While making office coffee runs or delivering meals for Postmates and DoorDash, Bretiel Danipour and Stephanie Villa dealt with a growing problem frequently experienced by on-demand food delivery drivers: Driving around with multiple drinks and food containers can be disastrous.
Most personal vehicles don’t have enough cupholders for multiple orders, and auto seats aren’t contoured to hold take-out bags and drinks. One hard brake, and there goes your order — and your upholstery.
This spring, Danipour, Villa and fellow California State University, Northridge students Jenna Flynn and Tammy Nguyen formed an entrepreneurial team to develop a solution to this problem: an adjustable tray that molds to the shape of your front passenger seat, safely and securely holding take-out food and beverage trays.
For their invention, the NoSpill Systems team won first place and the audience choice prize at CSUN’s fourth annual Bull Ring New Venture Competition, hosted by the David Nazarian College of Business and Economics’ Entrepreneurship Program. The prize included $20,000 to help launch their product.
“Our team has put in so much work over these last few months to present a product that we are proud of,” said Flynn, a business honors major and entrepreneurship minor. “Winning Bull Ring was such an exhilarating experience and reinforced our desire to move forward with the development and production of the NoSpill Tray.”
The Bull Ring, modeled after ABC’s “Shark Tank” reality show, encourages students to pitch, launch and grow their original ventures. The competition provides access to mentors, coaching and potential investors.
Team members from NoSpill Systems as well as third place winner Smart Prosthetics are currently enrolled in the Nazarian College Minor in Entrepreneurship.
The Bull Ring gives Nazarian College students a chance to build on their academics to better prepare them to enter the fast-paced world of business, said Chandra Subramaniam, dean of the CSUN Nazarian College.
“We need to produce graduates that can think on their feet, be innovative and resilient. Entrepreneurship requires students to do all these things,” Subramaniam said.
After a series of workshops in February and March, and an initial call for applications, the field was narrowed to 20 semi-finalists. Each of these semi-finalist teams were paired with a dedicated mentor and given coaching and workshops to prepare for the competition and move their new ventures forward. They then competed in the semi-final event on April 4 which narrowed it down to five finalists.
In addition to $35,000 in total cash prizes, the top three winners will receive additional support services valued at $30,000 from the event sponsors, IntersectLA, DLA Piper and Armanino. All 20 of the semi-finalist teams received $250.
As the NoSpill team brainstormed new business venture ideas, Danipour noted how she often picked up multiple coffees for her coworkers — and how the beverage trays were constantly spilling over in her passenger seat. Villa, who had worked as a delivery driver for Postmates and DoorDash, confirmed that this was a problem.
The NoSpill Tray is made with a padded bean-bag bottom, allowing it to adjust and mold to the angle of any auto seat. The tray includes adjustable arms inside that can carry up to four take-out drink carriers — 16 drinks at a time — or different size take-out boxes. The tray can help delivery drivers, busy parents and office workers get food and beverages safely to their destination.
Next, the team members plan to patent the NoSpill Tray, make adjustments and coordinate manufacturing for their product, Flynn said.
“Our team is looking forward to continuing our work together after we all graduate this semester, and we are eager to see what the future has in store for us,” she said.
The event included an audience Q & A session with Jeff Marine — Bull Ring donor and partner at Hybrid/JEM Sportswear and Awake Inc., which produce private labels for major chain stores — and Chuck Davis, CEO and chairman of Prodege, which offers three consumer engagement platforms. Davis stressed the importance of taking part in extracurricular activities during college, keeping up with changing industries and showing enthusiasm for your work.
Bull Ring student team Horizon Covers took second place in the competition, winning $10,000. The team created tough and reusable luggage covers that keep luggage safe from scratches, dirt and water during travel. The cover also allows a user to track luggage in real time, using an embedded RFID chip.
In third place, Smart Prosthetics received $5,000 for their 3-D printed prosthetic arm, which can be controlled via Bluetooth using a smartphone app.
The other finalist teams were Tasl and Neuwork, which provides courses and events to help students learn mandatory skills outside of school for their dream jobs. Tasl is a collaborative software for students to connect academically and socially.
“It takes a lot to lean in on entrepreneurship, step outside your comfort zone and initially pursue an entrepreneurial endeavor,” said Ryan Holbrook, director of the CSUN Nazarian College Entrepreneurship Program. “This semester, all of our students have done just that.”
To read more, view a tappable story about the student journey through the Bull Ring.