three young men showing their startup's website on a laptop
UC Davis computer science major Henry Yu (center) and MBA students Dillon Hill (left) and Akshaj Aravind Raghavi won the $20,000 top prize and the $10,000 People’s Choice Award in the 2023 Big Bang! Business Competition. SchedGo has created a platform to help college students navigate the path to graduation with greater efficiency and less stress. (Jose Luis Villegas/UC Davis)

Automated Degree-Planning Tool Wins Top Prize in Annual UC Davis Business Competition

Device to Improve Post-Harvest Maize Yields in Africa Takes Home 2 Prizes Totaling $20,000

A team of two University of California, Davis, MBA students and a senior computer science major received the $20,000 first prize for the best innovation in the 23rd annual Big Bang! Business Competition on May 23. The award's lead sponsor is business leader Lorin Johnson; DLA Piper is co-sponsor.

Davis-based SchedGo’s intuitive platform leverages artificial intelligence and machine learning to create personalized, easy-to-follow degree plans for college students overwhelmed by the seemingly countless number of complex options to graduate on time. Currently, approximately 2,000 students at four University of California campuses use the web-based app.

The team also won the $10,000 People’s Choice Award, selected by online voting that was open to the public. The award is co-sponsored by Bow Capital and UC Davis Venture Catalyst.

$92,000 in prizes

The UC Davis Big Bang!, organized by the Mike and Renee Child Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, has been helping entrepreneurs start or grow business ventures for more than two decades through the competition, workshops, mentoring and networking opportunities. This year the Big Bang! was open to teams with a founder or team lead affiliated with a college or university in California. The prizes are funded by corporate, nonprofit and various other sponsors.

The annual awards ceremony celebrated the contestants and announced the winners of $80,000 in cash awards and in-kind prizes valued at $12,000 for innovations in food and agriculture, education, energy/sustainability, health and social enterprise. 

Seventeen finalists — out of 52 qualifying teams in this year’s competition — pitched their ventures before six judges in an eight-hour marathon judging session. Judges considered the teams’ integrated strategy, steps toward implementation and market opportunity to determine prize winners. 

A ChatGPT-like assistant to smooth the undergraduate journey

SchedGo founder and CEO Henry Yu experienced first-hand the challenges of creating a class schedule each quarter. A natural problem solver, in 2019 he built himself a tool to make the process less onerous and more efficient.

“I had my lightbulb moment when I realized that most undergrads had similar struggles and often complained about the outdated, unintuitive class search and registration system,” he said.

Yu assembled a team of fellow undergraduate students to together develop his original scheduling tool into the SchedGo degree-planning platform. He joined forces with graduate business students Dillon Hill and Akshaj Aravind Raghavi, and the startup’s Big Bang! team was born.

The team was inspired by findings from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center that undergraduate enrollment fell nearly 6% from 2019 to 2021, with first-year enrollment dropping 13% over that period — and by a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation report noting that a major reason for dropping out is student uncertainty about a degree path.


“SchedGo makes college students' lives easier by allowing them to focus on their academic growth and personal development," Raghavi, SchedGo's chief financial officer, said. "We automate and optimize the class scheduling and degree planning process, helping students save time, reduce stress and graduate on time with a degree that’s most valuable to them.”

The startup will invest the prize money in product development, marketing and customer acquisition efforts. “Specifically, our goal is to finish our degree planning system and offer it to 10,000 students at universities across the country by this time next year,” Raghavi said.

“In five years, we envision SchedGo as a go-to resource for college students, revolutionizing the way they manage their academic schedules and empowering them to succeed.”

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Badaye Technologies Ltd., co-founded by UC Davis biological systems engineering Ph.D. candidate Ismael Mayanja, took home two awards totaling $20,000 in prize money for a customizable device that uses rotary sieves to efficiently and effectively clean post-harvest maize in Africa. (Jose Luis Villegas/UC Davis)

Transforming agriculture in Africa, one machine at a time

As an undergraduate at Makerere University completing an internship in eastern Uganda, UC Davis biological systems engineering Ph.D. candidate Ismael Mayanja observed the laborious, time-consuming processes that smallholder farmers and maize processors used to clean harvested maize grain, with sub-optimal results.

Knowing there had to be a better, affordable alternative to screening, hand sorting and winnowing the maize, he designed a prototype for a seed cleaner that operates through a simple pedal system and requires no electricity or fuel.

Today Mayanja and Isaac Oluk, a doctoral student in environmental engineering at the University of Kentucky, are co-founders of fabrication company Badaye Technologies Ltd. (BTL), based in Kampala, Uganda.

Our vision is to develop innovative solutions that address the unique challenges faced by farmers and processors in Uganda and beyond.

BTL’s flagship product, the SUNSULA, uses rotary sieves to efficiently clean maize in seconds and produce quality grain for safe and longer storage, easy processing into other foods, and healthy consumption. It is customizable, offering smallholders in rural areas a pedal-powered mechanism with low initial and maintenance costs, and urban maize processors a motorized option, available in three sizes.

BTL took home the $10,000 Food + Agriculture Sector Award—primary sponsor: HM.CLAUSE; supporting sponsor: UC Davis Innovation Institute for Food and Healthand the $10,000 Energy + Sustainability Sector Award, primary sponsor: SMUD and supporting sponsor Reza Bayati MD. The startup will use the prize money to provide SUNSULA training and product demonstrations to smallholder farmers in remote areas of Uganda.

The team anticipates selling 100 SUNSULA over the next year. In five years BTL plans to expand its product line to include a model that can simultaneously clean seeds of different sizes in addition to maize grain.

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Advize, co-founded by UCLA MBA student Emily McSherry, helps students discover their professional potential by learning from the career journeys of thousands of qualified professionals. The venture took home a $10,000 award. (Jose Luis Villegas/UC Davis)

Democratizing career information

Los Angeles–based Advize co-founders had each experienced difficulties and frustrations finding the right career after college.

Emily McSherry, the venture’s CEO, came from a small town in Texas, knew she wanted to get into business, but had no network to help get her there. CRO Shayne Walton was certain she wanted to change the world after college but had bad luck reaching out cold for informational interviews. COO Liz Conn was a classics major who didn’t want to go into academia but had no idea how her major could translate into a tangible career. 

The UCLA Anderson School of Management MBA students decided to create a better way.

Advize will make the world a better place by democratizing career information so that everyone can discover their professional potential. 

“Most students rely heavily on their personal or family network or limited career center resources to learn about different career possibilities,” said McSherry. “This is inherently an inequitable system and does not lead students to the right careers for them, resulting in early talent leaving their jobs within one to three years—wasting their time and costing employers between $60,000 and $200,000 to replace that talent.”

Advize giving students online access to thousands of professionals through a video library, allowing them to hear about different career paths and see themselves represented in these professions.

Advize won the $10,000 Education + Education Tools Sector Award, sponsored by PowerSchool, and will invest the money in its technology, specifically to create a career content matching algorithm, so that students can receive suggested videos for industries or roles that they might not have thought of or even known about.

“We have an exciting summer ahead of us! Our goal is to reach 1,000 Advizers by September, so we’re ramping up to hire our class of student interns, who will help us record interviews while also getting to learn firsthand from the Advizers. 

“Our goal is to launch five college career centers this fall and have 13,000 videos, and 25,000 student users on the platform by the end of the 2023/24 school year. With the algorithm in place, we are confident that student users will be even more engaged and feel more directed in their career path,” said McSherry.

By 2026, Advize plans to have 39,000 videos and 360,000 users on the platform; by 2028 the startup projects over 1.5M users on the platform, fundamentally changing how people find careers and ultimately discover their professional potential.

headshot of an undergraduate student holding up a cell phone opened to her app
Caregiva's app offers caregivers critical resources—and helps stave off isolation by building community.

Solving caregiver challenges through technology

The Family Caregiver Alliance reports that up to 70% of caregivers are vulnerable to symptoms of depression, yet the challenges of caregiving are often unnoticed. Furthermore, caregiving can be an incredibly isolating experience that is further complicated by cultural nuances, leaving caregivers without the proper resources or support.

UC Davis undergraduates Nishi Bhagat, a computational cognitive science major, and neuroscience cognitive science major Nikhita Toleti founded Davis-based Caregiva to help alleviate these challenges and create a brighter tomorrow for caregivers.

Bhagat was a research assistant for the Diversity and Disparity Lab at UC Davis, where she studied caregiver cognitive decline in the context of isolation and burnout when caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Her work taught her the nuances of cultural caregiving and how social contexts dictate the unique nature of each caregiving role.

Toleti experienced the challenges of caregiving first hand. When her brother was diagnosed with autism, it was hard initially to find resources, let alone a community. As his symptoms deepened, it was increasingly difficult to find specialists to treat them. Toleti volunteered at a school for disabled students and saw other families struggle with the same problems.

“Caregiva aims to lessen the caregiving burden and be the go-to resource that everyone invested in the care recipient’s wellbeing can turn to,” said Bhagat.

Specifically, the app provides a collaborative calendar for caregivers to work with other involved parties to best manage the care recipient’s needs while still prioritizing their own needs. It also offers a social media platform where caregivers can find community and resources.

The diversity of backgrounds and thoughts that the Big Bang brought in pushed me to reimagine how I saw the world around me. 

The Big Bang! provided Caregiva unexpected advice: There is no elusive right time to start something new. The biggest risk is not taking one, so if you want to create change, just do it.

“Through being introduced to new ideas and people, I was able to push my learning beyond what was in the textbooks,” said Bhagat. “It offered the opportunity to connect with unique individuals through exciting events that helped us find common ground and build support systems.”  

Caregiva won the $10,000 Social Entrepreneurship Award, sponsored by the UC Davis Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The team will apply the funds toward its investment ask for rolling out the app to the larger audience after beta launch. They will use the money for product development and marketing.

Caregiva will launch its beta test in the near future. “As we continue to iterate, we hope to scale to reach caregivers of different backgrounds, especially in the areas that are underserved and don’t have proper support,” said Bhagat. “In five years, we hope to also reach corporate spaces.”

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Square Solutions has created a portable cell incubator to safely and efficiently transport from lab to location for ideal cell therapy procedures.

Effortless transportation for ideal cell therapy procedures

Cell therapy is one of the fastest growing fields in medicine—and with that come both great challenges and tremendous opportunities for innovative solutions.

Square Solutions, of Sacramento, a team of 10 UC Davis undergraduates, first met at an academic quarter-long biomedical engineering immersion program at Aggie Square where a key theme was “the importance of maintaining the relationship between engineering and medicine,” said Deesha Patel, a biomedical engineerinfg major and one of the team’s co-leads/presidents.

The students quickly recognized that unreliable transportation between the lab where the cells are produced and the location of a cell therapy procedure had myriad negative impacts and began to discuss the potential for a better way to transport for cell therapies with Professor Aijun Wang and their teaching assistant, biomedical engineering doctoral candidate Yongheng Wang.

Square Solutions’ portable call incubator for researchers, clinics and pharmaceutical companies is equipped with temperature regulation, CO₂ control, humidifiers, UV light for sterility, and portable batteries to maintain cell viability. 

The startup received the $10,000 Human Health + Industry Sector Award, sponsored by the UC Davis School of Medicine.

“This prize will allow us to produce a functional prototype within the next year that will help us improve our design and provide potential customers with a physical idea of how our incubator will function,” said Patel. “We will use the first prototype to adjust our design for efficiency and manufacturability.”

Square Solutions hopes to file the patent by August and conduct additional studies comparing its product to others in the market.

In-kind prizes provide resources, services

The competition also awarded three in-kind prizes, with a combined value of $12,000.

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The future of agriculture

Climate change and land shortage are challenging traditional agriculture. CEAID Tech., of Davis, believes controlled environment agriculture—an advanced, intensive form of agriculture where plants grow in a controlled environment to optimize quality and yield—is the future. The startup, co-founded by UC Davis mechanical engineering and aerospace engineering double major,  is taking CEA to the next level through in-house chemical analysis, optimizing plant quality and yield.

CEAID Tech. won in-kind services at the Life Science Innovation Center in Davis valued at $4,000. Co-CEO Meghna De is completing a double major in mechanical engineering and aerospace engineering.

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Better buildings

neo(connected), of Milpitas, builds sustainable, energy-efficient homes and buildings, using a closed loop of power-saving actions driven by AI and smart endpoints. 

"Our venture is essential for the world of tomorrow," said team lead team Navendu Sinha, a 2022 UC Davis Graduate School of Management alumnus and senior project engineer at Extreme Networks, based in San Jose. "We empower people and enterprises to convert their intentions of saving power to real actions, helping to move companies and homes toward near-zero energy waste."

The venture won in-kind services valued at $4,000 at Davis-based startup incubator Inventopia

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A new way to trade grapes

Vineyard Trove, of Napa, is on a mission to make it easier for small wine producers to source grapes and for uncontracted vineyards to expand their reach.

The startup's data-driven, interactive online platform has a “group-buy” feature that allows buyers to pool their resources to purchase the grapes they need, keeping costs affordable while also benefiting grape growers, who can sell their grapes to this untapped market. Vineyard Trove arranges the sales logistics with its AI-powered algorithm.

The startup received in-kind services valued at $4,000 at agriculture, food and health accelerator AgStart. The venture is led by CEO Blair Feng, a 2020 UC Davis alumna with a B.S. in viticulture and enology. She is an account manager at H&A Barrel Management in Sonoma.

Thank you, competition sponsors!

In addition to the award sponsors noted above, the 2023 Big Bang Business Competition was made possible by Platinum-level sponsor BlueTech Valley, Silver-level sponsor Blackstone LaunchPad, and Bronze-level sponsors UC Davis College of Engineering and VSP Global Innovation Center

Click here to visit the Big Bang! prizes and sponsors webpage.

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