Founded in 2000 by MBA students at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management, the Big Bang! is today run by the UC Davis Child Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship —and is the largest annual business competition in the Sacramento region. In addition to the business competition, the Big Bang! offers a comprehensive series of workshops for building entrepreneurial skills.
The Big Bang! provides a year-round forum for new and early-stage startups to collaborate, develop and test business ideas. Resources include team creation, education, mentorship, networking and financing. This year, the competition awarded more than $60,000 in prize money, including the $3,000 Poverty Alleviation Award sponsored by the UC Davis Blum Center for Developing Economies.
More than 100 aspiring and early-stage entrepreneurs—students, faculty, researchers and staff from the UC Davis campus and beyond—joined with Davis and Sacramento area business leaders, entrepreneurs and investors at the 15th annual UC Davis Big Bang! Business Competition Kickoff last October. They exchanged ideas and information, emails and phone numbers—a first step in networking and connecting to move their business idea out into the world. They also heard from Matt Flannery, cofounder of Kiva.org and founder of Branch International, about the transformative power of entrepreneurship.
Forty-two teams registered for the 2015/16 year’s competition, and pursued a range of ventures that reflect the diversity of innovation across the UC Davis campus as well as its commitment to new ideas. About a quarter were health related, another quarter were food and agriculture related. A number of other teams focused on developing lifestyle/social apps; some created clean/green innovations; several fell into less-easily categorized innovations.
“It’s amazing to see how far our teams can go,” said Professor Andrew Hargadon, founder and faculty director of the Child Family Institute. “In October, many of their ideas are just that: ideas. By May, with a ton of hard work, support and mentorship, many of these ideas are ready for prime-time as companies, licensed technologies or nonprofits.” Program Coordinator Amber Harris agrees.
“It’s exciting to see the teams grow and refine their ideas throughout the Big Bang! process. It’s especially rewarding when a team applies the skills honed in the competition to successfully launch a company and solve a problem using their innovation. We often hear from participants and mentors that the relationships fostered in the Big Bang! are mutually rewarding and continue even after the competition. We help teams build their networks in addition to their business skills.”
This year’s competition awarded prizes sponsored by Davis Roots, as well as a Syngas Challenge Award, a UC Davis Biomedical Innovation Award, the Gary Simon CleanTech Award and more. For the third consecutive year, teams vied for a $3,000 Poverty Alleviation Award, sponsored by the UC Davis Blum Center for Developing Economies and given to the team with a high-quality solution for improving the lives of people in poverty in the developing and/or developed world.
Last year, through the Poverty Alleviation Award, the Blum Center sponsored Vision Vanguard, which used the award to expand its innovation - the VisionFinder - into a viable venture. The VisionFinder is a portable, durable, and cost-effective device that diagnoses the vast majority of vision deficiencies common in developing nations. The team of engineering students developed the device as their senior project.
“Big Bang! felt more like a bootcamp than a competition,” said Natalya Shelby. “We were undergraduates who met lawyers, investors and business advisors who gave invaluable advice and support.” In 2014, integrative pathobiology doctoral student Angela Courtney won the Blum Center’s Big Ideas Promoting Social Change Award for her innovation: a simple urine test that would allow women to detect breast cancer earlier and without the risks and cost of mammograms.
Together with UC Davis alumnus Michael Gilson, a seasoned business professional who served as her mentor during the Big Bang!, Courtney subsequently founded Adrastia Biotech to develop a commercial platform for her innovation.
“I wouldn’t say that I have always
thought of myself as an entrepreneur,
but I have always considered myself a
problem solver,” says Adrastia co-founder
Angela Courtney, who recently received her
Ph.D. in Integrative Pathobiology from UC
Davis. “For me, it is a way of navigating life
based on a simple equation.”
“The goal is not to replace mammography, but to provide an inexpensive method without the risks of radiation that can be used more regularly to detect breast cancer in the early stages,” says Gilson. “I wouldn’t say that I have always thought of myself as an entrepreneur, but I have always considered myself a problem solver,” says Adrastia co-founder Angela Courtney, who recently received her Ph.D. in Integrative Pathobiology from UC Davis. “For me, it is a way of navigating life based on a simple equation.”
Adrastia is designing their test to be used as part of routine screenings in physicians’ offices, women’s health centers and even remote villages around the world.
The 2016 Big Bang! Business Competition Final Presentations and Awards Ceremony took place on Thursday, May 26, at the Walter A. Buehler Alumni Center. The competition’s top finalists pitched their ventures before a panel of judges—and presented awards.
Just as the Blum Center has partnered with the Big Bang! Competition to sponsor the best projects to become real world solutions, other campus organizations and centers can also join us in supporting this new generation of innovators.
To learn more about the Big Bang!, including how to become a sponsor or competitor, to learn about workshops this spring, and to read news about the 2016/17 competition, visit http://gsm.ucdavis.edu/program-detail/big-bang-businesscompetition.