Senior Sai Srivatsav Gutala has been busy during his time at George Mason University, and he has a lot of big ideas.
In 2019, as a sophomore, the electrical engineering major started a student club called the Inventors and Innovations Team (IIT) with one of his classmates, computer engineering major Nicholas Paschke.
“We wanted to give students an opportunity to build whatever it is that tickles their mind,” he said of the club that still meets in the makerspace at the Mason Innovation Exchange (MIX) in Horizon Hall on the Fairfax Campus. “As long as it's reasonable and innovative, we agreed to it and tried to create it. Since IIT started, our vision has been to have multiple teams working on building different projects at the same time.”
Current IIT projects include a fire-detecting drone that could help with wildfires and a sensing cane for the visually impaired. Some ideas will fail, but this doesn’t bother Gutala, who graduates with a bachelor of science this month. It is the ideas themselves and the execution that interest him.
As he approached his senior year, Gutala wanted to take things to the next level and founded the hardware hackathon, HackOverflow.
“Its purpose was all about giving students the hands-on opportunity to create something grand,” said Gutala, who recently served as the chair of HackOverflow’s executive committee and is now an advisor.
They partnered with an existing hackathon at Mason, Patriot Hacks, and Mason’s Institute of Digital Innovation's executive director Kammy Sanghera. The event took place in March 2022 at the MIX.
While many hackathons focus on coding, HackOverflow had students using the MIX’s 3D printer, soldering station, and other equipment to create prototypes of their ideas. Gutala said it is one of only a handful of hardware hackathons in the country.
“Throughout the process, Sai ensured that participants of HackOverflow had the resources and mentors to design prototypes,” said Sanghera. “From building his executive team to seeking sponsorships for the event, Sai was professional and diligent. Through initiatives like IIT and HackOverflow, Sai generated opportunities for his peers to change the world positively.”
Gutala has also started a company called Alphawave and has been one of the student entrepreneurs in the MIX’s incubator space. With Alphawave, Gutala is developing appearance-customizable apparel. He began with footwear—and he already has a prototype—but Gutala sees this as the beginning of using technology to customize personal items for self-expression.
Through the incubator program, Gutala was able to have his own space within the MIX and use of the program’s professional development resources, such as the mini Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP) program offered to Mason student entrepreneurs. Gutala said he found the mini “the most helpful thing ever.”
“ICAP focuses on finding your ideal customer that will be loyal to your company,” said Gutala. “If a business can understand their customer, everything else is easy.”
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