Sleepyhead, an e-commerce sleep startup that sells boxed memory-foam mattresses and bed toppers, won the $20,000 first-place award at the final round of California State University, Northridge’s second-annual Bull Ring New Venture Competition on May 2.
The Bull Ring Competition awarded $35,000 in collective cash prizes and $30,000 in sponsorships to three teams of student entrepreneurs. Five teams advanced from April’s trade show-style, semifinal round to the finals, where they pitched their startup ideas to a panel of four judges in an event modeled after the hit ABC TV show “Shark Tank.”
Steven Van Alen, a CSUN business management student and Sleepyhead’s CEO, said the win was a surprise.
“A friend of mine told me we didn’t win, so I thought we’d place second or third,” Van Alen said. “When I heard that third place wasn’t us and then second place wasn’t us, I looked to my co-founder and said, ‘It’s too bad we didn’t even place.’
“Then, they announced Sleepyhead won. I was completely shocked, to be honest,” he continued. “We’re going to put this money to good use implementing our current ideas and driving marketing, to make sure CSUN students interested in sleeping well at night are aware of our product.”
MyGymPals, a mobile app that connects gym-goers to foster fitness communities, finished second, and Germ 3 Solutions, a company that sells products aimed at preventing the spread of germs in hospitals, came in third. The teams won $10,000 and $5,000, respectively. The runner-ups were Tint, an app that helps users shop for clothes by color, and Omnigreen, a company that builds plant-based air purifiers.
“When they announced we’d won second, I was incredibly satisfied,” said Muris Mulalic, a CSUN psychology student and MyGymPals’ CEO. “It’s great placing in the contest, but the real test is out in the world.”
“This year, we saw increased involvement from across the university,” Holbrook said. “Teams were comprised of students from computer science, mechanical engineering, biochemistry, psychology, arts and many other disciplines.”
The competition was co-hosted by the Nazarian College and LACI@CSUN, CSUN’s on-campus branch of the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator. The cash prizes were funded by CSUN alumnus Jeff Marine, founder and CEO of JEM Sportswear and Awake Inc. Marine also served as the final event’s keynote speaker.
The top three finishers also will receive legal startup services courtesy of DLA Piper; accounting services courtesy of Armanino, LLP; marketing services donated by SKY Marketing Consultants, a psychological brand-design studio; and a three-month trial membership to LACI@CSUN.
“This was really exceptional,” said Tom White, executive director of LACI@CSUN. “The performance we saw onstage today reflected the collaboration between the Nazarian Entrepreneurship Program, which is amazing, and the executives in residence of the LACI@CSUN incubator that helped mentor the competitors who embodied a burning passion to excel.”
The winners were decided by four judges who assumed the roles of potential investors. The panel consisted of Enplug CEO Nanxi Liu, COACCEL co-founder Cam Kashani, PCS Development CEO Paul Jennings and R6S CEO Ash Sobhe.
“Investors are always investing in the individual, not always in the product or the company,” Sobhe said. “We want to help students who really want to make a difference in the world.”
Sobhe, a CSUN alumnus, said it is “absolutely incredible” to see students embrace entrepreneurship as the Nazarian College continues to nurture their ambitions.
“The competition is designed to be a springboard for our student entrepreneurs,” Holbrook said. “With the prize money, in-kind services and trial membership to our incubator, the teams will have the resources and support network needed to take their new ventures to the next level.”
As the contest concluded and teams posed for pictures with the organizers and judges, some participants said they could not help but enjoy the moment. MyGymPals’ chief marketing officer Wan Song cracked a wide grin while waiting for a photo when Pharrell Williams’ hit song “Happy” began to echo through the University Student Union’s Grand Salon.
“This is the perfect song right now,” he said.