News Release

$75,000 Pay Out at Student-Run UCSD Business Plan Competition June 9

San Diego, CA, June 05, 2007 -- What started as a series of happy hours has morphed into a UC San Diego student-run event in which $75,000 in cash prizes is on the line. On Saturday June 9, five teams of student entrepreneurs affiliated with UC San Diego will compete head-to-head in a business plan competition run by the Triton Innovation Network (TIN), a new organization run entirely by UCSD graduate and undergraduate students. The winning team will walk away with as much as $45,000 in cash to support their new business, and the two runners up will receive up to $15,000 each.

Neha Patadia
Neha Patadia
“This is truly a student-run competition. I don’t know of any other school business plan competition that is funded, organized and run by students,” said Neha Patadia, the fourth year molecular biology and economics major at UCSD who co-founded the Triton Innovation Network with Nicole Justis Truitt, a materials science Ph.D. candidate at UCSD.

The business plan competition is free and open to the public. It will take place at UCSD, in Calit2’s Atkinson Hall from 9:00 a.m. -2 p.m. on Saturday June 9.

Each team must include at least one full-time UCSD undergraduate or graduate student.

One of the teams in the semifinals is made up of four seniors majoring in electrical engineering.

SolASE team members
SolASE team members (left to right) James McCanna, Sam Litvin, Ashkan Arianpour, Joshua Windmiller
“We were working on homework and throwing around ideas when we envisioned what we believe is a revolutionary new photovoltaic architecture,” said Joshua Windmiller, the team leader, President and CEO of their start-up company SolASE. “Our idea represents a significant departure from the strategy of putting a semiconductor out in the sun and hoping that it absorbs as much as possible. We have turned conventional photovoltaic technology from a mere passive absorber to an active absorber.”

The students have filed both Utility and Provisional patents and plan to have a prototype completed later this year.

John Yamauchi (left) and Rohith Srivas (right) are both members of team Nanzyme.
Another group of UCSD students with big plans is team Nanzyme, a collection of bioengineers with hopes of creating a dietary supplement to eliminate alcohol intolerance or “Asian flush.” This inherited condition is named for the flush of red that appears on the faces of people with an enzyme mutation that prevents proper metabolization of alcohol. Approximately 50 percent of people of Asian descent are alcohol intolerant, said John Yamauchi, the team leader, who also happens to suffer from alcohol intolerance.

His experiences with alcohol intolerance, combined with undergraduate research on enzyme kinetics, led Yamauchi to the idea of creating a dietary supplement for treating this condition. He shared his idea with fellow bioengineering majors, and the group quickly formed a team and the beginnings of a start-up company.

“In addition to being socially awkward, alcohol intolerance results in a build up of toxic acetalydehyde that is associated with higher risk for certain types of cancer," said Yamauchi, who is currently a graduate student in UCSD’s biomedical sciences program.

“Yesterday, I went out for pizza with friends. After only half a beer, I turned red. People ask me, 'were you in the sun today?’”

Nanzyme, however, is not the only piece of this story tied to beer with friends.

“The Triton Innovation Network started as a series of happy hours. It has morphed into a dynamic UC San Diego student-run event,” said Justis Truitt, a competition co-founder, who delighted in the fact that $75,000 in cash prizes is on the line on Saturday June 9.

Each of the five finalists will give a 15 minute presentation of their business plan and then encounter a barrage of questions from the judges – all leading members of San Diego’s business and entrepreneurship community. After a lunchtime deliberation, the panel of judges will announce their winners: the teams that look the most fundable to seasoned venture capitalists.

The Triton Innovation Network will award $30,000 to the winning team and $10,000 to each of two runners up – money the students raised, primarily by soliciting support from the San Diego business community. The UCSD technology transfer office, TechTIPS, will match 50 percent of these awards if the winners’ businesses are based on technologies developed at UCSD.

Nicole Justis Truitt
Triton Innovation Network co-founder Nicole Justis Truitt, a materials science Ph.D. candidate at UCSD.
“When I came to UCSD as a graduate student, I brought a start-up with me,” said Justis Truitt. “With so many UCSD students interested in start-ups and entrepreneurship, I thought it was strange that more of us were not throwing ideas around, brainstorming, collaborating,” said Justis Truitt. “Happy hours are great, but we were looking for a more structured way to get the business community involved.”

 A primary goal of the business plan competition is to foster community involvement and technological innovation by bringing multi-disciplinary teams of engineers, scientists, and business-minded students together with local area entrepreneurs and professionals, explained Neha Patadia, a Triton Innovation Network co-founder.

“Within many of the teams, I have seen a lot of collaboration between different departments at UCSD. This was one of the goals of the competition, and it’s exciting to see it happening,” Patadia said.

Increasing and diversifying job opportunities in San Diego, raising awareness of cutting edge technology in the business community, and raising awareness of business realities in technological and scientific communities are all stated goals of the Triton Innovation Network.

In addition to the competition, the students created an online forum where people who want to get involved in a start-up can network with people looking for talent.

“This summer, we are going to make the forum more advanced, and more integrated into existing systems. Even after graduating, this will be a way to maintain your connections to UCSD,” said Justis Truitt.

The June 9 event concludes a year full of entrepreneurship activities and competitions that began with the $1,000 Idea Summary Competition in the fall quarter and the Executive Summary Competition in the winter quarter.

The months of lead up have been an education themselves for many of the teams.

“Even if we don’t win any money, participating in the competition has been great. We’ve learned how to write business plans, how to look fundable and how to present and pitch ideas,” said Yamauchi.


Media Contacts

Daniel Kane
Jacobs School of Engineering