Big Idea Competition goes virtual, Glaucomedi takes first prize

Online format had different structure with pre-recorded pitches, live streamed Q&A session

Aleena Hassan
Mercury Staff

Featuring a keynote speech from Mark Cuban on Nov. 19, this year’s Big Idea Competition was held virtually – with medical technology startup Glaucomedi winning first place in the student track.

The Big Idea Competition is a startup pitch competition that began 14 years ago at UTD. Students, faculty or alumni pitch innovative startup ideas in front of their peers and a panel of judges for cash and scholarships. Glaucomedi won first place and clinched this year’s cash prize of $25,000, in addition to $10,000 in Amazon Web Services credit and a video marketing package valued at $7,000 in video production services.

Glaucomedi was founded by biomedical engineering graduate student Hebah Abdallah, biomedical engineering senior Jacob Awkal and associate professor in the Department of Ophthalmology at UT Southwestern Karanjit Kooner.

The group defined their goal as producing an umbrella of ophthalmic products focused on treating glaucoma and preventing blindness. Their patent-pending technology, the Squid Glaucoma Shunt, is meant to help those suffering from glaucoma. The team said it is significantly smaller and more efficient than all other options currently on the market.

Winners are also offered mentorship by members from the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, which hosts the event. Dresden Goldberg, the director of programs and operations, has been organizing the event for the past three years.

“Because we’re virtual this year, we’ve pre-recorded the pitches from the finalists and will live stream the Q&A,” Goldberg said. “We also have networking rooms for anyone who joins who wants to network with others at the event.”

Applications for the competition opened in early fall. Judges selected the top 36 pitches to move to the first round. Six semi-finalists then advanced to the second round, where they all received $5,000 in AWS credit and membership to local entrepreneurship incubator Capital Factory. The top 3 student finalists – CampusOven, a food delivery startup, Reallos, a technology startup and Glaucomedi – participated in the final round on Nov. 19.

There are four different pitch tracks, (that is, pitch options): student, alumni, research commercialization and UT Southwestern biotech. This is the first year with multiple tracks, a decision that Goldberg said came from the rising number of applications.

“Part of the reason we have so many great pitches and ideas is the programs we hold at [the Institute], the local partnerships and alumni mentorship networks,” Goldberg said. “We’ve seen an increase in entrepreneurship over the past few years.”

Goldberg said that another reason for the rise is the university’s desire to make the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship an economic engine in the local region. Past winners have gone on to the national stage and gained increased investment. One former winner was even featured in Forbesmagazine.

This year’s keynote speaker is Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks and a judge on the television show “Shark Tank.” Past celebrity speakers include Tan France from the television show “Queer Eye” and Shiza Shahid, co-founder of the Malala Fund.

“We’re excited that more and more people are paying attention to the great ideas our students are producing,” Goldberg said. “This is an exciting time.”

Winners of the competition are also offered mentorship by members from the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, which hosts the event. Photo by Roshan Khichi | Mercury Staff