Friday, January 28, 2022
  Community, Around Campus

By Letty Fernandez

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – The second annual Big Idea Competition, hosted by the UTRGV Center for Innovation and Commercialization (CIC), brought together students, staff, faculty, alumni and the Valley community to pitch innovative startup ideas to a panel of judges in a Shark Tank-like competition.

The event, held in person in November, provided a chance to win prize money to further develop business ideas and provided a practical platform for aspiring entrepreneurs. 

Nine finalists from the student category and five from the general category deemed to have the best potential to commercialize competed for more than $5,000 in total prize money.

Awards went to the teams with the top overall ideas, and to special category team winners in the Social and Climate Impact, Health & Life Science, Consumer Products & Services, and General categories.

More than 40 people in the audience watched the competition. 

Winners of the special categories advanced to compete in the national Blackstone LaunchPad Ideas competition for a chance to win up to $10,000 to launch their ventures. 

“The participants did a phenomenal job. The ideas were well thought out,” said Laurie Simmons, director of the CIC. “No matter what ultimately happens with the ideas, we hope the experience and knowledge gained through the competition will be of benefit to them long after the event.”



BASEL KIKHIA, data and research manager in the UTRGV Department of Psychiatry, took the general category’s first place for his project, “Dementia Sense-Care.”

Asked on what his next steps are, Kikhia said he plans to write a business plan to present all aspects of his idea.

“It is great to have access to the Center for Innovation & Commercialization, as I can get help from professional people and, hopefully, get connections to investors and angels,” he said.

Dementia Sense-Care is a smart sensor-based system to be used in nursing homes, designed to measure patterns of behavioral and psychological symptoms in dementia (BPSD). The system provides objective and continuous monitoring at a low cost.

EVAN GARCIA, program manager in the UTRGV Department of Family Medicine, took the general category’s second place for his project, “FutrDoc.”

Garcia said FutrDoc will use the prize money to create a prototype and test it with UTRGV students in the Pre-Health tracks. 

“Big Idea was a great experience,” he said. “As a Valley native, being surrounded by other UTRGV and community entrepreneurs made me proud. Having been a part of the Big Idea Competition twice now, I can confidently say that the UTRGV CIC has created an environment and culture to support innovation here.”

FutrDoc is an online service that provides students with tools to become top-tier medical, dental, or physician assistant applicants. Students can manage academic experiences and track progress toward the requirements and acceptance metrics of any Texas program.

AMANDA GARCIA, a Valley community member, took the general category’s third place for her project, “RGV-Texas Studios.”

“The opportunity to participate in the Big Idea Competition was great because it allowed me to compete. This was the first competition for me – I am aiming for first place someday! Whether the competition is related to an idea or focused on business, it provides an opportunity to place high standards on yourself, to grow, learn and have fun,” Garcia said.

RGV-Texas Studio, McAllen's flexible spaces, integrates mind, body and spirit into a working environment. It offers high-end common rooms, professional rooms for rent, and a large multi-use studio.



UTRGV student DANIEL CASTILLO took first place in the student category and Consumer Products Special Category, for “Wind Powered Racks (WPR).”

WPR is a vehicle roof rack that provides a power bank charged by a small wind turbine, with versatile port options to charge or run anything electric.

UTRGV student TIFFANY BROWN took second place in the student category and Social and Climate Impact special category, for her project, “The Angel Group.”

“Winning the Social and Climate Impact category has given me the opportunity to compete on a national level, which is great exposure for me,” she said. “My experience with the Big Idea

Competition was eye-opening. I had fun hearing and seeing everything everyone came up with. And I loved that, if I had questions, there was a coach I could ask,” Brown said.

The Angel Group is an agency that helps transition children in foster care.

UTRGV student Md SALMAN RAHMAN took third place in the student category and Health & Life Science special category awards for his project, “Healthy AI.”

Healthy AI is an artificial intelligence system where people can upload their medical reports, such as an X-ray, and an algorithm will read the image, train them with machine learning/algorithms, and automatically detect the disease.

BIBBHAS TANMOY, also a UTRGV student, took the student category’s third place award for his project, “A New Wastewater Management System.”

Asked what words of advice he would give to people entering the next Big Idea Competition, Tanmoy said, “If you feel like your idea is unique, go for it. You don’t know if it’s good or bad – it’s up to the experts. But you know it’s your idea and no one can stop you from letting the world know about your discovery.”

His project is a new wastewater management method that splits the sewage line into blackwater and greywater, controlling wastewater generation and throttling the treatment process, making recirculation faster and eventually resulting in low water wastage.

UTRGV student JARED CORTEZ BENAVIDEZ took the student category’s general special category with his project, “High Heel Swap.”

High Heel Swap allows users to change just the outer shell of a pair of heels, to provide convenience and affordability.

In all, 32 teams from throughout the region applied for the November 10 competition. Those 32 were composed of 21 UTRGV student teams and 11 general teams.

Nine reviewers evaluated the submissions and narrowed the competition pool to nine students and five general competitors.

Simmons said The Big Idea Competition is a good way to encourage and support new ideas from across the region.

“Through our center and our competitions, we hope to help the next generation of entrepreneurs turn great ideas into great businesses,” she said.

The Big Idea Competition was made possible by Blackstone LaunchPad and the V.F. (Doc) and Gertrude Neuhaus Chair for Entrepreneurship, Dr. Russell Adams.


The Blackstone LaunchPad network makes entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial skills accessible and relevant for all college students to help them build thriving companies and careers. We work with higher-ed institutions to deliver proven startup resources, facilitate access to a global network of mentors and advisors, and offer unique virtual and physical convening opportunities so thousands of diverse college students can go further, faster. Students learn by doing, gaining knowledge and critical skills to help them succeed as a founder or contributor to the innovation economy. LaunchPad’s ever-expanding network encompasses campuses with predominantly underrepresented populations.


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.