The University of Southampton

Entrepreneurial AI student stars in Bright SCIdea Challenge with mental health chatbot

Published: 22 March 2019
(l-r) Raffaele Piccini, Diane Remmy and Dominika Woszczyk. Image credit: @AndrewLunnPhoto

University of Southampton student Dominika Woszczyk impressed in the final of Bright SCIdea Challenge 2019 with her pitch for an AI assistant to support young people's mental health.

The aspiring entrepreneur, who has nurtured multiple startup ideas during her MSc Artificial Intelligence (AI) degree, presented to a panel of expert judges in the national competition that brings together the brightest young business minds to pitch science-based innovations.

Dominika and team members from the Universities of Bristol and Edinburgh were one of five shortlisted entries in the final at the Society of Chemical Industry (SCI) in central London on Tuesday.

They combined their collective experience to pitch BesideYou, an application for students and young adults that would offer a personalised programme to cultivate better mental health with support from an AI chatbot as a 'journey buddy'.

"My MSc's Deep Learning and Advanced Machine Learning modules inspired me to think how current commercial chatbots and apps could be improved and applied to help people," Dominika says. "We started with the idea for an AI therapist for teenagers and this approach then evolved as we developed a business plan. We are so happy to have reached the final as we know a lot of the other competitors who had some very impressive ideas."

The Bright SCIdea Challenge supports participants in business planning and pitch training, and offers valuable networking opportunities within the commercial scientific community. The annual competition, which is sponsored by Synthomer and INEOS, rewards winners with a £5,000 prize.

Dominika spearheaded the BesideYou entry, approaching MSc Artificial Intelligence student Raffaele Piccini from the University of Edinburgh and BSc Electrical and Electronic Engineering student Diane Remmy from the University of Bristol to unite for the contest.

"We want to give people experiencing mental health problems the opportunity to get support for free and anytime," Dominika says. "We differentiate ourselves by providing a journey buddy that you can talk to using a contextual chatbot, motivating you along your personalised plan and rewarding you when you reach milestones."

Dominika was crowned the winner of the University's Future Worlds accelerator Startup Pitch Off in September with her vision for an AI language learning assistant and is hoping to pitch to investors in the Future Worlds Dragons' Den competition this May.

She is currently undertaking a 'chatbot for interactive storytelling' project within her MSc thesis and is planning to pursue a PhD related to natural language processing and speech recognition after her degree.

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