McCormick students Dennis Ai, Christian Yenko win big with healthy eating app JiveHealth

McCormick senior Dennis Ai accepts prize money on behalf of JiveHealth in Washington, D.C. The technology start-up placed first in the Partnership for a Healthier America End Childhood Obesity Innovation Challenge hosted by First Lady Michele Obama.

Source: Dennis Ai

McCormick senior Dennis Ai accepts prize money on behalf of JiveHealth in Washington, D.C. The technology start-up placed first in the Partnership for a Healthier America End Childhood Obesity Innovation Challenge hosted by First Lady Michele Obama.

Amy Whyte, Reporter

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A technology start-up founded by a Northwestern student took home the grand prize of $10,000 last month in the Partnership for a Healthier America’s End Childhood Obesity Innovation Challenge.

At the beginning of the academic year, McCormick senior Dennis Ai created JiveHealth, a new business currently developing an app that it says will encourage kids to develop healthy eating habits. The app features a game in which characters grow stronger and faster from pictures the user takes of healthy foods.

Ai presented a prototype of the app to first lady Michelle Obama and thousands of other stakeholders  in early March at the Building a Healthier Future Summit in Washington, D.C.

“Speaking in front of a thousand people, let alone a thousand important people, was incredible,” Ai said.

Ai presented at the summit after JiveHealth advanced as one of the top three contestants in an online voting competition from Dec. 12, 2012, to Feb. 1, 2013. Ai explained his own struggle with childhood obesity, which inspired him to build the app.

“When I was presenting, I wore an extra large T-shirt,” Ai said. “I used to wear a shirt this big when I was 10 years old. And I think it helped the audience to see that I was there. I know what it feels like.”

Ai described the audience’s response as an “electrifying” standing ovation.

The two other finalists competing with JiveHealth were Define Bottle, a reusable water bottle that creates fruit-flavored water, and Aurri Health Network, a social network focused on promoting healthy lifestyles. Define Bottle, which was designed by a 14-year-old, had been a fan favorite throughout the online voting phase of the competition.

“I really felt like we pulled off a miracle,”  Ai said.

McCormick Prof. Ollie Cossairt, who advised Ai and software engineer Christian Yenko on the project, helped them develop the necessary technology for the app.

“They’re really bright guys, and they have a really interesting vision,” Cossairt said. “It was great to work with them.”

As part of the first-place prize, the group will receive 15 hours of mentoring from marketing and health experts Edelman, McKinsey & Company and Startup Health. The mentors will help JiveHealth develop marketing strategies and establish the necessary business connections to successfully promote the app.

“Winning the competition opened doors to numerous health care providers, interested stakeholders, and other valuable connections that we would have not had otherwise,” Yenko, a McCormick sophomore, said in an email.

As for the prize money, they are using it to continue improving the app, with a portion of the award going toward funding game development software, Yenko said.

Going forward, Ai said the group is most focused on completing the game and developing a marketing and distribution strategy. The app, which was presented to the summit under the working name “Jungo,” is due to be released in June.

“For me to go to Washington to win the competition, that was a short term goal to help us achieve a long term goal,” Ai said. “Ultimately helping children, that is first and foremost.”

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