Mathew Mango and Charles Chen, co-founders of JapaDenise Bronner, founder of Anu SnacksCognivive founder Tony Simon and Business Development Manger Sara HowardJapaJapa
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Innovations in Parking, Digital Medicine, Nutritious Snacks Top 2018 Big Bang!
Promising startups showcased in annual UC Davis business competition

Two UC Davis undergraduates won the $10,000 first prize in the 18th annual UC Davis Big Bang! Business Competition on Thursday, May 24, 2018. Their venture, Japa Inc., takes the pain out of finding parking with a mobile app that employs smart data and advanced analytics to provide drivers with real-time parking availability. The award recognizes the top innovation coming out of this year’s competition.

Five finalists—out of an impressive 62 teams in this year’s competition—pitched their ventures to the award ceremony audience before prizes were announced. 

The Big Bang! provides workshops, mentorship and networking opportunities to accelerate commercialization and advance the startup process. Organized and run by the Mike and Renee Child Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UC Davis, it is open to the university’s students, faculty, researchers and staff as well as to the public.

In total, this year’s competition awarded a record $112,000 in cash prizes for top concepts in food and agriculture, health, energy efficiency, economic development in California’s Central Valley, global poverty alleviation, and improving the lives of small-scale farmers in developing countries.

Park smart

We’ve all been there: wasting time and growing increasingly frustrated as we circle parking lots or roam city streets in hopes of finding an available space.

Japahas a solution: a smart parking system that employs industry-leading sensors to track parking lot owners’ inventory, records transactions, and is accessible on any web browser, giving valuable, in-the-moment insights into parking operations. Japa’s smartphone app, in turn, shows drivers the real-time availability of the lots and structures in the area.

The startup is currently partnered with the Transportation and Parking Services at UC Davis and NWave Technologies to bring stress-free parking to students; municipal partnerships include Walnut Creek and Redwood City.

“Our vision is simple: to solve parking everywhere and to make smart cities and university and corporate campuses a reality,” said CEO Mathew Magno, a UC Davis senior computer science major with a minor in technology management. Magno is also a co-founder and director of PLASMA, a campus accelerator program where he works closely with other startups/ventures and mentors them in a 12-week cohort.

Participating in the Big Bang! “allowed us to progress with our company while extending our network of entrepreneurs in the Davis community,” said Magno. He thanked 2014 Big Bang! winner Benjamin Wang for sharing his entrepreneurial insight and expertise as a mentor, workshop leader and judge. “Ben consistently advised us to not sell ourselves short and to continue aggressively reaching out to potential clients with complete confidence in our platform.”

In addition to the Big Bang! first prize, Japa also received a $2,500 microgrant in the Little Bang! Pitch + Poster Competition held earlier in the day, and a $1,000 microgrant from a Little Bang! competition in January.

The startup will use the prize money to hire additional programmers. “Japa will continue to operate paid trials in various cities, universities and hospitals,” Magno said. “We plan to expand to airports, amusement parks, and sports arenas—which are all in desperate need of our service.”

Healing the brain with “digital medicines”


Davis-based Cognivive won the $5,000 second prize, sponsored by Barry and Lynda Keller, for its “digital medicines,” delivered in virtual reality video-game form. 

The novel treatments “will completely change how brain injury patients recover function, how older Americans experience reduced cognitive decline and the risk of dangerous falls, and how learning-disabled children can succeed in their educational and vocational journey,” says said Tony Simon, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and associate director of the UC Davis MIND Institute and the startup’s CEO and chief science officer. Also on the team and presenting at the finals was Sara Howard, an MBA student at the Graduate School of Management.

The Big Bang! helped the team “sharpen our message, clarify our value proposition and recognize what is wrong and right about our strategy.”

The prize money will help Cognivive build and test new, clinically focused prototype treatments. “In a year we hope to have a full-time team of five to 10 people and real treatments undergoing testing with patients and users in a range of environments,” Simon noted.

Repurposing breweries’ byproduct into nutritious snacks

Denise Bronner

Every year U.S. microbreweries truck 2.7 million tons of grain to landfills. Sacramento startup Anu Snacks took home three prizes totaling $17,500 for its all-natural snack line made from repurposed spent grain. The startup received the $12,000 Food & Agriculture Sector Award, sponsored by AGR Partners, Gowan Co. and HM.CLAUSE; the $3,000 Food, Ag & Health Innovation Award, presented by the UC Davis Innovation Institute for Food and Health; and the $2,500 People’s Choice Award, voted on by the audience at Thursday’s event.

The idea came from Anu CEO and UC Davis postdoctoral fellow Denise N. Bronner’s homebrewing experience. “I began to wonder what commercial breweries were doing with their grain, and was shocked to learn that they were paying to have it hauled off to landfills. It’s crazy because the grain still has a high nutritional value due to fiber and other proteins that promote a healthy gut,” Bronner said.

Bronner honed her entrepreneurial skill set as a Business Development Fellow at the UC Davis Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, a 10-month experience that included taking graduate management classes alongside business students and attending an Entrepreneurship Academy, an intensive three-day immersion where “I learned how to refine my pitch, conduct market research, and gained awesome insight from the mentors who attended.”

She credits the Big Bang! with helping her grow her network. “I’ve been able to connect with people who are in the consumer packaged goods industry as well as young minority entrepreneurs who have started businesses in the food sector.”

Bronner will invest the prize money in continuing Anu’s patent process, packaging design and printing, obtaining vegan/organic certifications, and establishing its first farmers’ market debut. She hopes that in a year the snacks will be available on grocery store shelves throughout California. Watch video >

New hope for jaundiced babies

Compassionlit Founder Nicolle Ma presents the startup's novel, affordable phototherapy device to treat under-served jaundiced newborn babies.

Every year 13 million newborns worldwide need treatment for jaundice. More than six million don’t receive proper treatment or any treatment at all, placing them at risk for brain damage, cerebral palsy, deafness and death.

Los Angeles area–based Compassionlit received both the $10,000 Health Sector Award, sponsored by Bayer Crop Science, and the $5,000 Global Poverty Alleviation Award, presented by the UC Davis Blum Center for Developing Economies, for its novel, affordable phototherapy device to treat under-served jaundiced newborn babies.

Jaundice is caused by an excess of bilirubin—a reddish-yellow substance formed when hemoglobin breaks down—accumulating in the blood. 

Phototherapy is a simple way to treat newborns with severe jaundice by breaking down high levels of bilirubin; however, the devices rely on an electrical power grid to which babies in the developing world often have limited access.

Compassionlit’s patent-pending device runs on solar energy and a battery, and can also use an electrical power grid if available. 

Compassionlit Founder, CEO and Chief Technical Officer Nicolle Ma, who holds undergraduate and master’s degrees from UC San Diego, and Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Financial Officer Scott He, a 2016 UC Davis Graduate School of Management alumnus, will use the prize money for pilot studies and manufacturing. “We hope to distribute our phototherapy devices to hospitals next year to empower underprivileged communities by providing better and more inexpensive treatment options for jaundiced newborns,” Ma noted.

Compassionlit was in the 2018 inaugural cohort of the UC Davis accelerator program PLASMA, which provided seed capital, advice and networking opportunities.

Innovations in energy

DTE Materials took home both the $10,000 Energy Sector Award sponsored by Sierra Energy and IN2, and the $2,500 CleanStart Award, sponsored by CleanStart and Gary Simon.

The San Luis Obispo–based startup, founded by a 2017 alumnus and an undergraduate student from Cal Poly, has developed plant-based fibers that result in higher performing, cost-effective, and more sustainable home insulation than existing cellulose insulation.

Tanner Jolly, DTE’s chief operating officer notes that ”Many homeowners are vaguely aware that fiberglass is harmful, derived from petroleum, and can breakdown over time. With that being said, there isn’t one insulation alternative on the market that can address the concerns of health and sustainability without sacrificing cost and performance. Our goal is to bring to the U.S. the most well-rounded insulation possible, so homeowners and builders alike can agree on using the best option for their health and for the planet.”

The team will use the $12,500 prize money to help pay for machinery and testing to optimize their insulation. “A year from now we will be producing insulation for sale, and generating sustainable revenue,” Tanner says.

Improving life for small-scale farmers in Peru

The $8,000 Smallholder Ag Innovation Award, sponsored by the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the UC Davis Blum Center for Developing Economies, went to Chicha Culture. The startup is creating a channel to market for sustainable, organic Peruvian syrups derived from high-demand tropical superfoods.

“There is an urgent need to provide rainforest and Andean communities with alternative cash crops to coca leaves, which feed the illegal drug trade and deplete local natural resources,” notes Chicha CEO Bratzo Basagoitia. Proceeds from the syrup sales will help reclaim deforested upper rainforest land, helping protect their biodiversity and fragile resources for future generations, Basagoitia explains.

“And by educating local growers on sustainable practices, basic entrepreneurial techniques, and how to become united as a coop for fair trade, we can empower them to become a force for positive change.”

Central Valley innovator aids hospitals

Tergis Technologies

Tergis Technologies received the $5,000 Central Valley Innovation Award, sponsored by the UC Merced Venture Lab through Assembly Bill 2664, for its efforts to make hospitals cleaner and safer by reducing the possibilities of pathogen growth.

The startup focuses on solving critical issues that arise in Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU) with a suite of new technologies in devices that reduce neonatal mortality and morbidity. The first (patented) device prevents ventilator-associated pneumonia. Tergis’ long-term goal: reducing the prevalence of Hospital Acquired Infections, which contribute to antibiotic resistance and cost U.S. hospitals roughly $20 billion annually.

“Shrinking the hospital stay for infants in NICUs means they can start their normal development trajectories, which will help them later in life,” noted CEO Michael Urner, a 2014 UC Merced alumnus. “We can also reduce antibiotic usage, which will will slow the growing need of new pharmaceuticals as antibiotics become obsolete.”

Tergis will the prize money to patent its latest device and create a testable prototype so they can proceed with clinical trials. ”We want to be in at least five hospitals in a year,” said Urner. “We now have interested hospitals from Utah to Texas.”

Wearable health

SU, a smog utility apparel brand that merges fashionable streetwear with healthy air filtering technology, won the $3,000 UC Davis Health Award, sponsored by UC Davis Health, UC Davis Office of Research and the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.


Founder and CEO Lanwei Su, will receive her MFA  from the UC Davis Department of Design this year. Her venture was inspired by the severe air pollution in her hometown, Beijing. “Health threats caused by smog are a growing concern for urban residents,” she said. “The common air masks oftentimes make people appear sick or strip them of their individuality. SU is turning a passive self-protective act into a positive fashion statement.” The startup’s garment has a replaceable filter built into the collar that blocks harmful particles and allows easy breathing.

Su plans to use the prize money to develop a prototype and launching a beta website. “We hope a year from now that we will have our funding in place and start selling our garment online.”

Poster competitions help launch entrepreneurial journeys

The following awards were presented to teams that earlier in the day presented in entry-level pitch and poster competitions designed for those who are first exploring entrepreneurship.

Ugly Food Market

Little Bang! Pitch + Poster Competition: Four $2,500 microgrants to: Japa (as noted above), Innovis MedicalUgly Food Market and WhiteCell Technologies. Ugly Food Market also received the $1,000 People’s Choice Award. The venture, co-founded by UC Davis students Anna Gomes and Stephanie Lew, seeks to address food waste and food insecurity in the Sacramento region by establishing a physical marketplace for imperfect, damaged, past-prime or otherwise “ugly” foods.

Big Bang! Food & Ag Pitch + Poster Competition: $2,500 First Place Award and $1,000 People’s Choice Award went to Ugly Food Market; the $1,500 Second Place Award went to Pair Anything Inc. This competition was generously sponsored by Gowan Co. and AGR Partners.

Two earlier Little Bang! competitions awarded a total of $20,000 microgrants. Program funding for the Little Bang! Pitch + Poster Competitions is provided by the State of California through Assembly Bill 2664: University of California Innovation and Entrepreneurship Expansion.

Click here to learn more about the Big Bang! Business Competition.