Meet the Winners of UTD’s 2024 Big Idea Competition

From a student whose digital platform connects social media influencers with restaurant owners to a returning alum whose dual-pedal controller lets video gamers put their feet into play, big ideas abounded at this year's UTD Big Idea competition. Here's who won what.

UT Dallas’ 2024 Big Idea Competition had a new wrinkle when it hit the stage recently, with seven competitors pitching for investment prizes in an event hosted by UTD’s Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (IIE). The twist: This year’s guest judges got to decide how much prize money went to each startup.

“We believe that granting the judges greater discretion in determining the recipients of prize money would not only enhance their engagement but also introduce an element of intrigue for the audience,” IIE Assistant Director Leon Jacobson said in a statement about the April 17 event.

Igniting creative minds in a ‘cornerstone event’

This year’s Big Idea finals competitors, L to R: From left: Ananya Sammidi, Ralph Yongoueth, Zebedee Uyanwune, Anisha Holla, Asad Moulvi, Aditi Mungale, Sahil Patel MA’23, Andrew Denton BS’15, MS’20 and Rick Tett MS’21. [Photo: UTD]

“The Big Idea Competition is a cornerstone event that ignites the creative minds of students, alumni and researchers,” added Carol Marcus-Rehtmeyer, executive director of IIE. “It provides a platform to showcase groundbreaking ideas and transform them into viable businesses. This competition is more than just a contest; it’s a celebration of innovation that empowers participants to bring their entrepreneurial visions to life, fostering a vibrant ecosystem of growth and discovery.”

This year’s Big Idea judges included Herb Weitzman, founder and executive chairman of Weitzman; Michael Gorton (UTD MS’88), co-founder of Teladoc Health and founder of Recuro Health; Kevin Lavelle, founder and chairman of the board of Mizzen+Main; and Lynn McBee, CEO of Young Women’s Preparatory Network.

When the judges did their judging, here’s who came out on top and who won what:

2024 Big Idea Competition Winners

Student Competition

FoodiFy Founder Anisha Holla won the $10K top prize in the student competition at the 2024 UTD Big Idea Competition. [Photo: UTD]

Finalists representing four student startups pitched at this year’s event. The top prize of $10,000 went to digital platform FoodiFy, which connects social media influencers with restaurant owners, who compensate the influencers for taste-testing their menus and posting about their eateries.

Founded by UTD psychology senior and Eugene McDermott Scholar Anisha Holla, the startup has worked with 25 North Texas restaurants and is on track to bank $1.5 million in gross revenue this year. 

“Winning this competition will allow us to build out the restaurant outreach team we’ve needed for so long,” Holla said in a statement. “We already have over 250 influencers across the United States on our platform; we have our technology in place; and we have the track record of helping over 20 restaurants in Dallas grow their lines. Now it’s just a matter of reaching new restaurants that could use something like this, not only in Dallas but across the U.S.”

According to UTD, Holla is a Frisco native who plans to work as a business analyst at Capital One while continuing to grow FoodiFy. On Monday, she’ll be the student speaker at her school’s graduation ceremony.

Other student startup winners

Among the other student startups, Step Up, led by business analytics graduate student Asad Moulvi, snagged an $8,000 award. The mobile app helps students prep for standardized college admissions tests by “gamifying” the study process, with AI used to source study questions. Step Up also wowed the crowd, winning Big Idea’s first-ever Audience Choice Award with 36% of the votes.

Two other startups were awarded $1,000 each:

Yong Bros, a game development studio led by finance senior Ralph Yongoueth,creates games that blend innovative mechanics with powerful IP-focused content on the Roblox platform.

Sesame, led by computer information systems and technology senior and National Merit Scholar Ananya Sammidi and computer science senior Aditi Mungale, is an AI-powered platform that organizes digital file storage systems like Google Drive and Box.

Alumni Competition

Apples don’t fall far from the tree when it comes to former UTD students pitching their Big Ideas. This year, three alumni startup finalists went back to the school to make their case for first place.

The $10,000 top prize was won by Rick Tett (MS’21, shown pitching at the top of this article) and his team at Glydr, which offers an innovative dual-pedal controller that lets video gamers put their feet into game play action. “More control over your games is at your feet,” Glydr promises, noting on its website that it was “834% funded” at Kickstarter, with 453 of its controllers sold.

“Winning the Big Idea Competition as an alum of this great school means a lot to me,” Tett said in a statement. “The timing was great because the prize money provides the funds we need to build our branding and our new website, where we will be taking preorders.”

Other alumni startup winners

Two other alumni startups walked away with $5,000 each.

Prosper AI, led by founder and CEO Andrew Denton (BS’15, MS’20), is a career-matching platform that uses AI to facilitate quality hiring decisions efficiently.

PriceTect, led by Sahil Patel (MA’23), focuses on improving the change order process for construction projects by using AI-driven cost estimates.

Sponsors of the 2024 Big Idea competition included the McKinney Economic Development Corporation, Vela Wood, Baker Tilly, Silicon Valley Bank and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

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