Why you should care

Because these 10 college students are receiving up to $10,000 to pursue their genius ideas.

If you’re wondering who could become the next Albert Einstein, Mark Zuckerberg, Oprah Winfrey or Wendy Kopp, look no further. This year’s class of OZY Genius Award winners have the brains, ideas and inspiration to change the world.

Applications piled in from around the country, and OZY has selected the 10 college students with the best genius ideas to win grants of up to $10,000 to pursue their goals. Winners were selected by an all-star panel of judges, including Arianna Huffington, Editor-in-Chief of the Huffington Post and CEO of Thrive Global; CEO of DoSomething Aria Finger; Co-CEO of Warby Parker Neil Blumenthal; EVP and General Manager for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Matthew Mugo Fields; and investor Karan Khemka. From a fintech startup to a documentary covering resistance movements, these winning project ideas tackle important challenges with innovative solutions.

Check out their genius ideas below, and stay tuned to OZY as we track their progress in the months to come.

Saron Mechale, Brown University

goTeff will produce and sell food products made from teff grain, an ancient superfood that hails from Ethiopia. The supergrain is gluten free, and a single cup can provide over half your daily protein needs. It’s even known for powering some of Ethiopia’s most successful long-distance runners. The pioneer product of goTeff is a bar to compete in the billion-dollar U.S. nutrition bar market. “We hope to use the award to test our market over the summer and pave the way to transform the lives of millions of farmers in the developing world,” says Mechale, who is originally from Ethiopia and is studying business, entrepreneurship and organizations at Brown University. She hopes cardio-, fitness-, and health-minded consumers will become early adopters of goTeff’s nutrition bar.


Albert Gehami, Stanford University

Concert is a membership platform that allows artists and their fans to connect, share and grow together. Gehami, who juggles more than 200 play lists that he manages across SoundCloud, Spotify and Google Music, is building “the artist-fan community that I want, and giving emerging artists the fan support they deserve,” he says. The idea is to transform fans from passive listeners into partners in a mutual venture with artists. The platform has started at Stanford, and with the help of the OZY Genius Award, it will expand to other universities and around the Bay Area, says Gehami.


Carla Marzari, University of Toledo

CodeWeGo is an online platform that teaches web development languages such as HTML, CSS and JavaScript in Spanish, using Spanish keywords and tags. Up next? Mandarin. A junior studying computer science and engineering technology at the University of Toledo, Marzari first became interested in coding when she started college, and came up with the idea while teaching an after-school programming class to a group of underprivileged students, many of whom were from Central America. “The OZY Genius Award will help catapult CodeWeGo” from a side project into a fully fledged educational tool, she says. The plan is to have a beta version ready for testing in Spanish-speaking classrooms around the world by the end of the summer.


James Griffin, University of Texas at Dallas

RamifAI is an automated college advising system that uses artificial intelligence. There are more than 400 students for every college adviser, on average, leading to suboptimal advice from time-strapped advisers, says Griffin, a computer science student at UTD. RamifAI’s software analyzes student transcripts to generate degree plans tailored to the individual. The OZY Genius Award will help the startup to “scale faster and be able to implement all the features we had planned,” says Griffin, including the hiring of a full-time technical lead.


Olivia Hadinoto, Brown University

Proyek Pintar (Project Smart) is an online platform that aims to teach, mentor and inspire 10 percent of Indonesia’s 7 million unemployed citizens. Growing up in Jakarta, she witnessed many low-income students opt out of high school and instead attend vocational schools. These trade schools struggle to prepare students for university or employment, leading to a major joblessness problem in the country. Hadinoto, along with Proyek Pintar co-founder Claire Nadira, see the OZY Genius Award as “a major step” in helping to scale the nonprofit organization, which has been struggling to meet the demand for its services.


Rohan Pavuluri, Harvard University

Upsolve helps low-income Americans get a fresh start after financial shocks by automating personal bankruptcy. A senior at Harvard studying statistics, Pavuluri started Upsolve two years ago as a way to achieve social impact with the joint levers of technology and government. The “lifeline” of bankruptcy is broken for many Americans who are buried in debt because it’s too hard to file and can cost more than $1,500 for a lawyer, says Pavuluri, who describes Upsolve as “TurboTax for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.”


Alexandria Ritchie, Virginia Commonwealth University

DuraSafe is a medical device that increases the success rates of epidurals. The pre-med senior studying biomedical engineering at VCU has developed a device that allows anesthesiologists to accurately and efficiently locate the epidural space, helping them to safely administer an epidural, a procedure that is complex and subject to a high rate of error. Ritchie and her team hope that “this device will completely revolutionize the way that epidurals are administered.” They aim to bring it to commercialization, a process that requires more robust prototype construction, further testing and the FDA process.


Rebecca Dharmapalan, University of California, Berkeley

Uprooted is an interactive documentary about refugee youth who now reside in Oakland, California. After producing a previous documentary about child sexual exploitation, which led her to a TEDxTeen Talk, this new project aims to provide a multidimensional view of the refugee experience, and how migrants’ lives have changed. “At the intersection of journalism, art, technology and social activism, this project works to conjure empathy and better people’s understandings of refugees as individuals,” says Dharmapalan.


Nikhil Garg, University of Notre Dame

Centralix is an exchange aggregator that connects users to hundreds of exchanges offering digital assets. Garg, a senior with a double major in applied math and finance at Notre Dame, is hoping to reduce some of the barriers and frictions in the cryptocurrency trading marketplace by aggregating the many exchanges for different crypto assets into one place. Though the world of digital assets was built on the idea of decentralization, his platform helps overcome the market’s fragmented infrastructure. “The OZY Genius Award has provided us not just the financial capital, but also a strong network of individuals who will help us to grow our business and make it the revolutionary trading platform we one day envision it to be,” says Garg.


Jonah Gercke, University of California, Berkeley

Gercke is a freshman at the University of California, Berkeley, majoring in global studies, while also finding time to be an investigative documentary filmmaker. Last summer, he traveled to the Israeli-Palestinian territories to document the conflict through the lens of youth culture and activism. Gercke is working on a new documentary about youth involved with resistance movements. While he can’t divulge the location of the upcoming documentary yet, owing to safety concerns, he says “it will focus on resistance art movements within a major humanitarian crisis affecting millions of people.”

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