Innovation Celebration winners to be announced Thursday night

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TJ Wukitsch, senior vice president of KantWait, delivers an order from Far East Grocery while operating the grocery route. 

By Angelica Lavito

Winners of the Innovation Celebration will be announced Thursday night at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications. The Champaign County Economic Development Corporation’s ninth annual Innovation Celebration will highlight entrepreneurship in the community and on campus.

Individuals and organizations were nominated for one of the nine awards. The Student Start-Up award recognizes a student-formed company that demonstrates commitment to continuing success through entrepreneurial talent, creativity and energy, according to the Innovation Celebration’s website.

Servabo, Miss Possible and KantWait are the three finalists for this year’s Entrepreneurial Excellence Student Start-Up award.

Servabo

Nishana Ismail and Tim Deppen, graduate students in Engineering, developed a self-protection technology company which they named Servabo.

“It’s basically a personal security company, so what we’re trying to do is find innovative ways of accessing safety in this generation of iPhones and iPads and everything,” Ismail said.

Ismail and Deppen are working on a service called Shadow that allows users to alert emergency contacts if their technological devices are stolen.

“It’s like an electronic panic button,” Ismail said. “You have the button, which is simple, easy to use, discreet and all the ability and intellect comes from a mobile app.”

The application will be free, and the device will cost between $20 and $25. They are finishing the last prototype and will test the service and begin a funding campaign this summer.

The two were eating lunch at Flat Top Grill when Deppen asked Ismail what she would do if she could do anything. Ismail told him her about the idea, and Deppen began writing their plan down on a napkin.

“He was like, ‘OK, write it down and let’s try doing it,’ and we started writing on a napkin,” Ismail said. “You know, in Flat Top you get those big napkins and pencils and we were writing on that. From there, that’s how we got to this product.”

Servabo won the Technology Entrepreneur Center’s Cozad New Venture Competition last year, which initially funded the project.

For Ismail, being nominated for the Student Start-Up award less than a year after her and Deppen’s idea was developed is meaningful.

“We started this thing in March of last year and now we’re nominated, that’s like a big deal for us,” Ismail said. “We are way too excited and very happy and thankful for this to happen.”

Miss Possible

Janna Eaves, junior in Engineering, and Supriya Hobbs, senior in Engineering, are hoping to inspire girls to change the world with their Miss Possible dolls.

“When you have girls growing up surrounded by Barbie and princess movies and women are sexualized all the time in TV, it’s hard to make the connection that I can go out and change the world too because you just don’t go out and see women doing that around you,” Eaves said.

Miss Possible, Inc. creates 10-year-old versions of inspirational women. They have not begun producing dolls yet, but their first doll will feature Marie Curie, who was a pioneer in radiation studies.

Dolls will cost between $35 and $50. Once a doll is purchased, owners will receive an access code for the World of Possibilities.

“With these dolls, girls can log onto the World of Possibilities, which is an online world and play logic games and solve puzzles,” Hobbs said. “All the while, it’s reinforcing the idea that they can have an impact on the world.”

Eaves and Hobbs developed the idea for Miss Possible the night before applications for last year’s Cozad New Venture Competition were due. They decided to enter the competition at the last minute and made it to the finals.

After the competition, they received student consulting services, legal services and software to help them pursue their project.

Eaves and Hobbs are the youngest Student Start-Up nominees and are excited for the opportunity.

“I think part of this nomination is reinforcement to the fact that when you are selling something that people care about … that people recognize us and are on board with us enough to nominate us for something like this, it feels good,” Eaves said.

KantWait     

KantWait is a grocery delivery service that allows users to place orders online and pick them up along one of the delivery routes.

“Conceptually, it’s like a bus,” said Lei Jin, graduate student in Engineering. “We stop at the stores and then stop at the orders on the bus and go to other stops, or KantWait points. People nearby can go to the points and pick up their stuff.”

Jin, first thought of the idea last year when he was riding an MTD bus. Someone left a package on the bus and told the driver his friend would pick it up. A few stops later, the friend boarded the bus and retrieved the package.

“I said ‘Wow, this is brilliant,’” Jin said. “‘I know that we have public transportation like a bus for human beings, what if I can create something for merchandise?’”

Jin developed the idea last May and has since collaborated with Fangbo Tao and He Huang, graduate students in computer science, and Haoxun Dai, senior in computer science, to establish and grow the company.

The team developed an application to create an inventory of stores that enables them to find products quickly and easily. If an item is out of stock, the shopper will notify the user and the user can choose a substitution item.

Jin and his partners are in a stage where they will decide if they want to continue pursuing the project. They plan to seek investment and evaluate how they can grow.

“I know that people think I’m too optimistic, but I know there are 100 ways we can be successful or there are 100 ways we can fail,” Jin said. “But for me, that’s the exciting part. We can take which ever path I want, I don’t care if it’s successful or failure.”

Angelica can be reached at [email protected]

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to Lei Jin as Lin. The Daily Illini regrets the error.