Big Ideas contest ends in popular split decision

Two student-led social-enterprise projects — one global in scope, the other hyper-local — shared first place in the 2012 Big Ideas @ Berkeley contest after the final round of judging ended in a popular, if surprising, split decision.

“The quality of all the pitches we heard today was excellent, and the Big Ideas competition clearly illustrates that Berkeley has so many students working on many different levels doing great things to solve challenging problems around the world,” said Tony Kingston, executive-in-residence at the Haas School of Business and Big Ideas panel judge.

From left: Big Ideas judges Shashi Buluswar, Virginia Rudd, Andrew Rudd and Tony Kingston deliberated long and hard before awarding the grand prize to two student projects.

Oakland natives Diana Alonso, a senior majoring in American studies and Spanish literature at Berkeley, and Tyrese Johnson, a sophomore majoring in psychology St. Mary’s College, won praise from the panel of judges for their proposal to provide youth in West Oakland with alternatives to gang life.

Their Youth Leadership Now project is designed to help at-risk youth to develop photography, research and critical-thinking skills, tapping into their potential to become agents of change in their community.

“Artistic expression can be a powerful tool for change,” said Johnson. “Hopefully, looking through the camera lens will empower these kids to see and become the change they want.”

Berkeley students Philippe DeCorwin-Martin, Austin Kwong, Xin Xin Lin and Nawal Siddiqui led the development of the other winning project proposal, titled “Assessing Hemoglobin Levels in Resource-Poor Settings.”

Approximately 2 billion people around the world suffer from anemia, which contributes significantly to infant and mother mortality rates, said Siddiqui, with more than 1 million people dying every year.

The student-led team is developing an Android-based application for mobile phones as a cheap, portable and accurate diagnostic tool to test for anemia.

Currently, it costs clinics $1 to $2 per test, according to DeCorwin-Martin, who estimated his team’s image-analysis software could cut that to about 5 cents per test.

The two teams will share $15,000 first-place prize money as joint winners of the annual student-innovation competition, beating out three other student-led projects that focused on politics and social media, building-energy management and renewable energy.

The grand-prize judging panel also included Andrew and Virginia Rudd, of the Rudd Family Foundation, and Shashi Buluswar, who was recently appointed to the Global Institute for Transformative Technologies at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Earlier, Acopio picked up the $10,000 first-place prize in the Big Ideas scaling-up category, which helps previous contest winners advance existing projects. The information technology-based, development venture aims to improve the circumstances of rural, small-hold coffee farmers and cooperatives in Latin America.

Acopio earned the $10,000 top award in this year's scaling-up category.

Led by Berkeley graduate students Ariel Chait, Paul Goodman and Iris Shimis, the team is developing cost-effective data-management tools designed to enhance the business operations of farmers, strengthen their influence and increase access to finance and markets.

Big Ideas @ Berkeley will announce the category-specific winning projects, including the People’s Choice Video Contest winner, April 23. Organizers will host an awards ceremony and reception May 1.

Related resources

At Berkeley, it’s the students who have the Big Ideas

Voting-scenario startup wins CITRIS Big Ideas prize

Student project Acopio builds information management tools for Latin American coffee producers