligence and machine learning to create personalized, easy-to-follow degree plans for college students overwhelmed by the seemingly countless number of complex options to graduate on time.
Students at four UC campuses are already using the app, according to the SchedGo team.
Specifically, our goal is to finish our degree-planning system and offer it to 10,000 students at universities across the country by this time next year” — Akshaj Aravind Raghavi, MBA student inventor
The team also won the $10,000 People’s Choice Award, selected by online voting that was open to the public. Between the two prizes, the creators won $30,000.
$92,000 in prizes
The UC Davis Big Bang!, organized by the Mike and Renee Child Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, has been helping entrepreneurs start or grow business ventures for more than two decades through the competition, workshops, mentoring and networking opportunities. This year the Big Bang! was open to teams with a founder or team lead affiliated with a college or university in California. The prizes are funded by corporate, nonprofit and various other sponsors.
The annual awards ceremony celebrated the contestants and announced the winners of $80,000 in cash awards and in-kind prizes valued at $12,000 for innovations in food and agriculture, education, energy/sustainability, health and social enterprise.
Seventeen finalists — out of 52 qualifying teams in this year’s competition — pitched their ventures before six judges in an eight-hour marathon judging session. Judges considered the teams’ integrated strategy, steps toward implementation and market opportunity to determine prize winners.
A ChatGPT-like assistant to smooth the undergraduate journey
SchedGo founder and CEO Henry Yu experienced firsthand the challenges of creating a class schedule each quarter. A natural problem solver, he built himself a tool to make the process less onerous and more efficient.
“I had my lightbulb moment when I realized that most undergrads had similar struggles and often complained about the outdated, unintuitive class search and registration system,” he said.
The team was inspired by findings from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center that undergraduate enrollment fell nearly 6% from 2019 to 2021, with first-year enrollment dropping 13% over that period — and by a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation report noting that a major reason for dropping out is student uncertainty about a degree path.
“SchedGo makes college students’ lives easier by allowing them to focus on their academic growth and personal development. We automate and optimize the class scheduling and degree planning process, helping students save time, reduce stress and graduate on time with a degree that’s most valuable to them,” Raghavi said.
The startup will invest the prize money in product development, marketing and customer acquisition efforts, he said. “Specifically, our goal is to finish our degree planning system and offer it to 10,000 students at universities across the country by this time next year,” Raghavi said.
“In five years, we envision SchedGo as a go-to resource for college students, revolutionizing the way they manage their academic schedules and empowering them to succeed.”
Transforming agriculture in Africa, one machine at a time
As an undergraduate at Makerere University completing an internship in eastern Uganda, UC Davis biological systems engineering Ph.D. candidate Ismael Mayanja observed the laborious, time-consuming processes that smallholder farmers and maize processors used to clean harvested maize grain, with sub-optimal results.
Knowing there had to be a better, affordable alternative to screening, hand sorting and winnowing the maize, he designed a prototype for a seed cleaner that operates through a simple pedal system and requires no electricity or fuel.
BTL’s flagship product, the SUNSULA, uses rotary sieves to efficiently clean maize in seconds and produce quality grain for safe and longer storage, easy processing into other foods, and healthy consumption. It is customizable, offering smallholders in rural areas a pedal-powered mechanism with low initial and maintenance costs, and urban maize processors a motorized option, available in three sizes.
BTL took home the $10,000 Food + Agriculture Sector Award and the $10,000 Energy + Sustainability Sector Award. It will use the prize money to provide SUNSULA training and product demonstrations to smallholder farmers in remote areas of Uganda.
The team anticipates selling 100 SUNSULA over the next year. In five years BTL plans to expand its product line to include a model that can simultaneously clean seeds of different sizes in addition to maize grain.
An additional $30,000 in Big Bang! cash prizes was awarded Tuesday. Each winning team is listed with a link to the website or the video used in the competition.
- Advize, of Los Angeles: A career exploration platform where students hear firsthand from professionals about their careers in thousands of curated informational interviews. Education + Education Tools Sector Award, $10,000. Co-founder and CEO Emily McSherry: MBA student at UCLA Anderson School of Management.
- Caregiva, of Davis: A wellness app designed to holistically decrease challenges faced by the estimated caregivers, estimated at 53 million caregivers in the U.S. alone. Social Entrepreneurship Award, $10,000. Co-founder Nishi Bhagat: undergraduate student majoring in computational cognitive science at UC Davis.
- Square Solutions, of Sacramento: A portable incubator that provides researchers, clinics and pharmaceutical companies with reliable transportation for cells. Human Health + Industry Sector Award, $10,000. Co-team lead and startup president Ethan Vu: undergraduate student majoring in biomedical engineering at UC Davis.
The competition also awarded three in-kind prizes, with a combined value of $12,000.
- CEAID Tech., of Davis: Taking controlled environment agriculture to the next level through in-house chemical analysis, optimizing plant quality and yield. In-kind services at HM.CLAUSE Life Science Innovation Center in Davis, $4,000. Co-CEO Meghna De: undergraduate student double majoring in mechanical engineering and aerospace engineering at UC Davis.
- neo(connected), of Milpitas: Sustainable, energy-efficient homes and buildings driven by AI and smart-endpoints. In-kind services at Davis-based startup incubator Inventopia, $4,000. Team lead Navendu Sinha: 2022 UC Davis MBA.
- Vineyard Trove, of Napa: A data-driven online platform to change how grapes are traded. In-kind services at agriculture, food and health accelerator AgStart, $4,000. CEO Blair Feng: 2020 UC Davis graduate in viticulture and enology.