Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

UT’s Product Prodigy team wins HSI Battle of the Brains, $50,000 scholarship

The Office of Inclusive Innovation and Entrepreneurship

UT’s Product Prodigy team won first place and a $50,000 scholarship in September at HSI Battle of the Brains, a national business case championship for Hispanic-Serving Institutions.

Students had 24 hours to work through a specific problem and propose a business and technological solution that serves Hispanic communities. Finalists then pitched their solutions to a panel of judges.

“This was our very first time (participating in Battle of the Brains),” said Rubén Cantú, the executive director of the Office of Inclusive Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “We didn’t know how this whole thing ran. We were kind of flying blind.”

The competition ran from 7 a.m. to 7 a.m. the next day, so one of the challenges for the team was fighting exhaustion, economics senior Leonardo Lopez said. 

“From 7 a.m. to about 9 p.m., everything was going smoothly,” Lopez said. “Once we started to hit midnight, and we’ve been up for 16 hours, the fatigue suddenly sunk in.”

Cantú said the provided data set led the team to focus on food scarcity and prevention of diabetes and heart attacks in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. The team used Lopez’s childhood as inspiration for their solution, which transformed buses into mobile grocery stores and provided healthy recipes.

“Whenever I first immigrated to the U.S., my dad wasn’t with us, and my mom didn’t know how to drive since we grew up in Mexico,” Lopez said. “The only way we had access to food was by a man who drove in a small bread truck that he turned into a mobile grocery store. He would bring a lot of the food that we actually lived off of. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know how we would have survived.”

Team lead Valerie Plaza said a big focus for the team was maintaining a good team mentality all the way through. When teammates started to fall asleep through the night, she challenged them to a game of ping pong. If she won, the team would keep working.

The team ultimately accomplished their goal through visualization, mediation and supporting one another, international business junior Plaza said. They used this strategy to get out nerves before their pitch.

“I needed to hype up, and so what we did was we played some Peso Pluma in the green room around everybody,” Plaza said. “We all huddled and hugged each other and just started dancing and singing.”

The Product Prodigy team had some setbacks during their pitch when some team members froze on the spot, but with the help of others, they got back on track, Plaza said. They went into the awards doubting themselves and were shocked by the results.

“I was not even nervous because I accepted (that we lost) and then they called our school and my entire team yelled, stood up, screaming and excited,” Plaza said. “I stayed seated in disbelief with my arms crossed. As I’m walking to the stage super slowly, behind the whole team, I just start crying.”

Cantú said this accomplishment for the team shows that their curriculum works and that the program has exceeded expectations. 

“I was like a proud papa,” Cantú said. “We’re taking people who normally would have never been inside of tech, never had these opportunities, and their lives are being transformed.”

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