Student Entrepreneurs Bring Big Ideas to Pitch Competition Finals

A résumé service that helps job applicants keep ahead of keyword tracking systems captured the top prize at the 2019 UT Dallas Big Idea Competition.

The most high-profile pitch competition of the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (IIE) at The University of Texas at Dallas showcased six finalists vying for prize money totaling $40,000 on Nov. 19 at the Edith O’Donnell Arts and Technology Lecture Hall. The finalists had been selected from more than 200 entrants.

Celebrity guest judge Shiza Shahid (left) and master of ceremonies Michael Shawn (right) celebrate with computer science graduate students Shobhana Ganesh and Anish Hegde.

A team led by computer science graduate student Anish Hegde took home the $25,000 first-place prize for ResumePuppy, a cloud-based service that helps job applicants improve their odds of landing interviews. Hedge’s idea stemmed from his experience as a job applicant.

“I realized that there’s something called an applicant-tracking system that picks your résumé based on the keywords that are there in the job description,” he said during his team’s presentation. “So, say your résumé doesn’t have the right keywords. It doesn’t get picked.”

Hegde and his team created a machine-learning and natural-language processing tool that automatically generates résumés based on essential keywords in the job descriptions.

After the competition, Hegde said he was ecstatic about the product receiving validation from the judges.

ResumePuppy “helped a lot of my friends when I released it,” he said. “I realized that this is a problem a lot of people can have. The judges feel that this problem really exists and we can solve it.”

Chase Murphy, a partner at advisory, tax and assurance firm Baker Tilly, was one of the judges. He said selecting the winners proved to be difficult.

From left: Shawn and judges Samantha Colletti, Dayakar Puskoor, Shahid, Eric Ho and Chase Murphy.

“All six candidates had a great value proposition,” he said. “It was a struggle to nail it down, for sure.”

The other judges were celebrity guest and keynote speaker Shiza Shahid, co-founder of the Malala Fund; Eric Ho, director of strategic initiatives at Capital One; Dayakar Puskoor, co-founder and managing partner at venture capital fund Naya Ventures; and Samantha Colletti, senior vice president of Silicon Valley Bank.

The difficulty in selecting the winners exemplified the value IIE brings to students who participate in its programs, said Dresden Goldberg, director of programs and operations for the institute. IIE tries to give students an entrepreneurial mindset, she said.

“Whether they end up working in a corporate office or starting their own business, they need to be creative, be critical thinkers and have problem-solving skills in order to succeed,” she said. “It may be something small like fixing a process that saves time and money or something huge like developing a new product or service that disrupts an entire industry. We just want the students to know they are capable of doing these things, they can drive change, and they can take ownership of a problem and solve it. We are here to support them while they develop those skills.”

Michael Shawn, who co-hosts “DeDe in the Morning” on K104 (KKDA-FM), served as the event’s emcee.

Other Awards

Several special-recognition awards — dubbed Entrepreneurship Awards — were presented at the event. UT Dallas students, alumni, faculty and staff are eligible for prizes in several categories.

  • Leg Up Legal won the $5,000 “Innovate(her)” award. Anjie Vichayanonda BS’08 founded and leads this web-based mentoring and coaching platform for law students.
  • Rakkasan Tea Company won the $5,000 “Biggest Social Impact” award for its premium tea that is sourced solely from post-conflict countries. The company is led by co-founder and CEO Brandon Friedman MPA’06.
  • In addition to its third-place overall award, AccessMyResearch won the $5,000 “Biggest Idea” award. The nonprofit social network platform, created by cognition and neuroscience PhD student Mehmet Günal, makes published academic research papers more accessible to the public.
  • UTDesign Startup Challenge winners included BeYOUty Tech, a company that provides personalized beauty products and services, and Fluid Impulse, a liquid propellant rocket engine maker.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].