Foothill College’s Second Business Innovation Challenge


Dawney Cheng

Jeff Kirschner presents at the Business Innovation Challenge.

On Friday, March 9th, the Business and Entrepreneurship Club at Foothill College hosted its second ever Business Innovation Challenge. The event was kicked off with a speech by keynote TED speaker Jeff Kirschner, founder of Litterati, an app that allows a user to photograph and document pieces of litter they come across, while encouraging them to dispose of them properly. Kirschner outlined the entire process of turning a simple idea into a successful business and gave aspiring business innovators in the audience several great pieces of advice. Among these were:

  • “It’s not about what it is, it’s about what it can become… I think that when you’re trying to do something innovative, one of the key things you need to have is the ability to persuade others to believe in what you believe.”
  • “When you are doing something innovative, the people often have no idea what’s even possible; you need to know what they need before they know they need it… and that’s the time that people will call you nuts.”
  • “You have to remain flexible. When you’re trying something new and different, keep that northstar, keep that vision if you believe in it, keep your values, but be flexible to getting there a different way than you may have thought.”
  • “You got to find comfort in the chaos. When you have this vision of something different that you’re trying to make, put your horse blinders on at some point and just settle in and focus and don’t let the external triggers get to you”
  • “Practice, patience, a little bit of luck, and love. It’s critically important that you love what you’re doing. It’s a lot easier to get up in the morning for a purpose than [it is for] a paycheck.”
  • “Don’t wait. You got something you want to do, don’t wait. There is no reason to. It will never be the right time, it will never be perfect. Yes, you are young; it catches up real quick.”

Following Kirschner’s speech, participants and audience members separated into two different rooms. One space hosted a poster session during which nine groups of student presenters and start-up hopefuls stood beside posters outlining their business pitches. The audience was free to walk around the room and engage in casual conversation with the presenters, who spoke about the inspirations, methods, and goals of their projects.

The second room featured a “Shark-Tank” esque setup, with a panel of three acclaimed judges listening to each group pitch their idea. Groups had five minutes to explain their idea and try to convince the judges that it would be a successful one. The judges — Waidy Lee, Jim Castelaz, and Neetal Parekh — complimented each group on what they liked, but were also extremely critical when necessary. While waiting for judges to decide a victor, entertainment was provided in the form of Foothill students singing Lady Gaga songs and playing music.

When Laurence Lew, advisor to the Business and Entrepreneurship Club, was asked what he found to be the most meaningful aspect of the Business Innovation Challenge, he replied, “This event is really about the students. Them getting the opportunity to experience this kind of competition, this kind of situation where they can take things that they’ve learned in the classroom and apply them in real life.”

After the entertainment concluded, judge Neetal Parekh entered the room and announced the winners of the competition.

An honorable mention was given to Vampire Slayer Technologies, whose members included Elizabeth Ericksen, Erik Spitzer, Josh Hubert and Josh Uy. They proposed creating power strips with bluetooth capabilities that would automatically turn off devices not in use, saving large amounts of energy.

Third place was awarded to SEED, whose members included Max Lim and Thomas So. They devised a comprehensive plan to introduce a compost system at Foothill that would incorporate the re-usage of compost as fertilizer.

Second place was awarded to Students Need Vending Machines, a project by Courtney Cooper, who proposed reintroducing vending machines on campus to accommodate student needs, such as the need for scantrons and other bookstore appliances when the Foothill bookstore is closed.

Finally, first place was awarded to NuLeaf Tech, a company founded by former Foothill students Rachel Major and Ari Ochoa, who presented with current Foothill student Ronnie Miller. The group created an alternative way to purify wastewater using naturally occurring biological processes, which they incorporated in their NuTree.

The winning groups lined up to take photographs alongside each other and officers of the BEC, including President Francisco Ortega, Vice President Stephen So, Marketing Director Serena Phanitdasack, and Outreach Director Kosei Tanaka. The event concluded shortly thereafter.

The BEC will likely hold another business innovation challenge in future, and any student interested in applying, or any student interested in business or entrepreneurship, should contact the BEC for more information.

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