Momentix team members Alana Aamodt ’18 and Anna Gilbertson ’19 returned to the stage — and the winner’s podium — at Colorado College’s Big Idea competition this year to take first place honors and $15,000 in seed money. The seventh annual Big Idea competition was held Thursday, Feb. 7, in the Celeste Theatre in the Cornerstone Arts Center.
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.”
“We knew we were going to do this regardless of whether we won this year or not,” says Gilbertson. “We knew our direction no matter what happened.”
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 competition provides an opportunity for students to win up to $25,000 in seed money for business, non-profit, or social enterprise innovations.This year, instead of the $50,000 that was available in the past, half the funding is being used to create programming related to the Big Idea that will increase access and allow more students the opportunity to benefit from the competition, says Dez Stone Menendez ’02, director of Innovation at CC.
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.
Many of the teams competing this year participated in a Half Block course taught by Menendez and Jake Eichengreen, director of the Quad Innovation Project. The course was geared toward helping students prepare for and compete in the competition, and included topics such as aligning a proposition with a target population, developing effective pitches and crafting executive summaries.
This was the second time that Susan Smith Kuczmarski ’73, co-founder Kuczmarski Innovation, served as a judge for the final competition. “Judging was extremely difficult,” she says. “There was a variety of projects, and they were all very different. The caliber of pitches was phenomenal; really remarkable in terms of poise, relaxation, style, and color in their presentation. All the teams were excellent.”
First-time judge Michelle Gabrieloff-Parish ’00, energy and climate justice manager at CU Boulder and the founder of the Eco-Social Justice Leadership Program, says each of the four teams made powerful presentations. “They all have really viable businesses that can take off. It does not seem like these are fulltime college students who are putting this together. It seems like they are entrepreneurs ready to launch a business. Period.”
The seven other teams that made it to the semifinal round are:
- eduEats: Team members Lili Uchida ’20, Hugh Alessi ’20, Georgie Nahass ’20, Patrick Ende ’20, Max Pil ’20, and Margot Flynn ’20. eduEats aims to provide a streamlined service for college students to obtain food in a community-focused and convenient manner.
- Aribba: Team members Eyner Roman ’19, Noah Smith ’20, and Oliver Jones ’20. Arriba’s mission is to make higher education accessible to all students in Peru.
- In Real Life (IRL): Team members Sawyer Freeman ’20 and Kage Guenther ’21. IRL is an app that tackles the problems of social isolation through psych-informed match-making.
- Cuddlefish: Team members Bryce Riffenburgh-Kirby ’19 and Aaron Riffenburgh-Kirby (student at UC Berkeley). Cuddlefish uses technology to bring cutting-edge sleep therapies to insomniacs for a fraction of current prices.
- Pickr: Team members Lilly Chen ’19 and Tan Chen (Lilly’s older brother). Pickr is an algorithm that solves difficulties with meal planning, addressing inefficiencies in preference, time and budget.
- Lobti Fri: Team members Chaline Lobti ’19 and David Trevithick ’17. Lobti Fri aims to ensure that youths in developing countries, primarily girls, complete at least a secondary level education.
- Geek Girl: Team members Lauren Weiss ’21 and Melissa LaFehr ’20. Geek Girl seeks to expose girls to computer science early and support them often.
While the Big Idea 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. Eichengreen notes that the main objective is learning “how to turn an idea into something actionable,” something every student will do after graduation, regardless of their career path.