The Big Idea pitch competition provides an opportunity for students to win up to $25,000 for business, nonprofit, or social enterprise innovations. And while the competition is focused on making real startups successful, the overarching objective is learning and building experiences that create bridges of relevance to the careers and activities of students beyond life at Colorado College.
Ahead of the 2019 competition, the Big Idea Half Block course taught by Director of Innovation Dez Stone Menendez ’02 and Jake Eichengreen, director of the Quad Innovation Partnership, aimed to help students prepare for the Big Idea competition.
Last year, the total prize money was $50,000. This year, half the funding for the Big Idea prize money was devoted instead to helping students prepare for the event. The course, which took place over 10 days in January, was designed to help students with all aspects of the Big Idea competition, including aligning a proposition with a target population, developing effective, fast-paced pitches, executive summaries, and general innovation and startup processes. Eichengreen says the biggest part is learning “how to turn an idea into something actionable,” which “every single student will end up doing after graduation no matter their chosen career path.”
Lauren Weiss ’21 worked on her project called Geek Girl, which aims to interest young girls in computer science and technology, and took the Big Idea Half Block for the last two years. “Although it is difficult, my favorite part of the course is pitching in front of the class because it forces students to grow and learn from the experience,” she explains. Additionally, the course helped Weiss become more confident in entrepreneurship and pursuing her own ideas.
Deming Haines ’21 took the Big Idea Half Block in 2018, and echoes Weiss’ positivity. Haines, who designed an event-finding app called NOWZ that uses augmented reality, says the course “allowed me access to resources and time to take my idea out of my head and put it to the test in the real world.”
For the 2019 Big Idea final pitch competition, which took place February 7 in Cornerstone Arts Center’s Celeste Theatre, Momentix team members Alana Aamodt ’18 and Anna Gilbertson ’19 returned to the stage — and the winner’s podium — to take first place honors and $15,000 in seed money. This was the seventh annual Big Idea pitch competition.
Aamodt, a physics major, and Gilbertson, a physics and integrative design major, took third place last year with their open-ended toy kit that upcycles old toys to create chain-reaction machines, designed to use creative fun to transcend inequalities in STEM programs. “Momentix was just an idea last year,” says Aamodt. “This year it was more than that. It actually was more nerve-racking to present this year.”
Aamodt was fascinated by Rube Goldberg-like machines as a child, and wishes there had been something like Momentix when she was growing up. She took her first physics class as a high school senior, and notes that there are chemistry, biology, and even computer coding kits for children, but not physics kits.
The $25,000 prize money was divided between Momentix and second-place winner Advanced Water Sensing. Team members Jose Monge Castro ’20, Nick Humphrey ’19, and Jero Miranda ’18 received $10,000 in seed money for a device they designed that allows people to detect toxic metals in their water affordably, accurately, and quickly. Castro, of Guatemala City, Guatemala, is a chemistry and math major; Humphrey, of Pleasanton, California, is a biochemistry major; and Miranda, of Montevideo, Uruguay, is a chemistry major and math minor.
The other two teams competing in the final round were:
- Infinite Chemistry: Team members Prakhar Gautam ’20, Pietro Giacomin ’20, Kochi Nakajima ’20, Paul Price ’20, and Nichole Chaney ’20. Infinite Chemistry is software that changes the way students learn chemistry by allowing them to visualize and interact with 3D molecules in a virtual reality (VR) environment that lets them analyze, visualize, and create chemical reactions.
- SaFire: Team members Louie Shi ’19, Christian Kennedy ’19, and D Adams ’19. SaFire aims to listen to the needs of emerging market consumers and offer high-quality laptops at fair prices to underserved customers.
The four finalists were culled from an initial field of 15 teams. From there, 11 semifinalists were selected, and four teams moved on to the finals. Menendez noted that seven of the 11 semifinalist teams included international students and nine of the teams were mission-driven, promoting high impact solutions to real-world problems. “They were a very high-level group with important ideas. They all had really viable ideas that will help change the world in a positive way,” she says.
Judges for the 2019 competition included several CC alumni: Susan Smith Kuczmarski ’73, co-founder of Kuczmarski Innovation, the innovation consulting firm that launched the Chicago Innovation Awards in 2002; Michelle Gabrieloff-Parish ’00, energy and climate justice manager at CU-Boulder’s Environmental Center, the largest and oldest university environmental center in the country; and Jared Barnard ’06, a patent attorney who works with startup and mid-size companies to protect their intellectual property. Craig Jonas, founder and CEO of CoPeace, the public benefit corporation he founded after developing the concept of “interdependent flux,” and UB Ciminieri, chief strategic connections officer for Jobber Group, also judged pitches this year.