Entrepreneurial innovation took center stage on Thursday April 8th with the first annual Torero Entrepreneurship Challenge (TECh).
Hosted by the Etrack program at the University of San Diego’s Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering, the event provided the opportunity for five student teams to develop technology-based business ideas to raise up to $ 45,000 in seed capital.
The evening started with Dean Chell Roberts, PhD, a highly interactive virtual event that showcased this unique entrepreneurial competition that brought together multidisciplinary student teams from across campus, with startup pitches with technology at the heart of their business ideas. TECh moderator Professor Jeff Teza presented the five teams Discrete Solar Technologies, SeaMe, Second Wind, Sunlight U and Womenly, who had earned their place as finalists at the event from a first pool of twelve applicants and eight semi-finalists.
Teza shared personal stories about each team and the entrepreneurial mindset they demonstrated. This “persistent curiosity, the connection to science according to the first principle and the added value for customers within the structure of an organization” were all components that Teza identified in the innovative ideas.
Dean Roberts and Elisa Lurkis, Director of Development and Alumni Relations, shared stories and video footage to honor the donors behind the two TECh awards – the Larry Kull Foundation Award – the Student Award in Engineering and Entrepreneurship and the Starpoint Award.
Former SAIC Senior Vice President Randy Vosti worked directly with friends and former coworkers to honor Larry Kull, former COO and President of SAIC, after his far-reaching death. “The USD had the right combination. It was a smaller university for an award like this [and] wouldn’t get lost in the shuffle. The USD represents the kind of value Larry would have adopted. “
The co-founder of the Startpoint Award and TECh judge Carl Delia was “enthusiastic about the level of invention and innovation of the students”. He also spoke of the spirit of the Starpoint Award to “celebrate the contribution made by the entrepreneurial vision of our students and our society”.
A live poll for the People’s Choice Award gave the more than 200 guests, participants, families and friends an interactive opportunity to vote for their favorite teams.
In the end, not only did the judges speak, but the people spoke loud and clear. Discrete Solar Technologies won the award with $ 12,000 in prize money for the Larry Kull Foundation Gold Award for Engineering and Entrepreneurship and an additional $ 2,000 for the People’s Choice Award – a total of $ 14,000 in seed capital.
Discrete Solar co-founders Marley Collins and Sabrina Smith presented their video pitch representing their design team aiming to put renewable energy sources “wherever you are brave enough to venture”. In particular, their most likely clientele will be from the DIY alternative lifestyle renewable energy market.
After receiving the Larry Kull Gold Award, Collins was delighted with the results of the evening. “Thank you for all of your votes and for the trust you have placed in us. We really appreciate the support. ”
Sunshine U’s Brittany Kirk, who provides an affordable, accessible online option to drive innovation in trauma and mental health, was also recognized with $ 12,000 as a Starpoint Gold Award winner.
“I’m still a bit of a shock that I have enough money to bring Sunlight U to the finish, and I’m thrilled. I feel like I’ve been working very hard at this for over a year, trying to find ways to beg, borrow, and steal to make it a reality. “Kirk adds,” This funding will make a huge difference, and it will take the pressure off a bit and it will accelerate development. “
SeaMe Search & Rescue was awarded $ 6,000 for the Larry Kull Foundation Award in Engineering and Entrepreneurship. Second Wind was awarded $ 6,000 for the Startpoint Silver Award. and Womenly was awarded $ 3,000 for Best Emerging Business. The three semi-final teams, HUGS, How Bout Now, and twrvl, did not attend the TECh event, but received $ 1,000 to further add momentum to their work.
The head of the Etrack co-faculty, Venkat Shastri, PhD, closed the event with pride and enthusiasm. He started the USD Engineering Entrepreneurship program in 2016 and reflects how far the program has come.
“It has been a great pleasure for me to work with all of these incredible student teams, our generous donors and our dedicated judges during this TECh trip. We have attended three different schools across campus and the market needs they cover are really inspiring! This program was just a wink for our dean five years ago. Thanks to His Forbearance, we are here today. And besides, this is just the beginning! “
– Michelle Sztupkay