Three out of the six teams that won prizes in this year’s $65,000 University of Massachusetts Innovation Challenge Final Competition were spearheaded by engineering students. The three engineering winners were third-place finisher Brobar and two other finalists, Glow and Lumme. Coordinated by the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship, an Isenberg-based initiative that promotes entrepreneurship across the UMass Amherst campus, this culminating event of the multi-stage Innovation Challenge featured a Shark Tank-style contest presented to six judges and an enthusiastic audience.
Each finalist presented a three-minute project description, followed by 12 minutes of probing questions from the competition’s six judges. The judges—venture investors, legal experts, and entrepreneurs themselves—offered a wealth of perspectives grounded in business reality.
- “What kind of company can you build around this service?”
- “Have you looked at analogous business models?”
- “What about customer privacy issues?”
- “How big is the market and how big will it be in three to five years?”
- “What are your manufacturing costs?”
- “Is your algorithm patentable?”
When all was said and done, Brobar won a third-place finish and $10,000 in seed money by asking the weighty question, “Did you ever want to get some weight lifting done but couldn’t make it to the gym?”
The answer: “Brobar might be your solution. It is as rack-less Olympic squat bar designed by mechanical engineering undergrads Jake Grenier, Daniel Miller, Alec McCabe, and Joseph Gifford. The multi-purpose workout tool is a cost-friendly option for people who want to do squat exercises without buying a large squat rack for their home, thus saving Brobar customers both money and space.”
The outcome of the team’s Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department senior-year design project, the device requires 50 percent less space and reduces injuries by shifting the center of gravity from the customary shoulder height to hip level.
Another engineering prize winner was Glow, the brainchild of Abhishek Dwaraki, a Ph.D. candidate in the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department. Glow “marshals software defined networking to bring a Google Maps analog to networking.”
Glow is the second engineering enterprise entered by Dwaraki in the annual Innovation Challenge. Dwaraki wants to use expertise in Software-Defined Networking to revolutionize network troubleshooting and manageability tools. Dwaraki claims that Glow is more dynamic, manageable, cost-effective, and adaptable than iterations now being sold by large network providers.
The third engineering prize winner was Lumme, entered by Innovation Challenge veteran Akshaya Shanmugam, a former Ph.D. candidate in the ECE department, and alum Abhinav Parate. “Lumme deploys sensors to detect individual smoking patterns and to recommend interventions.”
The creative researcher behind Lumme Inc. is Dr. Shanmugam, who received her doctorate from the ECE department in 2015. This team is pioneering the use of sensors to figure out exactly when smokers desire to light up their next cigarette. This information would then be used for appropriate and perhaps immediate intervention, such as a motivational text messages.
The Innovation Challenge Final Competition is the climax of a year-long competition extravaganza. Over the past two semesters, the Innovation Challenge has been inspiring students to create and pitch business ideas. Going through various stages such as the Minute Pitch Competition and the Seed Pitch Competition, the competing students have been awarded funding for their ventures and have received professional advice from mentors. (May 2016)