I2S: Improving the human condition

Photo courtesy of Zach Porter

Last week saw Tech students assemble to demonstrate the qualities the university prides itself on most: creativity and technical skill used to tackle pressing, real world problems. The event was Ideas 2 Serve, a vehicle for showcasing students’ innovative approaches to a wide variety of development issues ranging from problems in health to agriculture to transportation.

Attendants were able to walk among posters demonstrating the students’ proposed solutions and ask them questions about their ideas. The result was a lively, optimistic atmosphere characterized by an insistence that here, indeed, was an idea that could do good in the world.

After the entrants showed their posters and delivered sixty second elevator pitches atop a flight of stairs, the event’s judges awarded money to groups they thought particularly likely to make an impact. Two awards went to the ideas track, which are plans earlier in the stage of development, and one award went to the advanced track, which are ideas closer to being implemented.

The winner for the ideas track was Smile Bright, a group led by Neha Sinha, third-year ME major, and including members Nadine Marfurt and Rehman Pirani, both third-year BA majors, Somya Tirath and Anthony Jones, both third-year CompE majors, and Laura O’Connell, second-year CE major. The group’s goal is to design an alternative toothbrush for those with special needs.

As Sinha explained, “traditional toothbrushing instruments are not designed for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” so the group worked to design an alternative that they can use “both independently and effectively.” The group even did market research to pick the best components for the toothbrush. The product is currently in the design phase and a prototype will be built soon.

“We were told to make a product that would make peoples’ lives better,” Sinha said.

The winner for the advanced track was Vayando, represented by BA graduate student Joshua Wine, who co-founded Vayando with Peace Corps veterans Scott Wilhelm and Jason Seagle.

Wine said, “Vayando is an on-line marketplace that connects travelers with micro-entrepreneurs in emerging economies.”

He explained that there is a significant demand in tourism for immersive experiences. In developing countries, however, many of the people who might best be able to provide those experiences do not have access to the Internet and, therefore, cannot advertise their services.

Vayando seeks to bridge that gap by connecting with these people through collaborating organizations such as the Peace Corps, providing micro-entrepreneurs a helpful extra source of much-needed income. With some developing countries such as Rwanda deriving half of their GDP from tourism, this invention would help those countries continue to earn a profit from the tourism

The ideas track runner-up was Living Local, who tackled the problem of agricultural transport. The two group members, Alexander Weiss, a fourth-year BME major, and Ruwan Subasinghe, a fourth-year ME major, wanted to address the fact that Americans throw away more produce than they actually eat.

They designed a base on which plants can be grown hydroponically, which also function as a means of transport for the plants to save on refrigeration and cut down on the amount of produce that has to be thrown out due to federal regulations.

The event also featured a people’s choice award in which the attendants chose the winner. The winner was Veni Vidi Vici Academy, composed of first-year AE major Mihir Kurande, Kai Ouyang, and Lillian Ko.

This group was working on developing an online learning space where students can create questions for each other to answer to create a more collaborative, interdependent atmosphere.

With the help of the award money, the winning groups hope to go out and fulfill their goal of improving the human condition though entrepreneurial endeavors.