Students pitch their Big iDeas at 2016 Dallas Festival of Ideas

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Jonah Kirby's Fiddler won the pitch competition. Photo credit: Christina Cox

Three SMU seniors participated in the Dallas Festival of Ideas’ Entrepreneurial Forum Saturday, where each pitched their Big iDeas to a crowd of Dallasites in the hopes of winning several entrepreneurial prizes.

The theme of this year’s festival was “The United City,” which aimed to “help shape the city of the future by igniting, uniting and energizing the people of Dallas through the power of ideas.” The pitch contest was in partnership with the Arts Entrepreneurship Program at the Meadows School of the Arts

Each student had three minutes to pitch and three minutes for questions. The winner was chosen using what Susan Kress, the executive director for Engaged Learning at SMU, called “the old-school clap-o-meter.”

Eddie Allegra pitched Biolum, a mobile app that uses Bluetooth technologies to scale user’s exhaled breath and determine the severity of asthma systems; Roberto Hernandez pitched Mexican Bingo, an iOS and Android app that turns the traditional Mexican Bingo game into a digital format; and Jonah Kirby pitched Fiddler, a rooftop wind turbine system that creates battery power on a digital grid.

All three Big iDeas received support, but Kirby’s Fiddler received an overwhelming applause from the room, making him the winner of the Pitch Contest.

His prizes include a 60-minute personalized mentoring session with one of U.S. Trust’s leading strategic advisors, an invitation to five lunches throughout year for the 2016 Social Venture Partners (SVP) Dallas Social Innovation Speaker Series, and a three month free co-working space at the Dallas Entrepreneur Center (DEC).

“I’m hoping that the relationships I get from mentoring will be great to help the company along or to find investors,” Kirby said. “The DEC prize of three months of working space is really cool because this summer we needed a home and that is a place we can start”

The senior mechanical engineer said he has been passionate about bringing wind energy to homes since he was 16 years old.

“I’ve been obsessed with wind power for a long time. It’s really at SMU that this idea took shape,” he said.

With a team of five fellow SMU senior engineers, Kirby plans to “help people build a cleaner world” and tap into the 36 million suburban homes in wind-rich areas of the U.S. with Fiddler’s compact rooftop wind turbine system. He said there is a market potential of $84 billion with this new technology.

“But that’s really not the cool part,” Kirby said. “The cool part is that we’re going to save and make people money and we’re going do something good by the environment without sacrifice.”

Kirby hopes that in five years Fiddler will have a wide range of products and will spread across the nation.

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The winner received several prizes from Bank of America/U.S. Trust, SVP Dallas and The DEC. Photo credit: Christina Cox

Allegra of Biolum said he got his idea from his own experience trying to diagnose and manage his asthma.

“Currently it [asthma] is the most common chronic disease in the U.S. today and it counts for 1.8 million ER visits each year,” Allegra said.

With Biolum, Allegra hopes to take the pain and cost out of asthma diagnoses by using a stand-alone device. Biolum looks for a specific chemical in users’ breath to determine how severe their symptoms are.

The senior economics major said he plans to have the product tested by the FDA later this year and begin sales and production in Quarter 1 2017.

Hernandez of Mexican Bingo hopes to turn a popular Hispanic family game into a popular app. He said Mexican Bingo is like regular Bingo, except players use images instead of numbers.

“There is no one else doing this,” Hernandez said. “There is no app like this so this is a perfect market for me.”

Hernandez plans on using advertising to monetize the app and is looking into owning the trademark for the game as well.

Kress said Engaged Learning at SMU aims to connect undergraduates, like Kirby, Hernandez and Allegra, in entrepreneurial activities across the whole campus.

“We challenge our undergraduates to thing big, to think creatively, to think about they can make an impact on society,” Kress said.

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Susan Kress, executive director of Engaged Learning, introduced the three students pitching their Big iDeas. Photo credit: Christina Cox
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