Inventors land “BigBang” prizes at UC Davis

Published: Friday, May. 23, 2014 - 7:27 pm

From a ventilator device to prevent infection in chronically ill hospital patients to tools for helping African farmers, this year’s winners of the BigBang! competition at UC Davis were all over the map.

Altogether, the competing teams of aspiring entrepreneurs were awarded $28,000 on Thursday night at the 14th annual competition, aimed at helping get ideas from academia into the real-world market.

The top prize of $10,000 went to Benjamin Wang, a 2005 UCD graduate in biochemistry and molecular biology, who developed an improved ventilator device that he says can reduce the “risk of nasty infections.” Wang launched his startup company, Nevap Inc., shortly after graduating from medical school in 2011. He’s now working full time to acquire seed money for manufacturing and to seek Food and Drug Administration approval of his patented device.

More than the prize money, Wang, 31, said, he values “the support of other people believing in your ideas.”

The BigBang’s second-place prize of $5,000 went to Ambercycle Inc., which is developing a system for degrading plastics so they are cheaper and easier to recycle. And $2,500 went to Zasaka, which has launched year-round agricultural services to African farmers in Zambia and Malawi to help boost crop productivity and get their goods to market.

The 66 teams competing this year set a record, double the number from last year, according to UC Davis. But the quality of entrants was more impressive than the quantity, said Cleveland Justis, executive director of the UC Davis Child Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which sponsors the annual competition. “We were incredibly pleased. … Our judges said it was by far the best group of entrants in the BigBang’s 14 years.”

Justis attributed the increased interest to “the Sacramento-Davis region becoming known for its entrepreneurship,” especially among startups and the investment community.

Another $10,500 in prize money was awarded to the best startup teams in varying categories, including: Adrastia Biotech, a biotech pharmaceutical startup developing a test for the early detection of breast cancer; Archer, a software company creating a 3-D, gesture-controlled system for smart TVs; and GuardN, a so-called “smart” sprinkler system.

The BigBang competition is a nine-month program, running from late September through May, in which teams meet at least monthly for mentoring by professionals from law, accounting, venture capital and other fields.

The BigBang judges are Sacramento and Bay Area investors, industry executives and veteran entrepreneurs, with the prize money provided by 15 corporate sponsors, primarily regional businesses that support entrepreneurship, said Justis. For details on the competition: http://gsm.ucdavis.edu/big-bang-business-competition.


Call The Bee’s Claudia Buck, (916) 321-1968. Read her Personal Finance columns at sacbee.com/claudiabuck.

Read more articles by Claudia Buck





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