Innovators

INNOVATORS. A few of Beach BioTech's teammates (from left) Johnston Hou, John Aquino, Talha Karwa, Annas Tohmeh prepare themselves for a final pitch at the Innovation Challenge Finals and Awards Ceremony. 

Students at Cal State Long Beach who have big ideas will be making their pitches to win a high-stakes $50,000 payoff at this week’s 2019 Innovation Challenge Finals and Awards Ceremony.

Four teams of students, representing undergrads and graduate students — as well as their collaborators from other schools and the working world — will be among the finalists chosen to pitch their business plans to a panel of local experts. The winning team gets $10,000 in cash and $40,000 worth of in-kind services to make their idea a reality.

Organizer Wade Martin, a lecturer in the Economics Department and director of the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, said the Innovation Challenge represents a nine-year partnership among the colleges of engineering, business and arts to help students form working teams and develop business plans that are viable in the real world.

“We support the teams in moving their ideas forward,” he said. “From September to April we offer programming every week on everything from developing your marketing plan to creating a minimum viable product. After initial rounds of pitches, four finalists are chosen for the final round.”

Martin said he’s personally witnessed how students from different backgrounds and areas of study benefit from working together and building skills they will use as professionals throughout their lives.

“There’s definitely an evolution that occurs,” he said about the students’ growth, noting too that some ideas — seen through from start to finish from previous years — have actually gone to market.

“All four of the finalists last year are currently taking their ideas to market,” he said. “The winner two years ago has set up their business and is now recruiting users for a service that helps senior citizens exercise.”

The four finalists this year include: Battery Effect, a team pitching a mobile application to help people dispose of hazardous household waste; Beach BioTech, a team that wants to provide a low-cost and accessible method for diagnosing Type II diabetes; InstaVegan, an idea that creates a platform for vegans to find food delivery services; and Sips Cold Brew, a group that wants to offer a member-based customized coffee drink service for college students.

During the “Shark Tank” style event, each of the four final teams — selected from a pool of more than 30 teams — has five minutes per pitch, in addition to already having submitted a written business plan. Judges have 10 minutes to ask further questions.

Beach BioTech team leader Talha Karwa, 21, said his team’s focus is on providing a saliva-based test to detect diabetes so that people can be screened without the cost and hassle of a blood test.

Karwa is an undergrad studying electrical engineering and wants to work in biomedical engineering someday after graduate school. His team includes other electrical engineering students as well as those studying chemical engineering, business and accounting.

Together, they’ve started a business, created a prototype and are securing patents and licenses. If they win, they’ll set their sights on approvals for clinical trials.

Another team, Battery Effect, led by 27-year-old grad student Abhishek Basavanna, is focused on building a mobile application and network of places in the city for people to drop off old batteries and other hazardous household waste.

Basavanna said his team, which is also a diverse grouping of students, failed to make the winning pitch last year so they’re trying again with an improved plan this time around. The team’s idea revolves around social good and marketing.

“We didn’t have a solid and effective plan,” the aerospace engineering student said about lessons learned. “Now, we know we want to establish drop off locations across the city, and we’re coming up with an app people can download and look up those locations and download coupons to redeem at participating businesses.”

The team leader said he’s proud of his team and the common ground they’ve found working together toward the same goal.

Taking place from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday, April 11, the Innovation Challenge Finals and Awards Ceremony is open to the public at CSULB’s Pointe Conference Center inside the iconic Walter Pyramid. To register for the free event, visit www.csulb.edu/innovation-challenge.

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