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Sunday, June 26, 2022

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SDSU senior and former Zahn Challenge competitor Dan Barnett likes the idea of including alumni in the Zahn Challenge. SDSU senior and former Zahn Challenge competitor Dan Barnett likes the idea of including alumni in the Zahn Challenge.

New Direction for Zahn Challenge

The fourth annual Zahn Challenge is open to SDSU alumni.
By Tobin Vaughn

The fourth annual Zahn Challenge is set for Dec. 2 and for the first time, Aztec alumni are invited to participate.

The competition is offering a track for startups founded by recent SDSU graduates. Alumni teams will complete for $2,000 and the opportunity to showcase their ideas in front of a large audience of entrepreneurial-minded individuals.

“Last year I got quite a few emails and phone calls from alumni who said, 'This is so cool. Can I be part of it?'" said Zahn Innovation Center Executive Director Cathy Pucher. “It seemed to me that it would be a really good idea to include our alumni somehow in this event.”

This year’s competition will feature three tracks: a $6,000 applicant track for applicants with an idea for a startup or social enterprise, a $3,000 Zahn track for current Zahn Innovation Center teams and the $2,000 alumni track open to teams that must have at least one alumnus as a founder who graduated within three years of fall 2015.

Judges will be evaluating innovative ideas or technologies for products or services that address a large market opportunity with the ability to scale. A $500 Audience Vote prize and a $500 Best in Show showcase award will also be given. 

An invaluable experience

Dan Barnett is a senior management major from San Diego who entered the Zahn Challenge last year. The 25-year-old entrepreneur’s idea for a foldout laptop stand to reduce heat rashes and irritation was good enough to earn him a third-place finish and a $1,000 prize.

He said the opportunity to compete — and particularly to pitch his product to a panel of judges — was invaluable. "It's a great experience for anyone who wants to engage themselves and develop themselves,” he said.

Barnett will graduate this December. He said he likes the idea of adding recent graduates to the competition.

“I can't think of anything negative about that,” he said. "Just because you've graduated doesn't mean you can't be involved with the school anymore, especially if you're an entrepreneur who could potentially put the name of SDSU and the Zahn Innovation Center out and about as the entities that made your business possible."

Get involved

Applications to participate in the Zahn Challenge are open through Nov. 1. Applicants are required to attend a presentation workshop, dry run session, finalist presentation, and showcase and award ceremony.

Alumni teams must have at least one founder who graduated from SDSU within the past three years. Business ideas may be either pre or post-revenue as long as they reflect something new.

“It could be a novel idea, it could be novel technology, it could be a novel business model or some combination,” Pucher said. “What we’re not looking for is a small or medium-sized business that's been done before and you're doing it again."

To find out more about the Zahn Challenge and tp apply, visit the Zahn Innovation Center website.