In November 2014, nearly 200 teams representing over 700 students applied to the Big Ideas @ Berkeley student innovation contest with their plans and projects to improve society. 

On April 28, six of the most inspiring and promising teams will pitch their projects to a panel of distinguished judges with the aim of receiving up to $5,000 in additional seed funding. The third annual Big Ideas Grand Prize Pitch Day promises to be an exciting event, involving a wide range of issues, such as improving children’s literacy, clean water solutions, culturally based urban gardening, and cutting-edge technologies to assist physically disabled individuals.

Big Ideas features 10 categories, including a new one launched this year: Food System Innovations, open to undergraduate and graduate students from all 10 UC campuses. The Food System Innovations category, sponsored by the UC Office of the President, Berkeley Food Institute and the UC Berkeley Blum Center for Developing Economies, received 41 applications representing 125 students from nine campuses.

Throughout the 2014-15 academic year, Big Ideas teams have taken advantage of information sessions, writing workshops, judging feedback, advising hours, eight-week mentorships and other Big Ideas resources, in order to refine their ideas and transform them into projects with potential for real-world impact.

Andrew Chong, a graduate student in the School of Information, is the team lead for Responsive City Lights, one of the six teams invited to Pitch Day.

“Being part of Big Ideas at UC Berkeley has been a real boon to our project to develop a responsive system of city lights to enliven and extend the life of city streets as public spaces,” said Chong. “Our team is elated to be part of the Grand Prize Pitch Day and excited to see what other teams are working on.”

Ashley Lohmann, a first year M.B.A. student in the Haas School of Business, will pitch her team’s idea to help raise awareness about social innovations currently being developed in the Middle East. 

“For our team, Big Ideas has been invaluable to our progress," Lohmann said. "As I’m sure everyone who has started a project or a venture knows, one of the most difficult tasks is moving from idea to implementation. Big Ideas gave us that push. We’re looking forward to the opportunity to share our work and our passion, and engage with the judging panel and our fellow colleagues.”

Pitch Day, which is open to the campus community, will be held April 28, 5-8:30 p.m., in Blum Hall. There, contestants will deliver five-minute pitches followed by a question and answer sessions with the judges and audience members. There will be a welcoming reception from 5-5:30 p.m., followed by finalist pitches from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Additional networking with Bay Area industry leaders and with students will follow, while the judges decide the evening’s winners. Throughout the event, there will also be a “Big Vote,” whereby audience members can learn about all the ideas in this year’s contest and vote for their favorites. Grand Prize winners will be announced at 8:30 p.m.

2015 Pitch Day contestants

Campus and Community Impact

Responsive City Lights: Urban Streets as Public Spaces (UC Berkeley): Responsive City Lights uses interactive light installations to enhance the perception of streets as engaging public spaces. The project reduces crime by increasing foot traffic and pedestrian interaction, bringing the Internet of Things into urban spaces to help fulfill a vital social need.

BCAPI (UC Berkeley): BCAPI is developing a powerful software and hardware package that will enable technology developers and researchers to create a range of brain-computer interfacing (BCI) technologies to assist people with physical disabilities who lack control of their bodies but still control their minds.

Bahay Kubo — Gardens of Living Tradition (UC Berkeley): Bahay Kubo (“Little House”) revitalizes Filipino food and culture to promote health through the creation of a culturally based garden and culinary arts program. Bahay Kubo’s purpose is to lift up sustainable, healthy Filipino food practices that can ignite a culture shift toward good health.

Global Impact

Creating Decodable Readers in Haitian Creole (College of William & Mary): This project employs local teachers to create and teach reading materials that integrate Haiti’s mother-tongue and native culture. At its core, it is a software application that enables writers to create books for beginning readers using a systematic phonics approach.

Clean Water for Crops: As Simple as Sand and Seeds (UC Davis): This project will construct and operate a pilot-scale, slow seed-sand filtration system at UC Davis to assess the feasibility of a drinking water treatment technology, prior to building a pilot-scale system in Sololá, Guatemala, in order to adjust the system to local conditions.

Amplify Impact (UC Berkeley): Amplify Impact raises global awareness about social innovation in the Middle East by providing an online platform for nonprofits and socially minded for-profits to produce and distribute story-driven, low-cost videos. The team envisions a world where initiatives that are catalyzing opportunity, hope and positive change receive the attention they deserve.

For additional information, (510) 666-9120,