PhD Candidate Dori-Hacohen Awarded First Place in Innovation Challenge Competition

Shiri Dori-Hacohen

The Isenberg School of Management's Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Massachusetts Amherst recently held the 11th annual Innovation Challenge, where six teams of top student entrepreneurs competed for up to $65,000 to help launch their innovative start-ups. CICS doctoral candidate Shiri Dori-Hacohen of Kfar Vradim, Israel, and Newton, founder of Automated Controversy Detection (controversies.info), was the first-place winner of this pitch competition and received $35,000 in funding.

Dori-Hacohen's technology monitors controversial trending topics in search results and news items, detecting if an article is controversial by comparing it to web resources such as Wikipedia. It has been funded by the National Science Foundation and received a Google Research Award.

The six student teams participating in the UMass Innovation Challenge represented all parts of the UMass Amherst campus, from the College of Information and Computer Sciences, College of Engineering, the School of Management and the College of Natural Sciences. Each academic year, the challenge awards monetary prizes contributed by a number of private sponsors, through competitive events designed to help and reward UMass students and recent alumni who want to pursue a novel business idea and develop it into a marketable product. The goal is for interdisciplinary teams to conceptualize a product, outline its scientific and technological design, identify customers, and create a business plan for the product's commercialization. Competition judges are entrepreneurs, legal experts, and consultants who also volunteer their time to mentor students who are interested in marketing their new ideas.

"Each year, our students bring more creativity, passion, and skill to the UMass Innovation Challenge and this year's pool was especially impressive," said Bill Wooldridge, managing director of the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship. "We are inspired by our students and proud that UMass Amherst has established itself as a hub for innovation."

Dori-Hacohen developed Automated Controversy Detection for the past five years at the UMass Amherst Center for Intelligent Information Retrieval, believing it could positively influence the world by helping eliminate misinformation from the internet and presenting multiple sides of controversial topics.The controversy detection technology specifically identifies topics that are controversial, regardless of whether they are already trending online. The technology also has other potential applications, such as detection of "micro-controversies" around certain topics--a feature particularly useful for brand management.

"A few years ago it wasn't possible to detect controversial topics, and now our algorithms have advanced to the point where we can do this, and the applications are very exciting," said Dori-Hacohen. "It is extremely encouraging to have our commercial idea validated by a panel of experienced judges and against stiff competition. We know women are underrepresented in the technology field in general, but the problem is greater among startup founders. As a woman in tech and a mother, it means the world to me to have the support to pursue this entrepreneurial direction and become a role model for other women in my field to found startup companies."

For more information, visit www.Isenberg.umass.edu/bce.

(Source: Isenberg School of Management