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Big Idea Competition finalists prepare to pitch

The 11 finalists for this year’s Big Idea Competition have ideas that would help detect dementia, prevent hospital falls and educate children in developing countries.

They’re honing their three-minute pitches in preparation for the April 28 event, part of Entrepreneurship at Cornell’s two-day Celebration conference.

“The number of students who apply for the Big Idea Competition has grown to 85 this year, more than threefold since 2015,” said Peter Cortle ’11, eHub director, who credits the students of Life Changing Labs, who help run and market the event to their peers, with the increase in applications. “We’re going to see more students pursue entrepreneurship because of Big Idea’s growth.”

Emad Piracha ’17, one of the finalists, would like to help children in his home country of Pakistan, many of whom suffer because the public education system doesn’t provide adequate facilities or qualified teachers.

“There may be a building, but it might lack basic necessities like toilets, water and electricity,” he said. “And although there may be a teacher assigned, there’s very little control over whether they actually show up and offer instruction.”

Piracha’s idea for MobileSchool would hire teachers to drive buses and visit different villages each day to offer instruction. The buses would carry 10 seats that could be carried out into the open for students. They would also carry tents to keep the students cool.

“This is something I’ve always wanted to do,” said Piracha, who lived in Pakistan until the age of 14 but attended private school. “This would provide a good starting point for students, maybe good enough for them to consider a private education or apply for one of the country’s magnet schools.”

Piracha will compete in the nonprofit category of the Big Idea Competition, which offers $3,000 for first place, $1,000 for second place and $500 for third place. The same prize money applies to the for-profit category of the competition. The prizes are supported by the Vijay, M.Eng. ’75, and Sita Vashee Promising Entrepreneur Award Endowment Fund. The nonprofit category focuses on business ideas that would be appropriate for a nonprofit enterprise to eventually run. The for-profit category focuses on all other types of business ideas.

The idea that George Danias ’17 will pitch would help hospitals prevent patient falls, which total between 700,000 to 1 million each year, he said.

The problem of patient falls is close to Danias’ heart – his grandfather died as a result of a fall. Danias and his partner, Michael Solomentsev ’19, are on the Engineering World Health project team in the College of Engineering, which works on medical devices for the developing world.

Their idea, LandSafe, is an airbag system that fits underneath a hospital bed and is deployed when a wearable sensor on the patient senses an imminent fall.

Many hospitals and nursing homes realize the costs associated with falls, but there are few devices to prevent them, Danias said. Educational campaigns can help prevent some falls, but Danias’ research has shown that almost two-thirds of falls aren’t preventable and one-third of those happen as patients are getting into or out of their beds.

The finals of the Big Idea competition are open to the public and take place from 4:30-6 p.m., April 28 at eHub Collegetown, 409 College Ave.

Kathy Hovis is a writer for Entrepreneurship at Cornell.

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