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@State - the SDSU Student Newsletter

Competition Awards $50k for SDSU’s Brightest Ideas

Tucked away between San Diego State University’s Engineering Laboratory and Industrial Technology building, the Zahn Innovation Center has opened its doors to another group of students, faculty and staff looking to turn their big ideas into impactful startup business ventures.

Last month, the on-campus entrepreneurial incubator announced the winners of its second annual Zahn Challenge, designating $50,000 in cash prizes to teams with viable ideas for commercial and socially driven enterprises and projects.

Alchemy 3D Labs placed as a runner up in the competition for its consumer 3D printer, shown here. 

The challenge helped branch the Zahn Center out from its high-tech roots, according to Cathy Pucher, the center’s director, and attracted 89 applications from teams across campus. Out of those applications, five teams won the $7,000 first place award and five teams won $3,000 for second place. Although not awarded any cash prizes, six additional teams earned their way into the Zahn Center to further develop their business ideas.

Making Dreams Happen

“When you walk into the Zahn Center, there’s definitely a frequency,” said Business Management senior Alex Martinez, whose team, IMPAKTIV, won first place and audience favorite for their idea to produce the world’s thinnest portable cell phone battery charger called the Edge.

“It’s a really special environment where everyone’s in there making their dreams happen. You feel like SDSU has your back, and the Zahn Center has your back. That kind of 100 percent support is priceless.”

With their winnings, Martinez said his team will finalize a working prototype of the credit card-sized phone charger and launch a Kickstarter crowd funding campaign early next year, which he hopes will put the Edge into the hands and wallets of consumers by summer 2014.

Harvesting Hydration

While Martinez and his team want to give your phone a discreet power boost, another first place team, Vena, is hoping to harness the power of condensation to supply fresh, clean drinking water to those in need around the world.

Vena’s proposed product will use geothermal properties and futuristic, intricately designed water harvesters to provide 21 liters of uncontaminated water per day.

“That’s enough to keep 21 villagers in Africa alive,” said John Walsh, Vena team member and SDSU sophomore majoring in finance. “People are dying from water contamination and dehydration, and by 2020, 4 billion people will lack access to potable water. This is a fantastic opportunity to propel this technology and get the seed money we need to get it off the ground.”

Vena will also use its $7,000 prize money to build a full-scale prototype, which the team will install and test in Kenya this summer.

Engineering A Career Pipeline

Like many of the Zahn Challenge teams, the founders of Vena are hoping their idea makes a difference in the lives of people around the globe. One team, however, won second place for its promise to impact students right here on campus.

SDSU Electrical and Computer Engineering professor Ken Arnold is behind Hi-Tech EdVentures, a business that will help engineering students land paid internships to build their resumes and practical skill set. He also envisions Hi-Tech EdVentures to be a source of engineering expertise for the aspiring entrepreneurs in the Zahn Center.

Strategic Partnerships

Although this particular funnel of consultants and independent contractors is new, the concept is not. Partnerships between the Zahn Center and SDSU colleges allow teams to serve as clients for MBA students who conduct market studies, graphic design students who create logo designs and engineering students who build prototypes.

Pucher said the center is just scratching the surface in terms of what teams can accomplish through the abundant resources on campus. And while many of these partnerships are aimed at fueling the success of the businesses, one strategic alignment in the works will serve the wellbeing of the entrepreneurs themselves.

Pucher is working toward a partnership with SDSU’s Department of Counseling and Psychological Services to take a proactive role in addressing the inherent highs and lows that entrepreneurs face on a regular basis.

Getting A Foot In The Door

Although the competition has ended, the Zahn Center accepts applications year round through its website. The 3rd Annual Zahn Challenge is also set to begin in the fall 2014 semester.