Three Social Innovators to Watch

Triton Entrepreneur Night is one of several events hosted during Alumni Weekend, May 31-June 3, 2018. Learn more and register to attend at


Beneath Mandeville Auditorium, down a stairway once covered in graffiti and into a lofty open room, concepts are blooming. Connections are being built. Students are discussing business models, designing prototypes. New ideas emerge from underground.

This is The Basement—an undergraduate business incubator founded in 2015 by alumni Jeff and Kim Belk ’83, Aryeh Bourkoff ’95, and Mark Suster ’91. Established as a space for students to explore innovation and creative entrepreneurship, The Basement has cultivated not just student startup businesses, but has nurtured students striving for social impact as well.

Social impact drives many teams at The Basement, several of which will be showcased at The Basement’s yearly signature event, Triton Entrepreneur Night on May 31. Triton Entrepreneur Night will reveal a year’s worth of student work, culminating in an event where the efforts of student changemakers are on full display.

Tiny Socks and Security Blankets

Among these student teams is Hapty Hearts, a startup working to support mothers through the challenges of the postpartum period. One of the biggest trials, they’ve found, is perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs), a set of mental health disorders that are common in pregnant women during pregnancy and after giving birth. “PMADs can affect women in low-income families and households at almost double the rate,” says co-founder Niranjanaa Jeeva ’19. “That was something that was just unacceptable.”

Hapty Hearts co-founders Niranjanaa Jeeva ’19, Ella Stimson ’19 and Julie Yip ’18 display their prototype.

Jeeva and Hapty Hearts co-founders Ella Stimson ’19 and Julie Yip ’18 are currently prototyping a wearable device that would be available low-cost to families most affected by PMADs. Using haptic feedback, or touch feedback, the devices will connect mother and baby through heartbeat. The wearables will come in the form of a sock for baby and blanket for mother, and will help to alleviate the symptoms of PMADS, which can include anxiety and depression. The technology could have other applications in the future. “It might be good for children with autism who are having difficulty connecting with other people, or it could have potential for premature babies,” says Yip.

Hapty Hearts came to The Basement last year and is taking full advantage of the space’s mentorships, meeting spots, and prototyping tools to develop their brand. Their affiliation with The Basement has given them the opportunity to participate in events like UC San Diego & You: Silicon Valley, an alumni networking event where they met Albert P. Pisano, dean of Jacobs School of Engineering, who served as a user tester for their prototype. “It was the highlight of my college career,” says Jeeva.

Serving the City

Another team from The Basement is not creating consumer products. Instead, this team of students seeks to make change through service. Led by founder and director Anika Ullah ’18, Intersectional Health Project San Diego (IHPSD) is a student-run organization aiming to tackle public health issues that affect immigrant, refugee, and low-income communities across San Diego. The organization started out as a multimedia project aiming to simply raise awareness of public health issues in those communities, but the organization quickly realized they could do more.

Anika Ullah ’18, founder and director of Intersectional Health Project San Diego, presents her research at an undergraduate showcase in Sacramento. (Credit: Lauren Alisse)

Ullah and 25 other students who have since joined the project now use The Basement to organize and strategize on projects across the city—the largest of which takes place in San Diego’s Barrio Logan neighborhood, a vibrant and diverse area home to Monarch School, a center for at-risk homeless youth. The school is located in an area that not only draws traffic from large, commercial trucks, but is also known to be the site of San Diego’s recent Hepatitis A outbreak. The IHPSD team is working with the San Diego Housing Commission and local community outreach center, The Global Arc, to mobilize the community in the creation of a safe school zone for these students.

Keeping with their original goal of outreach and education, IHPSD continues to document projects like the Monarch School mission on their website, and uses multimedia articles to share the stories of community members. “Maybe I’m a huge optimist,” says Ullah, “but I believe that most of the problems we have on this planet are problems because people don’t know enough about them. We want to change that however we can.”

Driving Change Across Borders

Combining both a product and service is The Basement team Baja Del Sol, focused on solving issues of water insecurity in Baja California, Mexico. Every quarter, the team of Jacobs School of Engineering students travels to Tijuana to install high-quality, low-cost solar water heaters in orphanages, replacing systems that are typically old and grossly inefficient. The team intends to mitigate the financial burden of these orphanages, which are often underfunded. Where a typical thermal water collector can cost up to $2000, the technology they designed only costs around $180 to make. “Our system is simple and it works really well,” says Joanne Hsu ’18, team lead for the spring quarter.

The Basement’s Baja Del Sol team with the children and staff of the Casa de Mi Familia orphanage in Baja California, Mexico.

They’re also expanding their support through educational and community outreach projects. “During our installation day last quarter, we invited two older kids to help us with installation,” says Hsu. “One of them said they want to go to engineering school afterward.” Also in the works is the development of a low-cost water purification system. Through their efforts, the Baja Del Sol team is contributing to an environment where children living in orphanages can prosper.

Triton Changemakers

These three teams, along with many others, will get the chance to showcase their efforts to the public at Triton Entrepreneur Night, with the additional opportunity to competitively pitch their ideas to a panel of esteemed investors and entrepreneurs, much like the television show, Shark Tank. Additional funding and connections to knowledgeable alumni give student entrepreneurs the opportunity to take their work a step further. “Winning TEN last year was a huge stepping stone for us. It opened up doors for the startup to continue to grow and gain traction,” says Ashna Shroff ’17, COO of last year’s winning team, Sin Fronteras Tax, a startup serving as an intermediary to bring speedy tax returns to international workers.

The body of these students’ work shows the capacity students have to drive change through boundless dedication and cutting-edge innovations. See their accomplishments for yourself at this year’s Triton Entrepreneur Night on May 31 in the Price Center West Ballroom at 6 p.m.

Additional information about Triton Entrepreneur Night and Alumni Weekend is available at