California State University, Northridge’s David Nazarian College of Business and Economics hosted the final event of its third annual Fast Pitch New Venture Competition, on Nov. 14 at the Delmar T. Oviatt Library Ferman Presentation Room. The competition gives CSUN student entrepreneurs the opportunity to receive feedback from established entrepreneurs and mentors.
At the event, contestants compete for $4,000 to fund their business ideas. The student teams are evaluated and awarded first, second and third place — receiving $2,000, $1,000 and $500, respectively. Attendees also crown an “Audience Choice” winner, who receives $500.
“We saw a really interesting mix of ideas from students across campus,” said Ryan Holbrook, Entrepreneurship Program director at the Nazarian College. “This year, we had teams competing from various disciplines, including business, engineering and computer science, arts and food science — and half of the finalist teams contained graduate students.”
At this year’s Fast Pitch, eight teams of CSUN students had three minutes and three presentation slides each to pitch their original venture idea to a panel of four distinguished judges. Each presentation was followed by a three- to five-minute question-and-answer period from the judges.
Engineer, entrepreneur and angel investor Sonya Sepahban said that accepting the invitation to serve as a judge for Fast Pitch was an easy decision because she loves innovation and sees that as one of many positive characteristics of the CSUN community.
“I love innovation, young people, entrepreneurship and startups. That whole combination is at CSUN,” said Sepahban, founder of Propel Works — a company which aims to bridge learning, careers and innovation while focusing on diversity.
Sepahban and her fellow judges — Brian Mac Mahon of Expert Dojo, Hema Dey of Iffel International and Paul Shustak of Karen.care — awarded four of the eight groups with this year’s monetary prizes.
This year’s $2,000 first prize went to computer science graduate student Dushan Perera’s “cryptocurrency” social platform, Moontalk, which he developed with friend Olen Andoni. The project enables users to chat with other investors, exchange market insights and manage their own portfolios.
Perera said he was initially shocked to hear his project’s name called for first place, but that he was happy to receive the accolade and felt his hard work was validated.
“I hoped I would place first, but for it to become a reality is so awesome,” Perera said. “We’re not businessmen, we’re software developers — so we want to meet people that can help us with the business side of it.”
The $1,000 second-place prize went to Spicy Matador, a salt-free spice blend formulated at CSUN by nutrition and dietetics graduate student Tiffany Eng, and human nutrition students Alejandra Perez and Stephanie Ng. Spicy Matador was also this year’s Audience Choice, garnering the trio an additional $500.
The judges were so wowed by the CSUN projects, they said that they could not agree on just one third-place winner. Instead, they picked two. Holbrook said that the judges’ inability to award a single third–place winner was “a testament to the diversity and quality of the teams.”
One third-place winner was Deaf Connect, a project by CSUN engineering graduate students Akshay Nande, Pratik Ghive and Rahul Rokade. Deaf Connect aims to connect people who are deaf to hearing people who don’t know sign language by analyzing facial expressions and gestures.
Stashpak, a project by business law and marketing student Nikolay Filichkin and partner Zachary Gilman, also won third place. Stashpak is an odor-proof and water-resistant pack for the cannabis industry.
For more information on the New Venture Competition, visit the Fast Pitch website.