Rady School Helped Prepare UCSD Grad, Students to Win U.S. 2010 Imagine Cup

Imagine Cup winners

A recent University of California, San Diego graduate who led his team to win the U.S. 2010 Imagine Cup in April prepared for the competition at the Rady School of Management. The student and two UCSD undergraduates on his team are now preparing to compete in the worldwide competition representing the United States in July.

Wilson To and his team Mobilife won the U.S. finals of the Microsoft-sponsored challenge against 22,000 other U.S. students with a smart phone application that can detect vascular diseases early among children in developing regions. The phone takes pictures and videos of blood vessels in the eye. A diagnostic software program provides information on a person’s risk for diabetes or other diseases that affect the vascular system.

The 2009 biology graduate developed the idea after finishing a research fellowship in pathology at UC Davis in the areas of computer-assisted intravital microscopy and imaging. He decided to enter his idea into the Microsoft challenge because he knew his altruistic device would be a perfect fit for the competition. It challenged students to address the United Nations Millennium Development Goals including the reduction of childhood mortality rates worldwide.

To gained experience developing revenue models, business strategies and forming idea pitches in Rady School classes. With these new skills, he won the UCSD Entrepreneur Challenge in the undergraduate category in 2009 with Imagine Cup teammate Helena Xu. Once To developed the idea for the Imagine Cup, he discussed the competition with Rady Lecturer Del Foit and Foit critiqued his business plans.

“Overall, the Rady School coursework allowed me to take another look at the interests, passions and activities I have in my life, in this case research interests, and identify an idea that could advance to help the world,” To said.

To recruited UCSD computer science major Kayvon Ghaffari to help develop the software. Helena Xu, a communication and management science major, also joined the team and worked with Foit to advance the business plan.

While competing in the final round in Washington D.C. against the top 10 teams in the nation, To’s computer battery died during their final presentation to judges. Xu and To were sure they could not overcome this setback. But the judges told the team they showed grace under pressure and awarded them the grand prize.

Xu said her project may have won because the idea is novel and it directly helps children’s health. They had also prepared a prototype that a judge tested. But they were still surprised to win because many other teams were full of Ph.D. and MBA candidates.

“We were shocked,” Xu said. “Some of these teams have funding for their product, some have patents.”

She credits a big part of their win to the revenue model, business strategy and idea pitch Foit helped them develop. “We operate like a fully functional business,” Xu said.

The team must produce a 15-minute video demonstrating its device and polish the presentation for the competition in Warsaw. The greatest obstacle is location. Last year, To moved on to graduate school in comparative pathology at UC Davis.

Mobilife’s second obstacle is history. The U.S. has never won the International Imagine Cup.

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