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ECE Students Score Prizes at MinutePitch Competition

Abhishek Dwaraki


The first phase of the UMass Amherst 2015–16 Innovation Challenge kicked off its 11th year of competition on October 28, with two teams from our College of Engineering capturing the first- and third-place prizes of $1,000 and $500 respectively.

At this first Innovation Challenge event of the semester, more than 50 campus entrepreneurs and innovators participated in the MinutePitch Competition. Thirty-six teams pitched their ideas to a panel of judges, and, after three rounds, three teams emerged victorious. Two of them were from the College of Engineering. The first-place prize went to the GLOW, led by Ph.D. student Abhishek Dwaraki of our electrical and computer engineering department (ECE); while JamUMass, led by first-year engineering major Ajey Pandey, earned a third-place prize. Snap-A-Deal, led by finance major Matthew Schreibman, and economics & psychology major Michael Vinik, landed a second place finish and $750.

In the MinutePitch competition, each team gets one minute to pitch its idea to a panel of judges. Each team then receives immediate feedback from a mentor, who suggests how to improve the presentation and fine-tune the business idea with constructive feedback and encouragement. The top five teams get to go back in front of the judges, with each round affording the competitors more time and feedback. The cash prizes enable the winning teams to pursue expert advice, create working prototypes, or do research.

First-place finisher Dwaraki, whose advisor is ECE Professor Tilman Wolf, is also the recent winner of a Eugene M. Isenberg Scholar Award, presented to UMass Amherst graduate students who demonstrate academic merit and a commitment to the integration of science or engineering with management.

Dwaraki’s concept, called GLOW, is about “Building Intelligent Inference Engines for Network State.” Dwaraki explains that computer networks today are diverse, complex entities that grow relentlessly as the subscriber count continues to scale. The size and scale of networks indicate the numerous heterogeneous devices that are required to provide services and keep networks operating at full efficiency. With this level of diversity, it is imperative that there are efficient and effective network management capabilities to identify, troubleshoot, and recover from faults.

As Dwaraki says, “Identifying a fault in the network is a fairly straightforward step, but debugging the network to perform root cause analysis is a much more time consuming process that is complicated by rudimentary toolsets and the manual effort involved. Managing network state can be done effectively using a number of tools available today. We believe that building an intelligent inference engine that utilizes this network state to help administrators troubleshoot networks and perform root cause analysis will be an invaluable part of their toolset.”

Pandey pitched “JamUMass,” which is a concept similar to HackUMass, in which participants bring innovative ideas to life during a 24-hour marathon of software and hardware invention. In contrast to HackUMass, at JamUMass the focus of invention would be musicians, their instruments, and their music.  Final results would produce new music and new ways to play it.

The yearlong series of events in the Innovation Challenge has a proud history on campus and is back for an 11th year with new formats, more money on the table, and greater emphasis on mentoring and venture creation. The Innovation Challenge welcomes teams from engineering, the sciences, and beyond. It then provides a springboard for real ventures and qualifies one winning team for the second-round of the MassChallenge, a startup accelerator that has raised over $1.1 billion in funding, generated over $520 million in revenue, and created over 6,500 jobs.

The Innovation Challenge is one of the many ways the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship serves a network of scholars, innovators, and entrepreneurs across the UMass Amherst campus and throughout the region. The center is dedicated to connecting and inspiring game-changers and helping them realize their dreams.  The College of Engineering is a campus partner of the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship.

The Innovation Challenge continues in December with the UMass Innovation Challenge Seed Pitch (a closed-door event), more workshops, and a two-round final competition in the spring. Learn more on the Innovation Challenge Website. (November 2015)