Zahn Challenge bestows $25K

by Jamie Ballard, Staff Writer

San Diego State’s Zahn Innovation Center recently announced the winners of the Zahn Challenge.

The challenge was set up as a competition to foster entrepreneurial spirit and put funds behind new innovations, awarding $25,000 among winners of several different awards.

The three categories — commercial, social and already-active Zahn Center teams — had five finalists each. On March 3, the teams made their business pitch to a room full of people. Many SDSU students attended to hear the pitches, as well as some faculty and several local businesspeople who were judging the entries. Entrepreneurs explained their business idea, what problem it would solve, who they would market to, who their competition was, and what their plans were for the future. After their ideas were explained, the judges had the opportunity to ask questions. The process was limited to 15 minutes per business.

The winners were announced in a ceremony on March 6. Entrepreneurs from around the country, Lavin Entrepreneurship Center staff, Zahn Center staff, and family and friends were in attendance. To kick things off, entrepreneurs gave a 45-second pitch of their idea to the room. Based on those pitches, the audience then had the opportunity to vote for their favorite idea, which received $1,000 in funding. CourseKey, an education software business, received the award.

There was also an award given to GoRyder, a valet parking service on college campuses, for the best video by a current Zahn Center team. Additionally, the Center for International Business Education and Research presented the International Award that recognized a team with an international awareness. ProPopulate, a business that works with probiotics to make them work more effectively in the human body, received $1,500 in funding and $1,000 in consultation.

Yan Wei Lim, one of the founders of ProPopulate, said presenting the idea was nerve-wracking.

“It’s a great start,” she said of the numerous awards ProPopulate received. “We were pretty well-prepared thanks to our mentorship with Cathy.”

For each of the three main categories first, second and third teams received $5,000, $2,000 and $1,000 respectively.

For the commercial track, EasyLap, a portable laptop attachment to keep the laptop off of users’ legs, took third place. Boron Labs, which essentially creates building blocks for drug synthesis, received second place, and first place went to ProPopulate.

For the social track, the third place award went to Enroot, a company that provides nonprofit and socially-focused workers an online education to advance their missions, and second place went to Hillary’s Haven, a recreational facility for children who have autism. First place went to GRAPES planner, a tool that helps those with mental illness and their loved ones through behavioral therapy tools and other resources in the planner.

For the Zahn Team track, third place was a tie between Stickir and Mannis, an automated construction planning tool and a flexible sports kneepad company, respectively. Second place went to GoRyder. First place went to SoftChomp, a soft, pain-free infant and toddler toothbrush.

“The support from the Zahn Center, I couldn’t have done it without them,” Whitney Mullen, founder of SoftChomp, said.

The Zahn Challenge was part of Entrepreneurship Week at SDSU, which also featured educator conferences and the LeanModel Startup competition, among other events.