The Illinois Innovation Prize 2020 Finalists!

3/27/2020 Urvashi Jha, Marketing & Communications Coordinator

Written by Urvashi Jha, Marketing & Communications Coordinator

Update: Congratulations to the winners announced Thursday, April 2, 2020! View the awards ceremony here.

The Illinois Innovation Prize (IIP) for $20,000 is awarded annually to a creative and passionate student working towards innovative solutions that could have a positive societal impact. Since 2007, over $300,000 has been awarded to student innovators. This year 4 students made to the finalist list. Learn more about them.

Ananya Cleetus, Junior, Computer Science, Grainger College of Engineering 

Ananya Cleetus

Ananya Cleetus is the founder of Anemone, a mental health crisis app that aims to destigmatize mental illness. The app allows users to create a customized crisis plan, and share it with friends, family, first responders, and mental health professionals. Mental health illness is a growing crisis, especially among youth in the U.S. One in five Americans suffer from a mental illness and the U.S. has around 1.4 million annual suicide attempts (compared to an annual 1.5 million heart attacks).

Channeling her own mental health struggles into a positive tool for others to use, Ananya aspires to be on the front lines of mental health crisis, and work on the next big innovation in the field.  She says, “while many people grow up learning about CPR, the Heimlich maneuver, or even ‘stop, drop and roll’, they typically are not given any education about mental health at all. Anemone aims to bridge this education gap and provide valuable resources.”

Gabriel Price, PhD Candidate, Ecology, Evolution & Conservation Biology, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences 

Gabriel Price
Gabriel Price

Gabriel Price is the founder of Earnest Earth Agriculture, a company that is helping farmers solve the problem of solid waste management by transforming harmful waste into safe, nutrient-rich bio fertilizer. Gabe has developed, fabricated, and patented a new bioreactor system to improve agricultural sustainability by improving waste management practices directly on farms.

As a PhD candidate, his research work is focused on the use of microorganisms to suppress pathogens in crops, with the hope to replace chemical and synthetic pesticides. Gabe believes that addressing plant pathogen infection in crops will improve food security and enhance crop yield. Pathogens are responsible for up to 40% of the losses in the crop yield globally. Through his research, Gabe has demonstrated that the phenomena of microbial competition can improve the suppression of pathogens in microbial biocontrol applications (the technology that can suppress plant pathogens). He strongly believes that true innovators continue to push themselves and develop countless ideas into creations that can benefit humanity.

Ananya Tiwari, PhD Candidate, Educational Psychology, College of Education 

Ananya Tiwari

Ananya Tiwari is the co-founder of the SwaTaleem Foundation that is transforming the extremely remote and poor government schools in India into model schools to solve the complex problem of child marriage by increasing educational outcomes for young girls. Ananya believes that building girls’ capacity through formal education and livelihood training will enhance their ability to negotiate key life decisions that are crucial for delaying early marriages.

By using a human centered transformative approach, along with integrating socio-emotional learning with school education of girls and the teachers, Ananya aims to enable constructive engagement of the primary stakeholders (adolescent girls, teachers, government officials, and funders) towards driving educational outcomes through active participation, feedback, and creating opportunities to collectively problem-solve. The foundation fosters participatory development by enhancing leadership capacities of the primary stakeholders towards driving their own transformation.

Girls develop cognitive aptitude and socio-emotional skills; teachers develop socio-emotional skills, learner centered teaching practices, and emerge as problem-solving champions; and the government has better school and development indicators.

Gabe Tavas, Sophomore, Industrial Design, School of Art + Design 

Gabe Tavas

Gabe Tavas has developed an alternative wood using safe and regenerative bacterial cellulose. This bacterial cellulose can grow with minimal amounts of water and sugar from food waste. Gabe’s ultimate hope is that the alternative wood will lead to sustainable and cheaper commercial applications, such as a substitute for tree-based wood construction, and for otherwise toxic petroleum plastics. Innovative use of alternative wood will help combat deforestation and reduce plastic pollution around the world, especially in regions that lack the resources and infrastructure needed to address chronic environmental issues.

He is developing this alternative wood at the Biomaking Space that he founded in partnership with the Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab to develop sustainable products. Gabe believes that biology can be combined with design thinking to develop sustainable products. When he is not tinkering at the Biomaking Space, Gabe can be found at maker spaces in Chicago like The Makerlab in the Harold Washington Library and mHub, where he is helping Urban Rivers, a non-profit developing a river-cleaning robot that the public can operate to collect floating trash in city waterways. 



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This story was published March 27, 2020.