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Press Release

Four Cal Poly Student Entrepreneur Teams Win $35,000 for Their Innovative Startup Ideas at CIE’s Annual Innovation Quest Competition

Contact: Stephanie Zombek

805-225-4738; [email protected]

SAN LUIS OBISPO — Four student startup teams split $35,000 at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s (CIE) annual Innovation Quest (iQ), a high-stakes competition where Cal Poly students pitch their innovative business ideas to a panel of judges in the hopes of winning funding for their startups.

Biology senior McClain Kressman and Nico Galin, a computer science student at UC Berkeley, received the first-place prize of $15,000 for their startup BioGlyph at the event held April 29 on campus, with awards presented later at a local venue.

The $15,000 first place winner and a CIE official hold a large 4-foot-long check
Innovation Quest first place winning-team Bioglyph co-founder McClain Kessman, right, with Tom Katona, Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s interim co-executive director.

Photo courtesy of Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

“It (winning) was surprising — and it was fun,” said Kressman of Santa Cruz, California. “I couldn’t have done it without Nico, and we’re excited to see what’s ahead of us.”

They intend to use the cash prize to further develop BioGlyph. The software streamlines the process of biologic, or medicine, development and iteration — as well as user modification tools — by allowing researchers to easily shift between visual, markup and serial representations of medications developed from living organisms, Kressman said.

The second-place prize of $10,000 went to Instaboard, a digital whiteboard that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to allow users to illustrate their ideas and collaborate with others, created by computer science senior David Chen, an international student from China; recent art and design graduate Alina Chiu of Mandeville, Louisiana; and Andy Zhou, a University of Rochester finance and applied mathematics student.

“It felt kind of unreal — like what? ‘Did that just happen?’” Chen said. “I was just very glad because for the past few months, I’ve been feeling discouraged. This is a backbone, and I’m going to be building on this confidence. I’m really thankful.”

Logan Hughes of Brookline, Massachusetts, and Jensen Jalufka, both business administration seniors with a focus on entrepreneurship, and engineering seniors Elisa Horta (mechanical engineering) and Justice Radler (industrial engineering) received the third-place award of $5,000 for Spikeless, a wristband to test whether a drink has been drugged.

“It felt so great to win,” said Jalufka, an Austin, Texas, resident. “We put in a lot of hard work, so it’s really awesome to be rewarded. It’s really a humbling experience to be able to put this money towards our company.”

Entein Feeds took home the $5,000 Brett and Leslie Eldridge Environmental Impact Award, presented to the top team whose innovation focuses on environmentalism and sustainability. The startup, founded by William Burns, a materials engineering senior minoring in entrepreneurship, grows black soldier fly larvae off of food waste and then sells the larvae as a protein supplement in animal feed.

“It felt awesome to get appreciation for how hard I worked, especially on an environmentally friendly project,” Burns said.

Fourteen finalists pitched their innovative ideas in Cal Poly’s Nash Family Entrepreneurship Lab. The event’s banquet and awards ceremony was held at SLO Brew Rock later that night.

Past iQ participant and Pashion Footwear founder and CEO Haley Pavone spoke at the banquet. Pavone won iQ in 2017 with her pitch for a shoe that easily converts from a pump to a flat.

iQ was founded in 2004 by Cal Poly electrical engineering graduates and business leaders Carson Chen, Richard Boberg and Laura Pickering. Since its launch, iQ participants have received over $400,000 that has helped launch several successful businesses, such as iFixIt, Liftgator and Alydia Health.

Representatives of the four startups display large checks totalling $35,000
Members of the student startup teams that split $35,000 at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s annual Innovation Quest. Prizes ranged from $15,000 to $5,000 for the high-stakes competition where Cal Poly students pitched their innovative business ideas to a panel of judges to win funding for their startups.

Photo courtesy of Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

“iQ motivates students across campus who would otherwise not think about taking the skills that they have and applying them in an entrepreneurial way,” said Tom Katona, CIE interim co-executive director.

In addition to the four winners, 10 finalists were chosen from more than 50 applicants:

— Pyrottack, a battery detection system that prevents costly battery fires in the waste stream by detecting batteries in waste bins before they are compacted; created by business administration seniors Penny Lane Case and Thaddeus Ziarkowski and mechanical engineering seniors Stefany James, Cole Miller and Sydney Fairchild.

— RISE, an innovation helping Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) patients take control of their symptoms and prevent debilitating episodes; developed by Alex Rosenbaum, a mechanical engineering junior and Aidan Rosenbaum, a mechanical engineering junior at Case Western Reserve University.

— Munchie Automation, a hot food vending machine developer providing quality, affordable and safe food; founded by business administration senior Colin Brown, mechanical engineering junior Tony Aviña and electrical engineering freshman Ian McKernan.

— PeggyAI, a software company helping agriculture businesses automate their time keeping, equipment tracking and safety processes; developed by recent business administration graduate Ethan Beck, business administration junior Isabella Beck and earth and science soil junior Thomas Telles.

— Vlab Education, a startup providing virtual reality (VR) science experiments for students; founded by polymers and coatings graduate student Adam Langevin and recent computer science graduates Kaili Shan and Jarrod Tart.

— Groundwater Pricing Calculator, a tool that can help farmers and county governments determine the cost of accessing groundwater; developed by psychology and ethnic studies senior Cade Creason and computer engineering senior Lucas Abdo.

— Ourcelium, a startup reducing microplastic pollution by using a decomposing fungus to turn plastic waste into mycelium, which can then be used to create sustainable packaging alternatives; developed by business administration seniors Penny Lane Case and Thaddeus Ziarkowski, mechanical engineering sophomore Amelia Cameron and mechanical engineering seniors Stefany James, Cole Miller and Sydney Fairchild.

— Tensormaker, a tool that makes building machine learning applications quick, easy and accessible; created by liberal arts and engineering studies senior Avi Peltz and recent computer engineering graduate Samuel Cole.

— DrinkWise, a smart tattoo that monitors the wearer’s Blood Alcohol Level (BAC); developed by industrial engineering senior Owen Works, biomedical engineering senior Camden Ford, biomedical engineering junior Aditi Sriram, mechanical engineering senior Nicolas Rojas and business administration junior Michael Hennessy.

— Zoetic Motion, a digital health platform streamlining the physical therapy process in order to improve patient outcomes; founded by computer science graduate student Zeeshan Khan.

About the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

The CIE opens a world of entrepreneurial opportunity to Cal Poly students, faculty and community members and promotes entrepreneurial activity and dialogue throughout San Luis Obispo County. For more information, visit