Student Entrepreneurs Win Campus Innovation Awards

Mathew Magno and Charles Chen of Japa
Undergraduates Mathew Magno (left) and Charles Chen, founders of Japa.

Two UC Davis undergraduates won the $10,000 first prize in the 18th annual UC Davis Big Bang! Business Competition on May 24, 2018. Their venture, Japa Inc., takes the pain out of finding parking with a mobile app that employs smart data and advanced analytics to provide drivers with real-time parking availability. The award recognizes the top innovation coming out of this year’s competition.

Five finalists—out of an impressive 62 teams in this year’s competition—pitched their ventures to the award ceremony audience before prizes were announced. 

The Big Bang! provides workshops, mentorship and networking opportunities to accelerate commercialization and advance the startup process. Organized and run by the Mike and Renee Child Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UC Davis, it is open to the university’s students, faculty, researchers and staff as well as to the public.

In total, this year’s competition awarded a record $112,000 in cash prizes for top concepts in food and agriculture, health, energy efficiency, economic development in California’s Central Valley, global poverty alleviation, and improving the lives of small-scale farmers in developing countries.

Park smart

We’ve all been there: wasting time and growing increasingly frustrated as we circle parking lots or roam city streets in hopes of finding an available space. 

Japa has a solution: a smart parking system that employee industry-leading sensors to track parking lot owners’ inventory, records transactions, and is accessible on any web browser, giving valuable, in-the-moment insights into parking operations. Japa’s smartphone app, in turn, shows drivers the real-time availability of the lots and structures in the area.

The startup is currently partnered with the Transportation and Parking Services at UC Davis and NWave Technologies to bring stress-free parking to students; municipal partnerships include Walnut Creek and Redwood City.

“Our vision is simple: to solve parking everywhere and to make smart cities and university and corporate campuses a reality,” said CEO Mathew Magno, a UC Davis senior computer science major in the College of Letters and Science. Magno is also a co-founder and director of PLASMA, a campus accelerator program where he works closely with other startups/ventures and mentors them in a 12-week cohort.

Participating in the Big Bang! “allowed us to progress with our company while extending our network of entrepreneurs in the Davis community,” said Magno. He thanked 2014 Big Bang! winner Benjamin Wang for sharing his entrepreneurial insight and expertise as a mentor, workshop leader and judge. “Ben consistently advised us to not sell ourselves short and to continue aggressively reaching out to potential clients with complete confidence in our platform.”

In addition to the Big Bang! first prize, Japa also received a $2,500 microgrant in the Little Bang! Pitch + Poster Competition held earlier in the day, and a $1,000 microgrant from a Little Bang! competition in January.

The startup will use the prize money to hire additional programmers. “Japa will continue to operate paid trials in various cities, universities and hospitals,” Magno said. “We plan to expand to airports, amusement parks, and sports arenas—which are all in desperate need of our service.”

Wearable health


Lanwei Su
Lanwei Su

SU Apparel, a smog utility apparel brand that merges fashionable streetwear with healthy air filtering technology, won the $3,000 UC Davis Health Award, sponsored by UC Davis Health, UC Davis Office of Research and the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

Founder and CEO Lanwei Su, will receive her MFA  from the UC Davis Department of Design this year. Her venture was inspired by the severe air pollution in her hometown, Beijing. “Health threats caused by smog are a growing concern for urban residents,” she said. “The common air masks oftentimes make people appear sick or strip them of their individuality. SU is turning a passive self-protective act into a positive fashion statement.” The startup’s garment has a replaceable filter built into the collar that blocks harmful particles and allows easy breathing.

Su plans to use the prize money to develop a prototype and launching a beta website. “We hope a year from now that we will have our funding in place and start selling our garment online.”

— Adapted from a story by Marianne Skoczek, associate director of marketing and communication for the Mike and Renee Child Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship