The Maseeh Entrepreneurship Price Competition and the Min Family Engineering Social Entrepreneurship Challenge are both underway right now. The deadline was earlier this semester in October but plan to follow the teams that emerge from these challenges closely to see what kind of innovative ideas they come up with. It made me reminisce about attending the Viterbi Gala last year. I had the opportunity and honor of being among a select group of students invited to the 38th Annual Viterbi Awards Gala.
It was a fancy affair held at the Beverly Wilshire hotel as witnessed by the delectable dessert we were provided. The annual gala awards innovators who have made a significant impact in their field. Last year, it began with an address from Viterbi Dean Yannis Yortsos. Then, Thomas Vice, the CVP and President of Northrop Grumman received the Engineering Management Award, Bryan Min received the Distinguished Alumni Award and Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw received the Global Leadership in Engineering Award.
In addition, it announces the winners of the Viterbi entrepreneurship challenges. The Min Family challenge started last year and in its inaugural year, the winner was a biomedical engineering team! Their idea was FlexSpecs, or flexible glasses whose strength can be self-adjusted without a prescription. It addresses a huge need in developing countries for better eye care where doctors are not easy to access.
I happened to be sitting at a table with one of the finalist teams, Mathemagician, for the Maseeh Challenge. The Mathemagician undergraduate team re-invented math education for elementary school kids by developing a software touch-based software that provides feedback to the user and acts as a personalized math tutor for very low costs. They had both engineering and business students in their team and one of them had been developing this software for a couple years now. Seeing their passion was inspiring because they were younger than me!
One of the speakers said something that stuck with me – “ask something great of us.” My take-away was that whether you work in a team or you’re pitching an idea to a venture capitalist, ask them to do something great and more often than not, they will be inspired to work harder to reach those heights or be willing to invest in a transformative solution. The humility that Mr. Min showed also stood out to me as did Ms. Mazumdar-Shaw’s passion about improving the biopharma industry in south Asia.
The Gala ended the only way a Trojan Gala should – with the arrival of the Trojan Marching Band! Overall, a sumptuous and inspiring event.