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Driving progress, diversity, and sustainability

The Forbes Idea Incubator at NYU Tandon focused on how best to promote the use of electric vehicles

Six female student winners in a zoom presentation

First-place winners of this year's Forbes Idea Incubator (clockwise from top left): Priya Soni, Claire Huang, Krishitha Raghuraman, Bryanna Allen, Julia Qin, and Nishma Shakya.

On Feb. 27, Forbes, in partnership with Audi of America and NYU Tandon, hosted the fourth annual Forbes Idea Incubator, which challenged Tandon’s female students to brainstorm ways to close the gender gap in electric-vehicle (EV) buyers. That gap has been well-documented: under half of those now purchasing EVs are female, and studies have indicated that many women fear that EVs are more expensive than gas vehicles to purchase and maintain and won’t have enough range before the next charge, potentially leaving them stranded.

Opening the event, welcome speaker Moira Forbes affirmed. “It’s so important to have a diverse set of minds at the table so we don’t miss out on the next great idea,” and several great ideas were on full display. After Michele Lucarelli, head of Corporate and Employee Communications at Audi, walked through the competition rules and guidelines, the student teams, who had been working together for two weeks before the virtual event, gave their presentations. They included:

  • Electrocar: A product that allows girls from ages six to 10 to build a model electric car and control it with an accompanying app, which also features games, educational information, and more. (Team members included Bryanna Allen, Claire Huang, Julia Qin, Krishitha Raghuraman, Nishma Shakya, and Priya Soni.)
     
  • EVHub: A platform for those over 55, who are often ignored by advertisers and sometimes reluctant to change their buying habits. The app considers a user’s stated priorities, such as safety, reliability, and environmental impact, and finds them the perfect EV. (Team members included Eshana Agarwal, Jules Kho, Kaitlyn Heard, Samantha Rathe, Sofia Wheeler, and Vidya Gopal.
     
  • EVIE: A multi-level VR racing game that incentives being eco-friendly as well as fast. (Team members included Maria Kulapurathazhe, Tiara-Marie Njamfa, Christy Lin, Raquel Isart, Masuma Somji, and Iccha Singh.)
     
  • Evie’s World: An immersive game world that lets kids learn about pollution, how batteries work, and more, with the help of appealing animated characters. (Team members included Kyra-Lee Harry, Begum Ferdous, Lila Ablimit, Mahika Jain, Rana Mohamed, and Esther Wang.)
     
  • EVPass: An easy cost-efficient way for young drivers to learn about and lease EVs, with no dealership visits required and a built-in rewards program. (Team members included Raeva Sayed, Niharika Narendra, Caroline Barker, Raquel Costa, and Mei Schürch.)
     
  • EVX: A social media platform that educates environmentally conscious young drivers, builds community, and gives personalized recommendations. (Team members included Suqi Wu, Alice Zhang, Cree Chelsea Manning, Kayla Krieger, and Shrudhii Kundu.)

The competition judges – Maggie McGrath of ForbesWomen, NYU Tandon Professor Phyllis Frankl, and Diah Mehera of the NYU Tandon Future Labs — had a tough job, but at the end of the presentations, EVX won second place, and Electrocar took the top spot. The winning teams shared in the Audi Drive Progress Grant, a $50,000 fund providing financial assistance for student tuition and related expenses. 

Kyra Lee

This year’s event also included a surprise honor, the Trailblazer Award, given to the student who showcased strong teamwork and collaboration skills, representing the Audi value of inclusion throughout the ideation process. That laurel went to Kyra-Lee Harry (pictured right), who later posted, “What an honor it is to be named Forbes and AUDI AG’s first ever Trailblazer. . . . Being able to witness women, especially black women, break barriers and revolutionize many spaces, has taught me to remain persistent, passionate and patient. I am grateful to have the women in my support system who are always reminding me that as long as I stay focused, I can accomplish anything.”

 

Esteemed speakers

In addition to Moira Forbes and Michele Lucarelli, the inspirational speakers who addressed the participants was Sara Whiffen, Vice President of Strategy and New Business at Audi of America, who said: "By empowering today's female STEM students, we're underscoring our commitment to building a better tomorrow, allowing more people to reach their highest potential and helping to support gender equality, inclusion and innovation. At Audi of America, we believe the Future is Electric. Our U.S. model lineup will be 30 percent electrified, including fully electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, by 2025, and globally we are committed to net CO2 neutrality by 2050.”

Also on hand was NYU Tandon’s Dean Jelena Kovačević, who related: “I remember a commercial that ran a few years ago. In it, a young girl competes in a cart race as her father looks on proudly. Standing on the sidelines watching her triumph over her opponents, he contemplates a bright future for her — one in which she’ll be respected and valued just as much as her male counterparts. The ad concludes with the line: ‘Progress is for everyone.’  I’m confident in saying that Audi was not merely paying lip service to the idea of gender equality with that ad. Their sponsorship of this wonderful event each year for the last four years is ample proof.”

 

Getting guidance

Team members had the benefit of being advised by dedicated members who volunteered their time. 

NYU Alumnae Tandon Mentors:

  • Camila Morocho
  • Aida Mehović 
  • Brianna Nicole Migliaccio 
  • Alejandra Querales 
  • Jillian Larson 
  • Rosaura Ocampo 

 Audi Mentors:

  • Amanda Skura, Head of Digital Experience Technologies
  • Sonja Koch, Electric Vehicle Solutions & Research Lead