UC Davis hosts 14th annual Big Bang! Business Competition

The 14th annual Big Bang! Business Competition, hosted by the Child Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Graduate School of Management, provided the opportunity for UC Davis students, staff, faculty and alumni to compete in order to win prize money for their respective companies.

According to Cleveland Justis, executive director of the Child Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the event had more than twice the number of applicants than in previous years.

“There were 66 teams, about 200 people, entered,” Justis said. “They go through a series of rounds, and the rounds get smaller and smaller.”

Justis says that a wide variety of companies enter the competition.

“It’s a wide range,” Justis said. “In order to enter the competition you have to be somehow involved in UC Davis. It’s the kind of businesses you would think given UC Davis. A number of agricultural relations, medical devices, you name it. There was diversity.”

The competition, which includes a series of workshops and programs, begins at the start of Fall Quarter and runs through May each year. As the school year progresses, a group of judges lowers the number of competing teams until a group of finalists remains.

“We have a series of judges that are community members and business members that are outside of the UC Davis area that are known for their expertise,” Justis said.

UC Davis graduate Benjamin Wang won the $10,000 first-place prize for his company, Nevap Inc., which builds medical devices to prevent deadly hospital-acquired infections.

Wang says that the win was a surprise.

“When they called my name I was really shocked,” Wang said. “All of the ideas [at the Big Bang! Competition] were fantastic. It’s a great feeling.”

Akshay Sethi, a third-year biochemistry and molecular biology major, won the $5,000 second prize for his company, Ambercycle Inc.

“Ambercycle takes waste plastic and uses enzymes to break it down into chemicals that can be used to make new plastics,” Sethi said. “It takes plastics that we throw away, breaks it down and sells chemicals to make new plastics. Right now if you want to recycle plastic, you cannot maintain the quality. Our process doesn’t have reduction of quality in any steps. Bottles could be 100 percent recycled.”

For Sethi, the second-place win reaffirmed his belief in the company.

“It felt great,” Sethi said. “Really, it’s kind of another validation that we’re not the only people who think that this can work.”

In addition to being a source of validation for winners, the competition also gave contestants the opportunity to learn more about business.

“Our whole goal is education,” Justis said. “We want people to get educated around the business plans.”

Carl Jensen, whose company Zasaka won the People’s Choice Award, says that the competition allowed the contestants to see how other entrepreneurs have succeeded.

“Just the level of exposure we got to people who have succeeded as entrepreneurs before was amazing,” Jensen said.

Additionally, the prestige from winning the competition helps the companies to succeed even further in the business world.

“It’s been pretty instrumental in how we’ve developed over time,” Sethi said. “We started in 2012, and we entered the 2013 Big Bang! And after that it spring-boarded us into things across the nation. We really formed the company through the process last year.”

Wang agreed, saying that his first-place win has already positively affected his company’s progress.

“The Big Bang! Competition has propelled our project forward significantly,” Wang said.

ALYSSA VANDENBERG can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

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