Sophomore represents Penn State at innovation challenge in Israel

Sean Yoder
July 24, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A Penn State entrepreneurship student majoring in computer science was part of a team that took third place at an Intel AI innovation challenge organized and hosted by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Divya Rustagi, an international student from New Delhi, India, and her team beat out nearly a hundred other teams with their idea of an app called "What to Eat."

Organized and led by the Bengis Center of Entrepreneurship & Innovation at BGU, the challenge invites students to provide solutions to real-world challenges affecting large organizations. During the last cycle, Intel presented the "AI Everywhere" challenge, where students were asked to submit an idea for a product or service that uses artificial intelligence to benefit society. Students did not need to present a functioning product.

“What makes the challenge competition so valuable is that it is open to students from any field in any place,” said Yossi Shavit, director of the Bengis Center. “When students form interdisciplinary, multicultural teams, the ideas they can come up with are limitless.”

On June 13, the nine final teams pitched their ideas to three judges from Intel and three from the Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management at BGU.

“It is part of our mission as a faculty to give every student an opportunity to participate in that kind of challenge, which allows our students to create new ideas to improve the world,” said Professor Miki Malul, dean of the Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management. “This means building practical aspects into the framework of the coursework and bridging the gap between academia and industry.”

“Winning third place felt great, but having one of the Intel senior execs say ‘I like it!’ was the real win for our team,” Rustagi said.

The rising sophomore made her first trip to Israel during a spring break trip this past year as a part of ENGR 310 Entrepreneurial Leadership, taught by Anne Hoag, director of the Intercollege Minor in Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ENTI) program and associate professor at Penn State. As part of that trip, Hoag arranged for her students, including Rustagi, to compete in the first round of the Intel AI Challenge. Rustagi’s team made it to the final round. 

“The Spring Break Entrepreneurship in Israel experience is brief but I make sure it’s rich with opportunities to meet and collaborate with students in Israel,” Hoag said. “My students and the BGU students formed nine teams, each developing and pitching their original ideas or AI applications. Competing together, it was a rich cross-cultural, cross-disciplinary learning experience. What a fantastic bonus that one of my students was able to return to Israel three months later to compete in the finals.”  

“I’ve been interested in entrepreneurship and leadership since high school, so I was ecstatic to find about an entire course, and even a minor on it,” Rustagi said. “The travel to Israel was another motivating factor for me, since Israel is considered the start-up nation of the world, primarily through its tech sector — perfect for a computer science student interested in entrepreneurship.”

Rustagi’s father, Akhil Kumar Rustagi, said his eldest child has always been passionate about science and technology.

“Even as a kid she was into circuits, video games, coding — unlike other girls of her age in Indian society at that time,” he said. “She is extroverted and uninhibited in speaking her mind. Her hardworking and focused attitude helped her achieve several awards in tech events in the last two years of high school, and to become the first female president of the computer club in her school.”

Rustagi’s interest in entrepreneurship and technology meshed with Israel’s robust startup culture. It was also here that Rustagi and her Penn State colleagues were grouped with students from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev to submit an idea to the Intel AI Challenge. Rustagi’s team included Zachary Williams, an American student enrolled at Ben-Gurion for his MBA; and Lee Cohen and Marina Zak, both Israelis enrolled in the international MBA program.

“Talking to each other, we realized that the best way to connect diversities is through food,” she said. “So, it makes a lot of sense that we came up with 'What To Eat.'”

"What to Eat" is an idea for a community-driven, meal recommendation app, Rustagi said. The app would make use of AI by allowing it to give recommendations based off of photos of meals or ingredients. Meals would be localized and the app could track multiple profiles, such as for an entire family. It also nudges people toward healthier diets and could incorporate some of the user’s medical information.

The "What to Eat" team learned in May that they were one of just nine out of 100 teams that qualified for the final round. Rustagi traveled to Israel to join her team and pitch in-person to the judges on June 13.

“For the final round, we had six minutes to pitch our idea to senior executives from Intel Israel and three minutes to answer their questions," said Rustagi.

The judges liked the finalists so much they awarded third place to two teams.

“Oh, we were absolutely thrilled and proud of her achievement!” Rustagi's father wrote by email. “We are happy that we sent her to Penn State, since such opportunities are seldom given to engineering students in India. I think it is really cool that she got such an international experience in her first year.”

The Intercollege Minor in Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ENTI) is part of the Penn State Office of Undergraduate Education, the academic administrative unit that provides leadership and coordination for University-wide programs and initiatives in support of undergraduate teaching and learning at Penn State. Learn more about Undergraduate Education at undergrad.psu.edu.

Last Updated July 26, 2019