I-Start Makes Launching a Competition a Breeze

Student Ambassadors and University leaders take note, the Kauffman Foundation has made it a whole lot easier to get up and running with your own campus competition!

I-Start is an online tool that allows anyone to set up and manage a business plan, business model or design competition. The Kauffman Foundation acquired the platform in 2009 from then Harvard student and now Director, Katie Peterson. You can be up and running in under 40 minutes with a simple competition, says Peterson in a YouTube video that describes a range of flexibility. Program Managers are offered a site with their own brand and domain name. A well-designed graphical user interface allows managers to set entry criteria, types of responses accepted and required elements. Users invite their own judges and manage the review processes.


On the flip side, if you’re a student startup thinking about doing the competition circuit, i-Start makes it vastly easier to search and apply for the range of different competitions for which you may be eligible. To date, close to 9,500 companies have applied to over 200 competitions. To learn more, check out the organization’s video about i-Start…

~ Humera Fasihuddin, Manager of Student Programming, T: @ihumera

Biomimicry, Berkeley and Whole Foods

What does the study of Biomimicry, Berkeley University and Whole Foods have in common? Boys growing mushrooms, that’s what.

But first, let me tell you why this is on my radar screen. I was recently invited to review Stage 2 applications for The Biomimicry Design Challenge biomimicry(visit the link to see the submissions that made it past Stage 1), a competition spearheaded by The Biomimicry 3.8 Institute. Aimed at college and university students, the design challenge provides an opportunity for students to work collaboratively in teams to apply biomimicry concepts and tools to arrive at a sustainable and innovative design solution.

I manage two competitions for NCIIA, coached hundreds of founders, reviewed SBIR Phase II grants for the NSF … BUT, what do I really know about biomimicry? Time to brush up!

On the WebEx orientation for judges (something you don’t see many reviewing organization do) a passing comment alluded to ‘the mushroom boys from Berkeley’. That’s how I discovered Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez of University of California Berkeley who are using the fundamental principles of biomimicry to haul off thousands of pounds of waste from barista coffee grounds to grow gourmet mushrooms, mushroom kits and premium soil amendment sold at hundreds of Whole Foods locations on the West Coast… and they’re expanding nationally.

Alex Velez & Nikhil Arora, from Back to the Roots,
describe ‘Business 3.0’ as delivering value to all partners.

These recent grads have developed a truly sustainable business, having cultivated a symbiotic relationship between the coffee shop sector, through its waste stream, and the urban local food consumer. You will not regret watching their 15-minute TEDx talk (above). If you’re like me, you’ll be smiling the entire time, taken by their charm, authenticity and … well … giddiness, about how obvious it is that time-tested fundamentals of value generation can serve as a guiding principle in building highly-sustainable businesses.

Another great way to take in a crash course in Biomimicry in under a half hour is by watching Biomimicry 3.8 founder Janine Benyus’ riveting TED talk, ’12 sustainable design ideas from nature’.

~ Humera Fasihuddin, Manager of Student Programming, T: @ihumera

Penn State Student Trades Pen for Ford 250 Truck in 8-wk Trader Challenge


Update 3/20 11:20am: We have a picture of Joe and his new red truck! Way to make your daddy proud.


The culmination of the much-anticipated Trader Challenge yielded an undisputed win by Joe Marcus whose most recent trade was a Ford 250 Truck for a Bowflex PR3000 Home Gym.

According to reports in the campus paper, Penn State’s Daily Collegian, “His goal was to get a more reliable four-wheel drive car for his father to drive in the winter.” He traded the Bowflex Gym to an out-of-shape elderly man to achieve his goal, the paper reports. Read the entire article: Ultimate Trader Challenge at Penn State reveals award winners. We hope to have a picture to post soon.

Congrats to Penn State Student Ambassador John Oliver and his team for a successful Trader Challenge! Later this week, in Washington D.C., twenty student ambassadors (9 new trainees and 11 current), along with close to 300 OPEN Conference attendees will have the chance to hear directly from Oliver about the affects of this challenge on the Penn State Innovation and Entrepreneurship ecosystem in a panel moderated by Epicenter’s own Tom Byers of Stanford University.

~ Humera Fasihuddin, Manager of Student Programming, T: @ihumera

Record 4,500 Submissions to U-Michigan 1,000 Pitches

1000pitchesThe 5th annual University of Michigan drew a record 4,500 submissions to its 1,000 Pitches Competition. Organizers announced winners in each of the nine categories. The competition, led by campus organization M-Powered, invites undergrad and grad students to submit 3-minute videos of their technology or business pitch online.

From the organization’s website, the competition was conceived in 2007 by two U-M students and MPowered’s founders, Ashwin L. and Israel V., when they were attending a conference in Silicon Valley. They realized the lack of entrepreneurial passion within their university compared to those in the Bay Area and knew quick changes were needed if Michigan was to keep up. The competition has had the quite the impact. Says Jeremy Klaben, “the 1,000 Pitches competition generates lots of buzz and excitement about entrepreneurship at U-Mich.” We should think so given the entire student body is 45,000 in enrollment!

To read more about this year’s results, visit the U-Mich website. To see the video submissions, go to the 1,000 Pitches website.

~ Humera Fasihuddin, Manager of Student Programming, T: @ihumera

Art Center College of Design • $50 Challenge



The $50 Challenge at the Art Center College of Design was an event created to bring designers together to be entrepreneurs by combining their skills and creativity to build a small business in 24 hours. The challenge began with an inspirational talk about the spirit of entrepreneurship by Errol Gerson and an introduction to creative strategies by Fridolin Beisert . The joint forces of these two motivational instructors paved the way for teams of students to go out and experience fast and spontaneous entrepreneurship.

Teams were given $50 and asked to go out and make as much money as they could in 24 hours. The rules were simple: make as much as you can, return the $50 investment and keep the profit or cover the losses. 24 hours later teams reunited for story telling, pizza and prizes.

Well, but what did the teams do? There was a lucrative bookbinding course, making sandwiches, distributing sodas, making a music video, creating “provocative” water, drawing portraits, selling smiles and even selling wishes. This last group called “Popwish” sold wishes and popsicles for a dollar. This idea turned out to be a great success and they are now in the process of continuing the project beyond the challenge.

The Art Center College of Design is a school full of genuine curiosity, sparking creativity and directed passion, which makes it an incubator for potential young entrepreneurial spirits. The $50 Challenge was an event created to highlight these qualities and inspire the entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

This event was organized by Impact • Design for Social Change and sponsored by NCIIA (National Collegiate Inventors & Innovators Alliance)




— Mariana Prieto •  NCIIA Student Ambassador for Art Center College of Design

Anderson student’s start-up company competes for investors in Fast Pitch Competition

Anderson graduate student Jonathan Lehmann represented UCLA at the Fast Pitch Competition. He had 90 seconds to present his idea and earn funding for his company, KarmaGoat.

For the sixth year, UCLA hosted the Fast Pitch Competition apart of National Entrepreneurship Week, which is organized by the Los Angeles investment group called the Tech Coast Angels. Since founded in 1999, TCA has invested $100 million and received over $1 billion in returns from these investments, said Robert Jadon, co-chair of Fast Pitch. The competition consists of 8-10 entrepreneurs giving fast pitches to a panel of investors and other members of Southern California’s entrepreneurial community. Pitches are judged on the quality of the CEO’s presentation and the company’s investment potential.

Johnathan Lehmann, a UCLA Anderson Business School graduate student presented his idea to investors for funding. As Jonathan Lehmann prepared to move from Paris to Los Angeles, he compiled a bag of items he no longer wanted, but he felt they should go to people who would appreciate them as much as he did. Lehmann’s dilemma inspired him to create a Facebook-integrated website that would allow users to sell items on an online marketplace and give 85 percent of the proceeds to a charity of the seller’s choice. Lehmann spent the summer developing the business model for his new company, an online commerce site with proceeds going to charity, which he decided to call KarmaGoat. The name of the company represents two concepts. The cycle of rebirth defines karma. Quote: “The goat represents a commodity that, while not useful to the donor, acts as a source of food and clothing to the recipient”.