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Big Prep for the Big Idea

By Leah Veldhuisen ’19

The Big Idea pitch competition provides an opportunity for students to win up to $25,000 for business, non-profit or social enterprise innovations. A Half-Block course taught by Director of Innovation Dez Stone Menendez ’02 and Director of the Quad Innovation Project Jake Eichengreen aims to help students prepare for the Big Idea competition.

This year, instead of a $50,000 prize, half of the funding is being used to create programming related to the Big Idea that will increase access and allow more students the opportunity to benefit from the competition. The Half-Block is designed to help students with all aspects of the Big Idea competition, including aligning a proposition with a target population, “Burning Match-style” pitches, executive summaries, and general innovation and startup processes. Eichengreen, who teaches the course, says the biggest part is learning “how to turn an idea into something actionable,” which “every single student will end up doing after graduation no matter their chosen career path.”

Lauren Weiss ’21 is working on her project called Geek Girl, which aims to interest young girls in computer science and technology, and has taken the Big Idea Half Block for the last two years. Weiss, a computer science major herself, can see the gender gap in technology and says she hopes to inspire future female leaders with her project. She says the Half-Block course has helped her develop public speaking skills. “Although it is difficult, my favorite part of the course is pitching in front of the class because it forces students to grow and learn from the experience,” she explains. Additionally, the course has helped Weiss become more confident in entrepreneurship and pursuing her own ideas.

Deming Haines ’21 took the Big Idea Half Block last year, and echoes Weiss’s positivity. Haines, who designed an event-finding app called NOWZ that uses augmented reality, says the course “allowed me access to resources and time to take my idea out of my head and put it to the test in the real world.” Like Weiss, Haines appreciated the public speaking and pitching practice the class provided, saying “what seemed scary at first turned into something that was exhilarating and fun.” The Big Idea Half Block and competition were the highlights of Haines’ first year at CC last year, as they “create an environment where I was encouraged to listen, challenge existing ideas, and get a chance to solve a problem that I care about.”

The Big Idea final pitch competition will take place Thursday, Feb. 7, 3 p.m. in Cornerstone Arts Center’s Celeste Theatre.