Phillip Denny

  • AREAS OF FOCUS: community building, networks & partnerships, civic engagement, grant/proposal development, team building, strategy
  • ADVISING HOURS: Sign up online or available upon request.
  • CONTACT: EMAIL | (510) 666-9120 | 120A Blum Hall
Phillip Denny serves as the Senior Program Director of the Blum Center for Developing Economies, a position he assumed shortly after the Center was established in March 2006. He manages the Big Ideas@Berkeley contest–one of the oldest and most respected student innovation competitions in California. In this capacity, he has encouraged and supported approximately 1,400 interdisciplinary teams to develop creative solutions to today’s most pressing social challenges. Under Phillip’s direction, the Big Ideas Contest has helped secure millions of dollars in seed funding for student start-ups, expanded the contest to 18 campuses, and recruited over 1,000 industry, government and non-profit experts to judge ideas and mentor participants. He has also been integral in developing key partnerships across academia, private sector organizations, and entrepreneurship networks to strengthen social innovation initiatives on campus. As recognition for his leadership of Big Ideas, he received UC Berkeley’s Chancellor’s Outstanding Staff Award in 2015. Prior to joining the Center, Denny held leadership roles in multiple successful grass-roots and political campaigns, specializing in research and communications strategies for both candidates and organizations.


  • AREAS OF FOCUS: cross-sector collaboration, scaling up, social innovation, financial education, entrepreneurship and gender mainstreaming
  • ADVISING HOURS: Sign up online or available upon request.
  • CONTACT: EMAIL | 510-664-7424 | 120B Blum Hall
Dani Bicknell joined Big Ideas in 2018, and currently serves as a program manager for the Big Ideas Contest. Overall, she has a decade of work experience in the private, public and nonprofit sectors. She obtained her Masters in International Development and Education from the University of Pennsylvania, where she focused on international development, social entrepreneurship, and gender mainstreaming. Prior to her current capacity at the Blum Center, Dani started her own consultancy, advising startups and organizations locally and internationally; in operations, project management, and informal education. In addition, she was a programme specialist in the Division for Gender Equality, at UNESCO, and prior to that she was a founding member of LendUp, where she created and scaled the financial education and social impact departments. Dani has consulted and collaborated in many different countries but has worked primarily in the U.S., Canada, Latin America and Europe.




  • AREAS OF FOCUS: network and community building, innovation, scale-up, sustainability, technology for development, mHealth
  • ADVISING HOURS: Sign up online or available upon request.
  • CONTACT: EMAIL | 120 Blum Hall
Francis Gonzales is the Network Manager for the Big Ideas Contest at the Blum Center and is primarily responsible for building the network of judges and mentors. He graduated with Honors from Brown University’s International Development Studies program where he focused on global health. Prior to working at the Blum Center, Francis worked at the intersection of global health, mobile technology, and social impact at the United Nations Foundation, Vital Wave Consulting, and Population Services International.


Sophi Martin

  • AREAS OF FOCUS: engineering, technology innovation, technology transfer, arts, scaling, social science, partnerships, impact evaluation
  • ADVISING HOURS: Sign up online or available upon request.
  • CONTACT: | 220F Blum Hall
Sophi Martin is the Innovation Director at the Blum Center, where she develops and executes scaling strategies for technologies coming out of the Blum Center ecosystem, working with faculty and students to grow their impact. She also supports social innovators across the campus and Blum Center network in the Big Ideas contest and Social Innovator OnRamp curriculum. She contributes to the strategy and implementation of Blum Center growth, DIL, and the Development Engineering Designated Emphasis. From 2010 to 2014, Sophi worked for the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in corporate relations and research administration. Sophi holds a Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering and a B.S. in Engineering Physics, both from UC Berkeley, and brings her passion for engineering to her role in transitioning science from the lab bench to making real impact on the world around us.


Sustainable Design Fellow


  • AREAS OF FOCUS: Domestic and international water policy, systems thinking, agricultural technology, sustainable development and design, life-cycle assessment
  • ADVISING HOURS: Available upon request.
  • CONTACT: EMAIL | 120 Blum Hall
Mimi Kaplan is the Sustainable Design Research Fellow advising on circular economy and environmental responsibility metrics for the Big Ideas Contest. Mimi is 1st year student in the Goldman School of Public Policy where she is focusing on California water policy. She received her undergraduate degree from Columbia University where she studied Sustainable Development. She subsequently worked in Jerusalem as a Fellow at the Milken Innovation Center, and the Middle East Office of the Quartet’s project group, Shurook. In these positions, she utilized the tools of systems thinking and life-cycle assessment to develop and implement environmentally and financially sustainable small-scale water capture, treatment and reuse systems.