Winners of the Idea Competition Fall 2021!

The LaunchPad
5 min readDec 1, 2021

This fall, the Blackstone LaunchPad Network partnered with StartupTree to run their first network-wide Ideas Competition offering students a chance to win money for their early-stage business idea. The Ideas Competition was intentionally designed as an “idea-only” application to support The Network’s overarching goal of de-risking entrepreneurship, broadening accessibility, and diversifying engagement with a focus on recruiting underrepresented and under-resourced students. This means applicants weren’t required to have a prototype, traction, or customers in order to apply. Instead, students filled out an 8-question application and selected one of the following four tracks for their idea: Social and Climate Impact, Health & Life Sciences, Consumer Products & Services, and General.

Over 1,000 students applied across the 46 LaunchPad schools in the U.S. and Ireland with 126 coming from UT Austin. After a careful application rating and review process, our local LaunchPad selected four finalists to receive $1,000 each. All four individuals will move onto the network round where they will compete for a grand prize of $10,000 nationally. The LaunchPad is excited to announce the four Longhorn teams that were selected as finalists for this competition!

Siddharth Thakur is a first-year Electrical and Computer Engineering student at UT Austin. He submitted “FireBot” under the Consumer Products and Services track. FireBot is a high-temperature thermally insulated, wirelessly controlled, obstacle-climbing tracked robot that can be deployed inside burning buildings to efficiently locate human life. FireBot mitigates physical risk for firefighters responding to an emergency and increases victims’ chances of survival. Firefighters can deploy FireBot near an entrance and remotely steer it through the building using a joystick and laptop displaying live video, thermal imagery, and sensor data, which warns of potentially hazardous situations while searching for human life in structural fires. In addition to being the sole developer for FireBot, Siddharth captained UT Austin’s first VEX robotics team and has worked on developing solutions with high-level research teams and with the U.S. Navy.

Junior chemistry major Leah Hess applied for the Ideas Competition under the Social and Climate Impact track. Leah submitted her idea for an aluminum-based nano galvanic alloy powder for powering portable electronic devices. She plans to develop a device that uses the aluminum and water reaction to produce and store H2, which then converts it into usable electricity using a mini fuel cell. Leah plans to target the hiking, camping, and backpacking communities where remote charging is necessary. According to Leah, this powder is a step towards more sustainable methods of powering electronic devices, but eventually could be used on a larger scale to power cars, buildings, and more. Leah is passionate about the environment, especially when it comes to new methods of clean energy storage and conversion. She hopes to attend grad school for Materials Science and Engineering in the future.

Miles Massidda is a Ph.D. candidate in Biomedical Engineering with a focus on tissue engineering. He submitted the “Infection Detective” under the Health and Life Science track. The Infection Detective is a product that will enable early and objective detection of postoperative surgical site infections (SSIs). Miles and his team believe that early, objective identification of surgical infections will reduce the subjective burden on patients to accurately report their symptoms and enable early intervention. His team plans to target breast cancer patients, due to the fact that these individuals encounter a serious set of clinical consequences, facing an 19% risk of SSI, compared to the 2% general surgical incidence. Furthermore, they often require the removal of breast implants after SSI diagnosis, leading to treatment setbacks and a worsened cancer prognosis. Miles’ team also includes James Clarke, a Ph.D. candidate in Physics, MBA Alumni Nicholas Schneider, CBO for the MD Anderson Department of Breast Surgical Oncology, Scott Alpard, and Dr. Cristina Checka, an Associate Professor in the Department of Breast Surgical Oncology at MD Anderson.

Sophia Xu is a fourth-year Electrical & Computer Engineering student and currently works as a Core Bluetooth intern for Apple Inc. For this competition, Sophia submitted the Phago-Finder which was the finalist for the General track. Phago-Finder is a bacteriophage solution that rapidly detects live bacteria in drinking water, without the use of lab equipment. Sophia plans to target the U.S. Military who sponsored this problem statement, as well as environmental agencies and third-world applications. Currently, when the U.S. Military is deployed around the world, they rely on shipping samples of water back to a lab facility in the U.S. and await results two to three weeks later. According to Sophia, this is an extremely time-consuming process and therefore creates a need for a more rapid detection method. Similarly, environmental agencies such as Texas Beach Watch also require faster detection methods as they also use lab facilities and expensive equipment to determine bacterial contamination for public safety. As a freshman, Sophia led the 2020 international genetic engineering competition (iGEM) team for the gold medal award. She also currently works in a research lab and has her own research grant dedicated to Phago-Finder.

Congratulations to the four finalists for the first LaunchPad Ideas Competition. We wish them the best of luck in the national round! The Ideas Competition will return in 2022.

In the meantime, if you are interested in other funding opportunities to explore entrepreneurship, The LaunchPad at UT Austin will be accepting StartUP Grant applications for Spring 2022 from December 1, 2021 — February 10, 2022.



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