NeVap Inc. founder Benjamin Wang making his presentation. Nevap captured the top prize in the Big Bang! Business Competition.Ambercycle Inc. founder Akshay Sethi making his presentation at the Big Bang! awards ceremony. Ambercycle won second prize and an undergraduate award.Zasaska won the People's Choice Award and the Ag and Food Innovation Prize at the Big Bang! Business Competition. Zasaka co-founder Carl Jensen making his pitch at the awards ceremony.
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UC Davis Big Bang! Business Competition Winner Lands $350K in Angel Funding
Winners in Medtech, Recycling and Agricultural Development

By Sandy Louey and Tim Akin

UC Davis alumnus Benjamin Wang says winning the UC Davis Big Bang! Business Competition this year has been a boon for NeVap, Inc., the medical device startup he founded that has patented a potentially life-saving device that prevents hospital-acquired infections.

Since capturing the top prize of $10,000 in this year’s Big Bang!, Wang said he has used the first place purse to strengthen NeVap’s intellectual property position on its product, which improves on existing tracheal devices used in chronically intubated hospital patients. And he created a video demonstration.

Investors took note. As of mid-August, Wang has raised more than $350,000 in strategic angel investment and will be looking to close out a first round of investment of $1 million.

Wang said Davis Innovators, DLA Piper, Oxford Center for Entrepreneurship and Akers Capital have also provided key support and pledged strategic planning. The Big Bang! win also brought media visibility to the startup.

Wang has been working on the startup since 2011 when he graduated from medical school. He earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology from UC Davis in 2005.

The Big Bang! competition gets you ready to hit the pavement,” Wang said.

This year’s total Big Bang! purse of $28,000 provided seed funding for all the winners. A record 66 teams representing more than 200 aspiring entrepreneurs participated in the 14th annual competition, with five finalist teams selected to make their pitches at the awards ceremony in May.

The UC Davis Child Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship organizes and hosts the competition, which provides workshops, mentorship, financing and networking to accelerate commercialization and advance the startup process. The institute is a center at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management.

The competition has helped many entrepreneurs make the critical connections that have transformed their ideas into reality,” said Cleveland Justis, executive director of the institute.


The second prize of $5,000 was awarded to Ambercycle Inc., which was a finalist in last year’s competition. The startup is developing a system to degrade plastics so they are cheaper and easier to recycle. Engineered organisms are used to degrade plastics into high-value chemicals that not only are used to produce new plastic, but also help reduce waste and clean up the environment.


We’re working on bringing lab technology to commercial scale because we believe our process has significant market potential,” said Ambercycle founder Akshay Sethi, a UC Davis junior majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology.

The idea grew out of a research project that Sethi was involved with under the guidance of Marc T. Facciotti, an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Biomedical Engineering. The team members are Sethi; Victor Awad, a junior majoring in chemical engineering; and Gerald Dion, a 2013 MBA alumnus from the Graduate School of Management.

After hearing pitches from the finalists, the attendees selected Zasaka for the People’s Choice Award, which comes with $2,500.

Zasaka offers agricultural products and services targeted to farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, with the initial launch occurring in Zambia and Malawi. Its integrative solutions will support farmers through all growing seasons, increasing agricultural productivity and access to markets, said Zasaka co-founder Carl Jensen.

Jensen and team member Julia Shuck are graduate students in international agricultural development at UC Davis and participants in the institute’s Business Development Fellows program. The other team members are Graduate School of Management students Rashmi Ekka and Kellan Hays.

Their first endeavor is producing recyclable bags for small farmers in Zambia to store their grains, giving them more flexibility to sell at higher prices as market prices rise. Jensen is on the ground in Zambia working on the project

Big Bang! judge David Richardson of DLA Piper LLP (US) was impressed by the presentations.

The extraordinary teams in this year’s competition continue the marked increase we have seen each year in the sophistication and quality of the business plans and big ideas in Big Bang!,” Richardson said. “The real winners will be UC Davis and the greater Sacramento region as these promising entrepreneurs and ideas begin to take root locally.”

In addition to the top three prizes, another $10,500 was awarded to top concepts for promoting innovation and social change; agriculture, food and ag-tech related innovations; and the best all-undergraduate teams. The winners were:

  • Big Ideas “Promoting Innovation and Social Change” Award, sponsored by the UC Davis Blum Center for Developing Economies, of $5,000 to Adrastia Biotech, a biotechnology pharmaceutical start-up that is developing a product that identifies a protein in an over-the-counter urine test for the early detection of breast cancer.
  • Ag and Food Innovation Prize, sponsored by Moss Adams, of $2,500 to Zasaka.
  • An undergraduate award of $1,000, sponsored by the ASUCD E-Fund, to Ambercycle for being the best undergraduate team that made it to the final presentations.
  • Undergraduate awards of $1,000 each, sponsored by the ASUCD E-Fund, to Archer and GuardN for being the two best undergraduate teams in the competition’s business summary round. Archer is a software company creating a 3D gesture-controlled smart TV operating system, while GuardN delivers a smart sprinkler system.

The competition has produced many teams that have become successful startups since the contest began in 2000. Recent winners include VinPerfect, which designs and markets a revolutionary screwcap for wine bottles, and ViVita Technologies, a company pioneering a new approach to tissue preparation that makes heart valve replacements less likely to be rejected by the body’s immune system — potentially giving transplant patients longer, healthier lives.

Competition sponsors include Andrew Barkett, DLA Piper, Gary Simon, Akers Capital, Moss Adams, UC Davis Blum Center for Developing Economic, SMUD, Bank of America, CVF Capital Partners, Lamplighter Financial, PIPRA,  ASUCD E-Fund, and StickerGiant.

For more about the competition:

About the UC Davis Child Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

The UC Davis Child Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship serves as the nexus for entrepreneurship education and research — and as a springboard for entrepreneurial initiatives — on the UC Davis campus. The institute brings science, engineering and business students and faculty together with experienced entrepreneurs, investors and corporate leaders in a highly collaborative environment that blends effective theory with hands-on participation and solution-driven innovation. The institute is a Center of Excellence at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management; these centers link the campus to the business community through a variety of activities and research.

More about the institute can be found at

Media contact:

Sandy Louey, Graduate School of Management, 530-219-7762,