By Emily Kressley & Mary Nussbaumer
Colorado College’s Big Idea competition ended with four finalist teams pitching their venture ideas on Thursday, Feb 27. The program, put on by the Creativity and Innovation Center at CC, is in its eighth year. The big ideas of this year were Journalista, with team members Noah Weeks ’20, Benedict Wright ’20, and Kobi Bhattacharyya ’20; Geek Girl, with team members Lauren Weiss ’21, Melissa LaFehr ’20, Sara Hanahan ’21, and Maddi Schink ’23; MemorMe, with team members Tony Mastromarino ’23, Saigopal Rangaraj ’23, and James Dollard ’22; and Infinite Chemistry, with team members Prakhar Gautam ’20, Paul Price ’20, Cameron MacDonald ’20, Tian Lee ’20, and Pietro Giacomin ’20.
The format of the event has developed over the years — and there are multiple parts to it. Workshops on core values, business models, components of a pitch, components of an executive summary, and writing the pitch have been taking place since September. Additionally, all four finalists were awarded $7,500 in seed funding to develop their ideas. They competed in front of a panel of judges in the semi-finals to get to the final round. This round differed from the past this year, as competitors used to be ranked. However, the new format aims to provide more guarantees of financial stability for the projects. Local Colorado investors were in the crowd and teams were able to gain further professional experience by having the opportunity to pitch their ideas to an audience.
We sat down with the Geek Girl team to hear about their big idea. Weiss explained the idea behind Geek Girl saying, “Geek Girl is working to close the gender gap in technology by identifying young women who have already taken an interest in Computer Science, providing them with mentorship opportunities, and ultimately ensuring that they maintain their enthusiasm for technology. The majority of the money we earned from the Big Idea will be allocated to launching the beta version of the Geek Girl app. A portion of the funds will be put toward hosting upcoming events, including the kickstarter event in March for the Littleton Public Schools District and summer camps.”
Weiss, a 2017 Boettcher scholar and Computer Science major, has experience developing iPhone apps. She is also the founder of the Technology Outreach Club at CC. Weiss has worked to captivate the interests of elementary school students with coding ever since. As a junior in high school, she discovered Google’s Computer Science First curriculum. The curriculum, according to its website, “provides teachers with the tools and resources to teach Computer Science at no cost — so every student has access to the skills that will shape the future.”
Weiss has started multiple CSFirst Clubs around the state of Colorado and has reached over 300 students through these initiatives.
“[I] started designing the Geek Girl app last fall. I pitched the idea to Dez Stone Menendez, who is the leader of the Innovation Center. All of the faculty members were really encouraging,” said Weiss. “I recruited my team in December, and then took the Big Idea half-block in January with Natasha Main.”
LaFehr, an Economics major, will be attending Columbia Nursing School next school year. She holds a position in the Women in Business organization on campus and has always wanted to join a female-based startup.
Hanahan is a French major on a pre-med track. Hanahan truly believes that she would have considered a different career path today had she had the confidence to learn how to code while in high school. She stated that her biggest takeaway from the experience was how positive and supportive people are of women in STEM. Hanahan also enjoyed working with the team to try and make it as successful as it can be.
Schink, a 2019 Boettcher Scholar majoring in Environmental Science, was not presented with opportunities to code throughout her childhood, but wishes she had been. Geek Girl is important to Schink because it shows girls that they have a place in this realm of STEM and helps them develop the skills and confidence to become competitive applicants in a field that is otherwise dominated by men. “Through working with this team for the Big Idea, I am inspired to take a computer science class at some point in my remaining time at CC and I am more excited than ever to see how we can use Geek Girl to develop meaningful partnerships with schools throughout my home state of Colorado,” said Schink.
While all in the realm of apps and software, the competition finalists had a diverse set of ideas. Journalista is a community marketplace that aims to connect readers and writers more closely to promote robust journalism. MemorMe is an app that tries to preserve the positive psychological association of physical objects of our homes in digital form. Infinite Chemistry is a software that allows imported molecules from online databases to be altered in virtual reality to see how they will react in real time. Due to the variation, it will be exciting to see how each team uses their startup money.
Congratulations to all the teams!