From software solutions to sustainability initiatives to novel new products, the Masters Innovation Challenge was back for a new season of pitches.
The Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center initiative saw 14 upper school student teams submit proposals in December for business or social innovations they want to develop. Last month, the pool of 14 was narrowed down to five finalists.
On Thursday, February 16, the five teams presented their pilot pitches to a panel of judges, including school administrators and three business professionals: a venture capitalist, a real estate developer and a serial entrepreneur.
First place (a $300 prize) went to the Signisa team: Nataliia Kulieshova ’23 and Dayan Battulga ’23 developed Signisa, a sign language learning app designed to improve communication between the deaf and hearing communities. Kulieshova and Battulga have been working on Signisa with fellow senior Youri Lee ’23 for more than a year, and the concept has garnered significant accolades outside of Masters, including an award at the 2022 Changemaker Challenge organized by T-Mobile.
Kulieshova acknowledged her teacher, Director of Innovation, Engineering and Computer Science John Chiodo, for encouraging her ongoing work as a budding programmer and entrepreneur. “This presentation was my way to demonstrate how much his support meant to me and my projects,” she said. “In the meantime, our team is still developing the application and building datasets of signs for AI (artificial intelligence). During spring break, I am going to visit a school for the deaf which will help us build datasets more accurately and efficiently.”
Alice Fuller ’25 and Rebecca Troy ’25 earned a second-place prize of $200 for their idea: the creation of a product they're calling Nu Plastics. It's a sodium alginate bioplastic that is completely compostable in a home compost. “Our mission and goal is to eventually phase out traditional plastics that don't biodegrade and that poison our planet,” Fuller explained. “Rebecca and I have worked on this presentation for more than four months, and for that work to be acknowledged felt good, to say the least.”
The ON Diagnostic Systems duo of AJ Bagaria ’25 and Bobby Callagy ’24 were third-place winners and the recipients of a $100 prize. Their concept, ON, is an alert system that prevents truck drivers from getting into accidents as a result of drowsy driving, a serious safety hazard that causes 100,000 accidents a year. “By using theta waves from EEG technology, we can detect a driver’s fatigue and alert the driver if they are presenting drowsy symptoms or if they are about to experience a microsleep,” Bagaria said.
Bagaria noted that sometimes the best ideas come at random moments. A conversation about doctors and their long work hours became an opportunity to create a solution for the trucking industry. “This is why in our entrepreneurship class, we are always told to have a notebook close by so we can write down these ideas, because they are easy to forget,” he shared. “We did some research and found that the technology to create the solution was already out there. Someone just needed to turn it into an actual viable product.”
Chiodo was impressed by the students’ professionalism and innovative approaches to solving real-world problems. “While the afternoon was about presenting pilot pitches and all teams have a way to go in developing their products further, I think that all of the finalists could build thriving enterprises with what they presented. It was an inspiring event.”