Brain trainer, finance course win Big Idea Competition

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Joe Schwartz

Chris Kitchen/University Photography
Neil Chand, left, and Sam Langer with their checks for winning first place in the Big Idea Competition April 28.

Two students in the College of Arts and Sciences took first place in the Big Idea Competition April 28, sponsored by Entrepreneurship at Cornell.

Sam Langer ’17, a psychology major, won first place in the for-profit category for MindShift, a business featuring a method that can help users train their minds to reach a desired state. Neil Chand ’18, a computer science major, earned the top prize in the nonprofit category for Matador Finance, an interactive course that would teach basic principles of investing.

“I was diagnosed with [Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder] when I was 8 years old and between the ages of 8 and 21, I took six pills every day,” Langer told the judges during his pitch. “About two years ago, I learned how to meditate, and I trained myself to be in the same state I was in when I was on Ritalin. That’s what gave me the idea for MindShift.”

Langer’s device would study a patient’s brain using an electroencephalogram machine and develop a custom training program using software a patient would use for 10 minutes a day.

Chand became interested in personal finance and investing when he was in middle school.

“When I told my parents and teachers that I was building an investment portfolio and contributing to a Roth IRA, they were often impressed, but I’ve realized recently that personal finance education is something that everybody should know,” he said.

Young adults have very little or no retirement savings, and very few use budgeting tools, he said.

The focus of Chand’s idea is action. By the end of the course, people should have started on a healthy route to savings. His idea would be to target high school students through schools, nonprofits and national organizations like Future Business Leaders of America.

“It’s very exciting to see the passion, commitment and motivation from these young people to change the world and try new things,” said Amy Pfannenstiel Bunszel ’89, vice president of digital engineering products for AutoDesk and a judge for the Big Idea Competition. “I don’t see much of a gap between these students and our own customers who are starting businesses.”

Big Idea finalists were chosen March 14 from a pool of 85 entries and were offered mentorship sessions and email advice from seasoned entrepreneurs on putting together their pitches. Winners of each category received $3,000 with second place awarded $1,000 and third place $500. Prizes are supported by the Vijay (M.Eng. ’75) and Sita Vashee Promising Entrepreneur Award Endowment Fund and the Donald ’83 and Allison ’84 Gulbrandsen Founder Level Endowment.

Other winners in the for-profit category were:

  • Second place: Petal, a household system to grow herbs and greens using hydroponics, Liad Hare ’18, Michael Eaton ’18, Santiago Alegria ’18 and Jaiveer Singh ’18;
  • Third place: Smart Charge, using technology to charge electronics that eliminates wasteful “trickle” charging, which happens after devices are already 100 percent charged, Michael Xiao ’20, Spencer Hong ’20, Jay Bender ’20, Donovan Flood ’20 and Emma Vedock ’20.

Other winners in the nonprofit category were:

  • Second place: MobileSchool, a system to bring education to any location in developing countries using buses that carry supply and traveling teachers, Emad Piracha ’17;
  • Third place: Lucidity, software that provides early dementia detection by having users play games, Max Rothman ’19.

Kathy Hovis is a writer for Entrepreneurship at Cornell.


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