Zahn Challenge allows alumni submissions for the first time


by Maria Del Carmen Huerta, Staff Writer

Applications for the Zahn Innovation Center’s annual competition closed this week.

This time around, alumni were allowed to apply to the Zahn Challenge, where aspiring entrepreneurs present their business ventures for prize money

The application pool is composed of alumni, current SDSU students, faculty and staff.

Director of Lavin Center Programs Bernhard Schroeder said he likes the idea of including more people because many alumni were not taking advantage of the resources the center provides for them.

He said Zahn is expanding its community clout and, by adding alumni into the mix, it expands that network.

“Now you have alumni coming back, starting something, maybe mentoring,” Schroeder said. “Personally, I like it.”

CourseKey Founder and CEO of Luke Sophinos knows first-hand the opportunities that stem from the Zahn Challenge. Last year, his team won the challenge and earned the Audience Vote.

He said it is a great opportunity for current students and alumni to participate, and he believes alumni are a great asset to start-up teams.

“It’s great to get alumni involved, it allows students the opportunity to hear from people that have leaned in and jumped all into the venture,” Sophinos said. “Start-ups aren’t something you can do part-time, it’s a common misconception that you come up with an idea, get funded and then get rich. The amount of time and hard work it takes to build a business is something that is not talked about enough. Alumni helps students understand that realization.”

The Zahn Challenge has three separate categories applicants can fall under this year:

1.The $6,000 Applicant Track is eligible for applicants that have an idea for a start-up or social enterprise for the competition.

2. The $3,000 Zahn Track is available to current Zahn Innovation Center teams.

3.The $2,000 Alumni Track is open to SDSU alumni. However, alumni teams must have at least one alumnus as a founder who graduated within three years of the fall 2015 semester.

One member of the team must be a current SDSU student, faculty or staff member or alumnus to apply to the competition in any category.

In each category, first place teams win $2,000 and second place teams earn $1,000, except for the Alumni Track, which only features a first place prize.

The finalists will also have opportunities to compete for more cash prizes, such as the $500 Audience Vote and $500 Best in Show showcase award.

The top three finalists will automatically be entered into a drawing to gain admission into the Zahn Innovation Center, which provides the teams with mentorship and access to the design lab.

Track 1 and 2 winners automatically receive admission to the Zahn Innovation Center, where they can bring their ideas to life. Admission into the center has a lot to offer entrepreneurs, Sophinos said.

“I speak with friends at other colleges, and they can’t even begin to believe we have what the Zahn Center offers,” Sophinos said. “To fuse talented individuals from every possible background, not just business and bring them together to build something that has the opportunity to create jobs and benefit the economy, is something truly special.”

Some applicants are required to attend a presentation workshop, dry-run session, finalist presentation, and showcase and award ceremony.

The Zahn Challenge showcase will be held on Wednesday, Dec. 2, at the SDSU Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center from 5:30 to 7:15 p.m. The showcase will consist of a quick pitch and an award ceremony.