Illinois Innovation Prize


Awarding outstanding innovatio

The Illinois Innovation Prize, administered by the Technology Entrepreneur Center in the College of Engineering, is awarded on an annual basis to the most innovative student/s on campus. In 2016, Aadeel Akhtar was recognized as the most innovative student on campus at the Entrepreneurship Forum.

This nominee is:

  • A creative and passionate innovator
  • Working with world changing technology
  • Entrepreneurially minded
  • A role model for others

Students must be nominated by a faculty member, mentor, advisor and so forth. Students may not nominate other students. Students must be on-campus during the 2016-17 academic year at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Top 3 Finalists for the 2016 Illinois Innovation Prize

WINNER: Aadeel Akhtar: a M.D./Ph.D. Candidate in Neuroscience and CEO and Co-founder of PSYONIC, a startup developing highly advanced, low-cost prosthetic hands—the first with sensory feedback—to those who need them around the world.

Matthew Alonso: an Agricultural Engineering Ph.D. student working on solving a global cooking problem by developing a portable solar thermal energy storage system without fuel, fire or emissions.

Mayank Kale: a junior Computer Science student and CEO and Founder of Invoq Health, a startup that is transforming the way community health NGOs and research organizations manage their healthcare information in India and Africa.

Finalists for the 2016 Illinois Innovation Prize

Kandis Gilliard: a Chemistry Ph.D. Candidate and CEO and Founder of Nardo Technology. She is developing portable electroanalytical sensor devices for field detection of narcotics by law enforcement and software to interface with mobile devices.

Joshua Grolman: a Ph.D. candidate in Materials Science and Engineering and NSF IGERT Graduate Research Fellow developing a novel encapsulation technique based on microfluidic all-aqueous templating with in-situ alginate gelation and functionalization for tissue engineering applications.

Arielle Rausin: a senior Business Management student 3D printing wheelchair gloves unique to each user. The glove fits each hand perfectly, is equally as durable and weighs more than 60 percent less that the glove most commonly used.

Jason Troutner: a senior studying Mechanical Engineering and CTO and Co-founder Cast21—a startup developing an innovative glove-like cast application method with a lattice structure and integrated vibration therapy.


All current students are eligible to be nominated for the award regardless of college, department or major.

This nominee is:

  • A creative and passionate innovator
  • Working with world changing technology
  • Entrepreneurially minded
  • A role model for others

Students must be nominated by a faculty member, mentor, advisor and so forth. Students may not nominate other students. Students must be on-campus during the 2016-17 academic year at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Frequently Asked Questions

Must the award money be used for research?

No, it's an unrestricted cash gift. $20,000 in cash is awarded. However, it may be awarded to more than one student, and divided at the discretion of the judges.

Do I have to be in the College of Engineering to apply?

No. We accept applications from any undergraduate or graduate student on campus regardless of major or college. Winning applications are not based on your major but are based on the innovation you present in your application.

Who is eligible to apply?

All students are eligible to compete. Students must be enrolled full-time at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign during the academic year in which the award will be presented.

What is the process to apply?

You must be nominated in order to apply. Once you have been nominated, you will receive an email stating that you've been nominated and now need to apply for the award. The application consists of a few questions, submitting your resume and references and supplemental materials. Judges will review all applications and invite a select few in for an interview. If you are selected for an interview, you will be notified in February and interviews will take place in March 2017. The winner will be annouced in April 2017.

Do I need many nominations?

You only need one nomination to be considered for the award. The amount of nominations you receive does not affect the judging process.

When is the deadline to nominate?

Nominations for the 2017 IIP are currently closed. 

Am I required to have a patent?


Do I forfeit my intellectual property rights by submitting an application?

Generally, no. We use only titles and short descriptions of inventions for public relations purposes. Additionally, the judging panel will be asked to keep in mind that student applications are distributed solely for the purpose of evaluation for the Illinois Student Prize and should not be reproduced for other purposes.

However, please be aware that you will be barred from obtaining patent protection, if the patent application is filed more than one year after a "publication" that may permit a person reasonably skilled in the field to make the invention based upon your application. In addition, you will be barred from obtaining patent protection in foreign countries.

Please consult the Illinois policies relating to intellectual property, the Office of Technology Management, and the USPTO to ensure protection of your intellectual property.

Who are the judges?

The judges panel is comprised of Illinois alumni and entrepreneurs as well as faculty members representing diverse areas of expertise across several colleges and departments.

Previous Winners and Finalists

The Illinois Innovation Prize, administered by the Technology Entrepreneur Center in the College of Engineering, is awarded on an annual basis to an innovative and creative student that is passionate about solving grand challenges and striving to be entrepreneurial.

2017 Winner - Lucas Frye

Lucas Frye is an MBA candidate in the College of Business and co-founder and CEO of Amber Agriculture, a startup focused on automating grain management. Using IoT-enabled wireless sensors and cloud analytics, their technology enables farmers to capture the highest possible price for their crops. Lucas utilized his farm background and Bachelor of Science in Agricultural and Consumer Economics along with his co-founder’s engineering skills to win the 2016 Cozad New Venture Competition. Since then, Amber Agriculture has taken part in the iVenture Accelerator and was named the Best Startup at the Consumer Electronics Show by Engadget. While at Illinois Lucas was the President of the College of ACES Council, co-director of the University of Illinois Student Alumni Ambassadors, winner of the Warren K. Wessels Achievement Award to the most outstanding senior in the college of ACES, Senior 100 Honorary: Top 100 Campus Seniors based on University of Illinois Leadership and Loyalty, and was a student trustee on the University of Illinois Board of Trustees.

2017 Finalists

Bilge Acun, Olaoluwapo Ajala, Daniel Gardner


2016 Winner - Aadeel Akhtar

Aadeel Akhtar is a Neuroscience Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Illinois, currently enrolled in the College of Medicine. He graduated from Loyola University Chicago, Magna cum laude, with a B.S. in biology and a M.S. in computer science in 2007 and 2008, respectively. Aadeel is also the CEO and Co-founder of PSYONIC, a startup developing highly advanced, low-cost prosthetic hands – the first with sensory feedback -- to those who need them around the world. PSYONIC took home the 1st place prize in the 2015 Cozad New Venture Competition before participating in the iVenture Accelerator in the summer of 2015. His passion for helping amputees comes from a trip to Pakistan in the summer of 1994 when he met a girl his age missing her right leg. The girl was using a tree branch as a crutch, and Aadeel could not understand how two people with the same ethnic background could have such vastly different qualities of life. He then made it his mission to help amputees, such as the girl he met in Pakistan as a child, improve their quality of life.

2016 Finalists

Mayank Kale, Matthew Alonso

2015 Winner - Ritu Raman

Ritu Raman, PhD Candidate in Mechanical Science and Engineering was announced as the 2015 winner and awarded with $15,000. Ritu is focused on developing and commercializing 3D printing technologies for applications in biomedical engineering. Specifically, Ritu is interested in using 3D printing to manufacture biological building blocks, or BioBlocks. These BioBlocks can harness the innate abilities of biological materials to sense, process, and respond to a variety of dynamic environmental signals in real time. Ritu plans to use experiential learning and empirical discovery as a tool to train the next generation of makers, builders, and inventors.

2015 Finalists

Ahmed Khurshid, Amy Doroff

2014 Winner - Canan Dagdeviren

Canan Dagdeviren, a PhD Candidate in Materials Science and Engineering won the 2014 Illinois Innovation Prize for her research in applications of piezoelectric materials and patterning techniques for unusual electronics with an emphasis on bio-integrated systems, such as bio-sensors, actuators, transducers, and mechanical energy harvestors in flexible/strechtable forms.

2014 Finalists

Analisa Russo, Paul Froeter, Adam Tilton, Peter Fiflis, James Pikul

2013 Winner - Eduardo Torrealba

Eduardo Torrealba, a graduate student in Mechanical Science and Engineering, created his company Oso Technologies after a simple search to keep household plants alive. His first product, Plant Link, monitors the moisture needs of specific plants and can deliver water on an as needed basis using smart valves.

2013 Finalists

Eleni AntoniadouBrett JonesMichael McCartyArnab MukherjeeLucas SmithRajinder SodhiBrett Walker

2012 Winner - Kevin Karsch

Karsch, a doctoral student in computer science, has helped develop a technique for inserting objects and special effects into photos and videos without taking physical measurements of the scene. The technique can be performed by novices in a few minutes.

2012 Finalists

Sriram ChandrasekaranJames LangerPradeep S. ShenoyMuhammed Fazeel

2011 Winner - Scott Daigle

Scott is currently working on IntelliWheels, a new product that replaces manual wheelchair wheels and adds automatic gear shifting to reduce the amount of effort required to push the chair.

2011 Finalists

Zeba ParkarColin Lake

2010 Winner - Jonathan Naber

Guided by his passion for helping those less fortunate, Jonathan has developed an affordable prosthetic arm for people in underdeveloped countries with the help of his team, Illini Prosthetic Technologies. Putting aside his initial focus to make a state-of-the-art prosthetic arm with electronic components, Jonathan has created an arm from off the shelf materials that is extremely functional, durable and easily manufactured.

2010 Finalists

Kira BartonStephen DieboldScott Daigle

2009 Winner - John Wright

John has developed new mathematical tools that drastically improve the accuracy of facial recognition systems such as those used at Boston’s Logan airport, the 2001 Superbowl, and by the Tampa, Florida police department.

2009 Finalists

Martin PageJang-Ung ParkRobert ShepherdAdam SteeleMurali VenkatesanBen BlaiszikHan Wui

2008 Winner - Patrick Walsh

Patrick Walsh is working towards changing the way 1.6 billion people light their homes. Patrick’s solar-powered LED lamps are a brighter, healthier, longer-lasting, and less expensive lighting option for people with unreliable electricity.

2008 Finalists

Chris FieldYun FuShravan GaonkarStephen Diebold

2007 Winner - Michael Callahan

Michael Callahan hopes to assist individuals without the use of speech and mobility to communicate through the application of neuroscience.

2007 Finalists