Carnegie Mellon University


August 06, 2019

Swartz Fellow Wins $10,000 Prize for AI-powered Virtual Pet

LittleMoochi, meant to help improve children’s eating habits, won both the judges' pick and audience choice awards at the 2019 Forte Power Pitch competition.

Summer (Qinxian) Xia, a second-year MBA student, told an audience of 500 female MBA students and supporters that after ten years’ experience as a product manager in the IT industry one project is her most difficult: her daughter Yoyo. 

At the 2019 Forte Power Pitch Competition in Chicago, Xia explained that she founded her company LittleMoochi because she was inspired by Yoyo, who is 5 years old. 

“Most of the time, she’s sweet and cute,” Xia told the crowd, but Yoyo would often rather eat doughnuts than vegetables.

So Xia has created LittleMoochi, a mobile app meant to encourage children to form healthy eating habits by raising an AI-powered virtual pet.

A winning idea

LittleMoochi won both the Forte Power Pitch Competition judges’ pick and audience choice awards, earning a $10,000 cash prize.

Along with $15,000 from a second-place graduate track win at the 2019 McGinnis Venture Competition for Carnegie Mellon student entrepreneurs, the funds will help the company prepare for its August beta launch, Xia said. Anyone interested in beta-testing the app can sign-up and have a chance to win a LittleMoochi T-shirt.

“Beyond (the prize money), winning these two awards helped us to prove our thoughts and validate our idea,” Xia said.

Along with Xia, the team developing LittleMoochi includes chief operating officer Yi Xu (MISM ‘19); chief technology officer Zhuyun Dai, a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Computer Science; chief financial officer Aijun (Julie) Qin, a second-year MBA student at Tepper; and lead designer Molly Vierhile, master’s candidate with the Human-Computer Interaction Institute.

“We share the same passion for using cutting-edge technologies to bring a positive impact on our society,” Xia said. “While creating a successful business, we want to build solutions to make people's lives easier and healthier.”

AI creates virtual food

One-third of children today are overweight or obese, more than triple the number in 1970.

Children using the app take a photo of whatever they are eating. Through AI, the app detects what kinds of food are in the photo, then turns it in to virtual food for pet LittleMoochi to eat.

“Food recognition is possible through deep, multi-modal neural networks trained on millions of recipes from all over the world,” Xia said.

Xia, a 2018-2019 James R. Swartz Entrepreneurial Fellow, said winning the pitch competition for women is a particularly big boost to her confidence as a female entrepreneur.

“Today only 18 percent of startups have a female founder,” she said. “Research shows female entrepreneurs are facing more challenges as we have to admit that the majority of the high-level business world is still being dominated by men.”

Advice for entrepreneurs

Xia said students considering entrepreneurship should apply to the Swartz Fellowship program, which has been an invaluable experience.

“Keep an open mind but don't let your brains fall out,” she said. “Being an entrepreneur sometimes means you cannot get everybody's buy-in … keep your focus. If you believe this is the right thing to do, just keep going.”

Her LittleMoochi pitch didn’t qualify for the finals at the Forte Power Pitch competition last year, so she also emphasized determination.

She said she is grateful for the atmosphere and support at CMU, which allowed her to form a well-rounded leadership team.

“I can truly feel the power of Tepper Quad,” Xia said. “As an innovation hub to connect great CMU talents, it helps passionate entrepreneurs to build creative solutions, pursue their dreams and transform the world.”