Last Friday, five student-led teams each won $5,000 and moved one step closer to potentially earning the $100,000 grand prize to fund their startups in the ASU Innovation Open pitch competition.
Excitement and expectation reverberated throughout the presentation room at ASU’s SkySong campus as the early-stage entrepreneurs representing the top 15 ventures presented five-minute pitches to peers and a panel of judges made up of Phoenix-area business leaders and entrepreneurs.
The ASU Innovation Open, which is in its third year, invites student-led, multidisciplinary teams of collegiate startup founders who are harnessing the power of entrepreneurship to tackle the world’s most challenging problems.
Selected from dozens of applications submitted from around the world, the student ventures ranged from biotech startups developing technology to optimize personalized health to one company’s out-of-this-world prototype aiming to remove and reduce space debris.
The day included advice and feedback from Todd Davis, CEO and co-founder of LifeLock, a Tempe-based company that has been safeguarding users against identity theft since 2005, and a question-and-answer session from a panel of past ASU Innovation Open winners and competitors.
Five finalists were chosen to receive a $5,000 cash prize from Zero Mass Water, an Arizona State University spinoff founded in 2015 by ASU Associate Professor Cody Friesen.
“Zero Mass Water gives this gift of $25,000 a year because while we’re a startup — although a late-stage startup — it’s never too early to begin paying forward and building an ecosystem of entrepreneurship,” said Friesen. “We got this massive leg up because of the existence of ASU and being competitive within the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Thinking about how we can enable other entrepreneurs to get that leg up to go faster is what we were thinking about when we founded this competition and now why we fund the semifinals.”
Kyle Squires, dean of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering — another of the event’s sponsors — welcomed students and guests. Using Zero Mass Water as an example, he encouraged the young entrepreneurs to strive to make a lasting impact in their communities.
“This is when it’s working — a company out in the community, employing engineers, creating value and closing the loop by giving back. And that’s what we want you to be able to do in your communities,” said Squires. “Get to the point where you are not only having individual success and advancing your venture and the networks you’re creating, but that you can also eventually give back. Once that cycle starts to work, it feeds on and repeats itself, and then the entire community is winning.”
Avnet’s ongoing partnership with ASU includes supporting aspiring entrepreneurs to advance their innovations and is the reason the company has supported and sponsored the competition since its inception.
“For the third year in a row, we’ve seen incredible innovation, imagination and sophistication from these young entrepreneurs,” said Melissa Gray, vice president of Corporate Affairs for Avnet. “The competition keeps getting better and better, and it’s very exciting to watch that progression. The types of technology solutions presented today take on some of the world’s toughest challenges underscoring our own guiding mantra to ‘reach further’ and make a difference.”
The five ventures selected to progress to the ASU Innovation Open finals are:
- Cloud Agronomics, presented by Jack Roswell and Oleksiy Zhuk from Brown University, is an aerial imaging and data analytics venture in the agri-tech sector that is dedicated to reducing food waste. The company collects ultra-high-definition images taken from manned aircraft to scout evidence of crop disease and advise farmers to act.
- Infinite Cooling, presented by Maher Damak from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has technology to capture large amounts of pure water from the evaporative losses of cooling towers in power plants. Their cooling apparatus has already been installed at a power plant on the MIT campus, and other industry leaders are looking to incorporate their ideas to recycle water for reuse in their cooling systems.
- SoleMate Solutions, presented by Surabhi Kalyan and Kristine Khieu from the University of California, San Diego, makes a smart-shoe insole that optimizes lower-extremity rehabilitation by measuring weight applied and providing real-time feedback. The smart sole can improve recovery time and help prevent serious complications that may occur after a patient is discharged.
- Soundskrit, presented by Sahil Gupta from McGill University, is leveraging years of research in biomimetic microphone design to develop multi-directional Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) microphones that will significantly improve audio capture. This velocity microphone technology will dynamically track and listen to multiple inputs and improves years of stagnant technology in audio capture.
- Strella Biotechnology, presented by Katherine Sizov from the University of Pennsylvania, makes biosensing platforms that measure fruit ripeness by measuring ethylene gas production and provide actionable data to packers and distributors to reduce food waste and increase fruit quality. The technology is already in use by apple packers in Washington state and Pennsylvania.
In February, the five teams will compete for $100,000, $25,000 and $10,000 prizes to help fund their ventures. Avnet, the title sponsor for the event, will supply the grand prize, while ON Semiconductor and Roambotics will fund the second- and third-place awards, respectively. The student ventures will be judged on multiple aspects of their business plan and product development, including market research, prototypes and website development.