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Press Release

Two Cal Poly Student Startups Split $28,000 in Awards at Sunstone CSU Startup Launch Competition

William Burns of the startup ENTEIN and Penny Lane Case of Nexstera Tech hold massive checks totalling $28000 at the CSU Startup Launch Competition

Contact: Stephanie Zombek

805-668-3955; [email protected]

CARSON, California — Two Cal Poly startups won prizes at the Sunstone Startup Launch Competition, the third annual California State University (CSU) pitch competition with a total of $200,000 in prize money, held at CSU Dominguez Hills. Various teams showcased their ideas to a group of 50 judges from all over the state.

Nexstera Tech, which hopes to shape the future with artificial intelligence-driven radar technology to pinpoint lithium-ion battery risks within waste streams, took home $27,000 from the Sunstone Community Fund, the charitable donor-advised fund that raises money to support entrepreneurship at its earliest stages. The startup received the third place overall grand prize of $10,000, two first-place showcase awards totaling $12,000, as well as $5,000 for reaching the finals of the May 3 competition.

“I thoroughly enjoyed sharing our mission and vision with the judges and guests,” said Penny Lane Case, Nexstera Tech CEO. “It was inspiring to see so many young entrepreneurs striving to make a positive impact, whether on the environment, society or their specific target market. The funding we received will enable us to bring in radar and software experts to assist my co-founders with their (research and design) efforts and help us acquire the necessary equipment to develop our advanced radar system.”

William Burns of the startup ENTEIN and Penny Lane Case of Nexstera Tech hold massive checks totalling $28000 at the CSU Startup Launch Competition
William Burns (left) founder and CEO of ENTEIN and Penny Lane Case, co-founder and CEO of Nexstera Tech, hold large checks of prize winnings at the Sunstone CSU Startup Launch Competition on May 3. The pair took home a combined $28,000 in awards.

Courtesy Photo

The team includes three co-founders: alumna Penny Lane Case (Business Administration, ’23) of Santa Rosa, California, the company’s CEO; alumna Stefany James (Mechanical Engineering, ’23) of Chula Vista, California, the company’s CTO; and Kylene Landenberger, a computer science senior from Roseville, California, who serves as CPO.

Nexstera Tech recently received first place at AngelCon, a pitch competition that connects Central California tech startups and dedicated investors for funding and mentorship, hosted by the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Small Business Development Center (SBDC), receiving $165,000 in equity investment.

ENTEIN, the other Cal Poly startup, plans to utilize food waste to grow insects as an affordable animal feed protein supplement and earned a third-place award in competition advantage, receiving a $1,000 prize. Startups in this category differentiated themselves from existing or potential competitors, providing an edge in the market. The startup was founded by materials engineering senior William Burns of The Dalles, Oregon, who serves as the company CEO.

Both recipients participated in the 2023 Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Summer Accelerator, an intensive 12-week program that provides Cal Poly students and recent graduates with the resources necessary to turn their innovative ideas into full-fledged startups.

The Sunstone CSU Startup Launch Competition followed a new format this year, consisting of a science fair-style expo where judges roamed the room evaluating the startups for up to three hours. Six to eight teams were later selected to compete in the Grand Finale. Finalists delivered a 3-minute pitch, followed by a 5-minute Q&A with the judges. Seventeen of the 23 CSU campuses participated and included 33 teams.

The top recipient from San Jose State University received $41,000 — the $30,000 first prize, $5,000 for reaching the finals and $6,000 by winning the Market Validation category from the morning expo. The mobile app provides flexible sensors to attach to helmets to assess if contact blows are capable of causing concussions.

Sunstone CSU Startup Launch Competition in 2025 will be held at San Francisco State University next spring.

About the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE)

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