'Braille Tech' concept takes first prize at JagStart pitch competition

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Madhura Mhatre, right, pictured with IUPUI Vice Chancellor for Research Simon Atkinson, won the $2,500 first-place prize at the JagStart competition. Photo courtesy of the IUPUI Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research

INDIANAPOLIS -- The visually impaired have been able to use smartphones via voice activation, but reading them hasn't been as easy.

IUPUI graduate student Madhura Mhatre has a possible solution: an app that turns letters into digital Braille on the screen, used in conjunction with a glove featuring color-coded sensors and tactile feedback that gives the user sensations similar to reading raised dots as in Braille.

Her idea, "Braille Tech," took first prize at IUPUI's annual JagStart competition on March 3, topping 13 other entries to claim the $2,500 award.

In the competition, sponsored by IUPUI's Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, entrepreneurial-minded students sell their innovative ideas for solutions to pressing social and economic issues via three-minute "elevator" pitches to judges.

"I didn't have the idea that I was going to win, but I wanted to go onstage and pitch my product no matter what," said Mhatre, a graduate student in the School of Informatics and Computing. "I wanted to reach out to every possible person in the room."

Technology managers from the Indiana University Innovation and Commercialization Office were involved in the review and scoring process, along with a finalist-selection team that included a business mentor group.

Students participated from a wide range of schools including the Kelley School of Business, School of Informatics and Computing, School of Science, and School of Engineering and Technology.

Here's a look at the winners:

First place, $2,500: "Braille Tech," Madhura Mhatre, graduate student in the School of Informatics and Computing.

Idea: A smartphone app that turns letters into digital Braille on the screen, used in conjunction with a glove featuring color-coded sensors and tactile feedback that gives the user sensations similar to reading raised dots as in Braille.

Second place, $1,500: "Coining Forces," Kristina Tinsley, Honors College freshman in the Kelley School of Business.

Idea: A smartphone app that connects veterans and their families with discounts to businesses in their area and hosts job listings.

Third place, $500: "Waste, Erased," Monica Kinsey, Honors College senior in the Kelley School of Business.

Idea: A zero-waste specialty grocery store.

Audience choice, $1,000: "AggroByte," team led by Thomas Freestone, Honors College senior in the School of Science.

Idea: An artificial intelligence automatic weeder for farmers.

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