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The Zahn Challenge takes place on on Thursday, Dec. 8 in the Zahn Innovation Platform Launchpad. The Zahn Challenge takes place on on Thursday, Dec. 8 in the Zahn Innovation Platform Launchpad.
 


Student Entrepreneurs Vie for Prize in Annual Pitch Competition

The 5th Annual Zahn Challenge features nearly two dozen student companies.
By Gina Jacobs
 

“SDSU is an incredible campus for entrepreneurs and those that want to start their own business.”

There’s a high bar for future success set for this year’s winner of the Zahn Challenge, an annual business idea competition hosted by San Diego State University’s Zahn Innovation Platform (ZIP) Launchpad. One of last year’s winners, CourseKey, founded by SDSU student Luke Sophinos, has already raised $1.5 million.  

Nearly two dozen student teams who hope to follow in CourseKey’s footsteps will present their business ideas at the annual pitch competition on Thursday, Dec. 8, for a chance to win a cash prize that could serve as seed funding for their business.  

Each of the teams spent the fall semester participating in an intensive training program at the ZIP Launchpad, an incubator and entrepreneurial community that supports SDSU innovators and aspiring entrepreneurs hoping to launch viable startups.

Those competing will present to a panel of entrepreneurially minded judges earlier in the week, including last year’s winner Sophinos.

“The Zahn Challenge was a seminal moment for CourseKey and put us on a path to successfully scale our company,” said Sophinos. “SDSU is an incredible campus for entrepreneurs and those that want to start their own business.”

The judges will evaluate teams based on the significance of the problem they are trying to solve, whether the solution is compelling and addresses a large market opportunity, and whether it has the ability to differentiate and scale.

The teams will also present their “Quick Pitch” to the audience who will vote at the event, which is free and open to the public, though registration is suggested.

“These students come to us with an early idea for a startup,” said Cathy Pucher, executive director of SDSU’s ZIP Launchpad. “Like the student-athlete, they are the student-entrepreneur dedicating their time towards launching a startup while balancing student life. We work hard to nurture the students along the process, but ultimately it is up to their commitment and tenacity to succeed.”

Resources provided by the ZIP Launchpad includes mentorship and guidance from successful local entrepreneurs and executives, pro bono legal advice and access to the H.G. Fenton Company Idea Lab which provides all the tools necessary for designing and creating a prototype, like a 3D printer.

Thanks to significant donor funding, these benefits are provided at no cost. Donors include the Moxie Foundation, H.G. Fenton Company, San Diego Gas & Electric and many others.

“The support from our generous donors is helping provide our students with transformational and rewarding experiences at the ZIP Launchpad,” said Mary Ruth Carleton, vice president of University Relations and Development.

A new part of this year’s Zahn Challenge is a competition that was open to all students, not just those who participated in a ZIP Launchpad program this year. The “Thinking Outside of the Potato Challenge” asked students to apply innovation, technology and creativity to transform a Mr./Mrs. Potato Head toy into a tool, device, accessory, art or something that connects to products in everyday life.

The 25 “Potato Head” submissions will be judged by toy inventors and promoters, including David Capper, who sponsored the competition. Winners will be announced at the Dec. 8 event.