UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – On April 3, five interdisciplinary teams of students participated in the final pitches round of the IdeaMakers Challenge. Hosted by the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) during Penn State Startup Week, the challenge tasked student teams representing two or more majors to pitch an idea that aims to solve a problem using information technology.
The winning idea came from team B.A.S.E., which stands for Beyond Average Sex Education. Team members Maddie Katz, biobehavioral health, and Tara Bunce, advertising, new media art, pitched the concept of a module-based sexual education platform filled with medically accurate and professionally recommended information for teenagers and young adults.
“The issue at hand is that 26 states do not require sexual education [in schools],” the team said in their presentation. “Sex ed in America lacks consistency, effectiveness and thoroughness. Because of this, kids and teens are turning to sources like their friends or the internet, and are being provided with wrong or even harmful information.”
For their first-place win, the team earned a trip to New York City in May to attend the Wall Street Journal Future of Everything festival.
“The IdeaMakers Challenge celebrates entrepreneurship and innovation and thinking through early stage business models,” said Alison Murphy, assistant teaching professor in the College of IST and faculty mentor in the challenge. , “The unique aspect of this challenge is that information technology has to be a core component of the solution itself. But it’s not just about the technology; it’s about the business piece, as well.”
Each team identified a specific problem, and then brought together their expertise from their respective areas to develop a solution. As an early-stage entrepreneurial challenge, teams can focus on the big idea rather than presenting a specific business plan for a proposed solution.
“This challenge is such an incredible opportunity to get involved in, but a lot of students don’t realize that even if they don’t have a big business plan or marketing idea that they can still do it,” said Katz. “Our idea started off as friends who were chatting, just girl talk. We realized we don’t know everything about our own bodies, and that’s a problem. So here we are.”
Penn State alumni Elizabeth King, 1979, managing partner of Elizabeth M. King Consulting, LLC, and former vice president of global human resources solutions and services for Starbucks; and Jared Yarnall-Schane, founder of Jarnall Consulting, former program director of Thought for Food, and co-founder of Green Towers, LLC; served as the judges.
“Entrepreneurship is so critical to our country and job creation and improving social situations,” said King. “It’s such a practical exercise. I hope that all these students will take the ideas that they put forward and do something with them.”
The challenge kicked off in March with 14 teams submitting applications. That pool was narrowed to 10 teams, who participated in a series of workshops to meet with experts, learn about prototyping, and learn about rocket pitches. Then, in the semi-final round, faculty members with entrepreneurial expertise selected the top five teams to move on to the final round.
In addition to the winning team, other finalists included:
- Chirp Alert (2nd place), a community-based security alert system for villages in rural Africa. Team members include Mitchell Adler, aerospace engineering, Andrew Przyjemski, engineering, Isabell Hens, architectural engineering, Alexander Troy, mechanical engineering, and Angelique Santiago, political science, communications.
- Ag Assist (3rd place), an automated and smart farming machine that can help farmers better care for their crops. Team members include Pierre Franklin, electrical engineering, Deeksha Vishneek, industrial engineering, Likhith Gowkanapalli, mechanical engineering, Ayokanmi Aloko, mechanical engineering, and Kabir Kholi, mathematics. The team also won the Dave Hall Award, given to the team that best exemplifies collaboration and innovation. The award is named for the late dean of the College of IST, who was instrumental in developing Startup Week and the IdeaMakers Challenge.
- AOIDA (Artificial Intelligence On-Demand Advising), the use of artificial intelligence and sentiment analysis to improve how students find answers to advising questions. Team members include Nitya Govind, information sciences and technology, Rommel Silva, information sciences and technology, Mukesh Knadamaran, information sciences and technology, Austin Gongora, data sciences, and Marshall Malino, data sciences.
- Maverick Supply Chain Management System (SCMS), a unified platform for tracking medical supplies down to the individual item. Team members include Joel Seidel, information sciences and technology, economics, and Devanshi Agnihotri, health policy administration.