Two graduate students in the Naveen Jindal School of Management have won funding from the RevTech SAFE Schools Grant Challenge for proposing a solution to help suppress the COVID-19 virus on university and college campuses.
Sameer Ranjan and Preksha Shah, both MS in Business Analytics students, were one of five students teams from UT Dallas and SMU that earned $5,000 for their ideas. The app that Ranjan and Shah plan to develop also will help small businesses and restaurants reopen while keeping their customers safe.
“COVID-19 had a huge economic impact on our small-scale industries,” said Sameer Ranjan. “They were not able to reopen their shops because of social distancing requirements.”
The winning idea the pair submitted is for an app that will help businesses and other organizations to adhere to state guidelines related to reduced occupancies in enclosed areas. Shoppers will be able to reserve a preferred time to shop by seeing how many other customers have booked a slot at a given time and the average time spent shopping at that time.
Now that Texas businesses are beginning to reopen, many people are fearful about their safety and health, and reluctant to enter stores and other locations, Shah said. At UT Dallas, advising and other departments that have frequent visitors will be able to use the app.
“This app can be used not only for our school but also for small businesses in North Texas and across the Unites States,” he said. “All these shops can be opened back up, and people won’t be having that fear they’re having right now being in close proximity of each other.”
Ranjan came up with the idea for the app because he had gone to a hospital when he felt ill and thought he might have contracted COVID-19. The results were negative, but the idea that hospitals could be hotspots for the virus stuck in his mind. He wondered whether people who knew how many patients were in each waiting room would decide to go to another facility that was less crowded.
When he learned about the call from venture capital firm RevTech Ventures for UT Dallas and SMU students to come up with ideas to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on university campuses, he put his idea together with theirs.
“This is an information technology app,” Ranjan said. “If I can apply it in a chain of business I can apply it anywhere. Preksha told me that we could scale it to restaurants and other college shops also.”
“Preksha and I are from business analytics, so we deal with numbers,” Ranjan said. “Health experts are predicting that it will take around a year and a half to completely eliminate coronavirus if they follow CDC guidelines daily.”
Shah said that being business analytics students helped her and Ranjan in the competition because it gave them the ability to think broadly about various aspects of corporate or societal problems.
“Being in this field really helps us to think for the betterment of society,” she said. “That’s what this challenge was for, and that’s why we submitted this idea.”
The two have not enrolled in summer classes. With the funding, they plan to devote the entire summer to building out their idea.
Other UT Dallas RevTech winning teams were:
SaniScanner – a system to sterilize against infectious diseases using low-cost, short-wavelength ultraviolet light at checkout counters. Created by Kevu Cao, a mechanical engineering junior, and Parker Watts, a physics senior.
CampusOven – A catered meal delivery service started by Rohit Shenoy, a computer science senior, and fellow Comets Logan Harless, a May BS in mechanical engineering graduate; Benny, Rubanov, a May Bs in physics graduate; and Gaurav Sethi.an actuarial science major.
— Jimmie R. Markham