Skateboards made out of hemp, a mobile application that solves math problems and beer-infused ice cream were the business ideas that won the top prizes at Thursday’s Bronco Startup Challenge.
In all, $11,000 was awarded to students from the colleges of Business Administration, Engineering and Science, as well as the Collins College of Hospitality Management. The winners also were invited the next day to attend a startup workshop by Maverick Angels, an angel investing group.
“It was a great experience to see the diversity of majors in this competition and seeing so many of them work together,” says student Leonard Lacsamana who helped organize the competition. “More importantly, we’re bridging the gap between Cal Poly Pomona and the successful Southern California startup community.”
The College of Business Administration, student club Poly Founders and Bronco Entrepreneur Initiative hosted the competition. Poly Founders members and alumni, along with professors and industry mentors, worked intensively with competitors for four months helping them refine their ideas, write a business plan and learn the art of the fast pitch. The 10 finalists were given two minutes to pitch their ideas to judges and had five minutes to answer questions.
“I’m proud that the college’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation is playing a leading role in supporting and inspiring student creativity,” says CBA Dean Richard Lapidus. “With the addition of new faculty in the fall, including a serial entrepreneur, we’re poised to strengthen the entrepreneurship curriculum and allow more opportunities for hands-on projects and networking for students.”
Prize money was generously provided by business alumnus and adjunct professor Pawan Tomkoria and businessman Wen Chang. Tomkoria also serves on the Dean’s Advisory Council for the College of Business Administration.
Mechanical engineering student Brian Westphal wanted to make his unique skateboards after he discovered that hemp plastic is more durable and more environmentally friendly than traditional plastic. Westphal, who also can be seen on a cruiser board around campus, devoted his senior project to working on his idea. While Westphal had plans to commercialize his class project, he didn’t expect that one day he’d be standing in front of a panel of judges.
“As an engineer, I don’t have marketing experience,” says Westphal who also is a member of Poly Founders. “My peers and professors helped me a lot to prepare for this. This has been an unreal experience.”
Westphal, who will graduate at the end of fall quarter, will use the $4,000 prize money to manufacture his skateboards. He also plans to raise $25,000 through crowd-sourced fundraising on Kickstarter.
The $3,000 second place prize and $1,000 crowd favorite award was given to Jeremy Bonsall, Filippo Busalacchi, Patricia Cruz, Seena Foroutan and Adrian Solis who created a prototype for an app than can solve math problems using optical character recognition. To receive help with a problem, users scan a picture of the equation and the app will show them the steps needed to get the correct answer.
The $2,000 third place prize was awarded to Scoops on Tap, which created non-alcoholic beer ice cream. Students Samuel Howland and Bryan Marasco used Dale Bros. Brewery’s Pomona Queen lager to create its special ice cream.
Students Aaron Sun and Andre Saez won a $1,000 award sponsored by Chang for Dysh, a food app that helps users decide where to eat.
Tomkoria, who also served as a competition judge, has seen the challenge evolve the past few years.
“Each year we have become more creative,” Tomkoria says. “I know the caliber of Cal Poly Pomona students and I know the ideas will be more creative next year.”