Skip to main content

Solutions for School Safety 

Public health junior Om Desai’s entrepreneurial journey in UMD's xFoundry program 

Back to News
Students at a table

When rising junior Om Desai, a public health science major in the School of Public Health and humanities, health, and medicine minor, applied for the xFoundry’s Xperience cohort last-minute this past fall semester, he didn’t think much of it. Yet the pre-health student’s spontaneous decision would push him out of his comfort zone and teach him how his unique public health perspective can help his team find a potential solution to improve school safety.

Housed in the IDEA Factory, xFoundry has one main goal: to solve society’s grand challenges. Its signature program, Xperience, is an entrepreneurial initiative that uses competition as a force multiplier to solve society’s grand challenges. Each year, the UMD community votes on a topic within xFoundry’s seven domains and students are challenged with developing a solution to a well-defined problem in that area. Student teams will compete to win a company launched with an investment of between $250,000 and $2 million.

This year, students such as Desai are focusing on detecting and mitigating the impact of gun violence in K-12 schools. Specifically, they’re developing an affordable and automated solution to rapidly detect and notify of school shooting events. During the competition,  students will pitch their solutions to judges to compete for the grand prize. 

“Using a multidisciplinary lens, students all get to work in their teams on the same well-defined problem – our goal being that this problem will get solved a lot quicker,” said xFoundry Associate Director of Academic Programs Jasmine Kelly. “Students should join Xperience because it gives them the opportunity to get just a taste of entrepreneurship. They get an understanding of a founder's mindset and are able to gain important skills that will give them an advantage in their career.” 

Xperience has two tracks, one academic and one competitive. The academic track, which runs in parallel with the competition, is 15 months long and includes three for-credit courses. These courses give students a comprehensive curriculum, mentors, and resources to prepare them for the competition. Students in the competitive track partake in the competition and do not need to be a part of the academic track. Registration for the competition is open until late September.

Xperience is a unique take on entrepreneurship, because it actually teaches you entrepreneurship through practical experience.

Om Desai Public Health Science Major
student in business attire

“Xperience is a unique take on entrepreneurship, because it actually teaches you entrepreneurship through practical experience,” Desai said. “Entrepreneurship is important and public health is important, and applying those two together is especially important when the topic — school safety — already has such a strong public health angle.”  

As the only public health student in Xperience, Desai provided unique perspectives. When his team focused on potential solutions to school safety, such as facial recognition security measures, Desai used his background to offer more insight. As a public health student, Desai said, he knew that facial recognition is centered around Eurocentric features and can be biased against features of other ethnicities, posing a problem of equity. 

The winning teams will be announced at xFoundry’s Xplore event in the Fall of 2025. 

Desai encourages other public health students to register for the upcoming competition in the fall semester or apply for the next academic track, the theme of which – mental health – also closely aligns with SPH topics. 

“A business is not going to be successful if it does not reach many markets, and it cannot reach many markets without the knowledge of public health and how equity, disparities and socioeconomic statuses work,” Desai said. “Those are all things that public health students know, but computer science or business students may not think of.” 


Sumaya Abdel-Motagaly ’26 

  • Categories
  • Students
  • Departments
  • Public Health Science