Cal Poly Student Startup Teams Win Big at Innovation Quest 2021

SAN LUIS OBISPO — Four student startup teams won from $35,000 in prize money at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s (CIE) annual Innovation Quest (iQ), a high stakes competition where Cal Poly students pitch their innovative business ideas and prototypes to a panel of judges in hopes of winning thousands in funding for their startup.

Business administration seniors Sara Glaser of Calabasas, California and Madison Lewandowski of Santa Barbara, California, biomedical engineering sophomore Clayton Pelz of Portland, Oregon and computer science senior Emily O’Neal of Scotts Valley, California won the first place of $15,000 with FEARLESS Fitness Kids. FEARLESS is a startup developing immersive video games with exercise as its core mechanic, to keep children healthy, active and entertained. 

“Winning Innovation Quest truly felt like a dream,” Glaser said. “When we heard we won, we were literally screaming, jumping up and down and crying in excitement and happiness.”

Glaser and her team began working on FEARLESS about a year and a half ago. In that time, they have participated in other CIE programs, like the on-campus Hatchery, and competed in other CIE-sponsored competitions. Innovation Quest was their first win.

“We learned from our downfalls and have been working extremely hard this year,” Glaser said. “To hear we had won Innovation Quest proved to us that our hard work paid off and that people really believe in us. We are truly grateful for this experience and for the support from the CIE.”

Graduated architecture graduate students Elijah Williams from Berkeley, California and Logan Kozlik from Hastland, Wisconsin and recent Harvey Mudd College graduate Nathaniel Diamant of Berkeley won the second place prize of $10,000 with ARTIFEX

ARTIFEX is a startup leveraging developments in machine learning and Light Detection Ranging (LIDAR) sensors, a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure variable distances, to create clear and usable drawings of the build environment. The startup is focusing first on small-scale residential renovations with Project Geronimo, a handheld measuring device that automates outdated, as-built and drawing workflows.

Agriculture systems management graduate Garrett Forbes from Atascedero, California won the third place prize of $5,000 with the Large Round Bale Handler, an implementation device which loads large round hay bales onto a standard flatbed equipment trailer for transport.

A fourth team, PERCH Sensing, won the $5,000 Brett & Leslie Eldridge Environmental Impact Award, a new honor awarded to the top team with a focus in environmentalism and sustainability. 

PERCH Sensing provides real-time wildfire weather and detection alerts to power utilities and first responders in high-risk areas. It was developed by electrical engineering senior Emil Erickson from Yuba City, California, business administration seniors Caitlin Maltbie from Santa Maria, California and Brooke Randolph from Nipomo, California, computer science seniors John Waidhofer from Scotts Valley and Richa Gadgil from Cupertino, California, graphic design senior Arthur Waidhofer of Scotts Valley, computer engineering senior Reed Slobodin of Lake Oswego, Oregon and electrical engineering graduate student Dominic Gaiero of Pleasanton, California.

iQ was held online via Zoom on April 24. The event included pitches from the 12 finalists, updates from past iQ winners and contestants and the event’s awards announcement.

This was the first year that Innovation Quest was opened up for public viewing. iQ was founded in 2004 by Cal Poly electrical engineering graduates and business leaders Carson Chen, Richard Boberg and Laura Pickering. Since its launch, iQ participants have received more than $400,000 in funding that helped them to launch successful businesses.

Hayley Pavone, founder and CEO of Pashion Footwear, created an adaptable shoe that can easily convert from a pump to a flat and pitched her idea at Innovation Quest in 2017. She was the top prize recipient that year.

Pavone founded the company as a junior business administration major at Cal Poly. In the years since, she has developed her product, assembled a team, secured patent-pending status in 30 countries and raised more than $3.5 million in seed funding. She formally launched Pashion Footwear online in June of 2019.

This year, Innovation Quests finalists introduced a plethora of new concepts. In addition to the five winners, the 2021 finalists included:

Ovubrush, a saliva-based ovulation predictor device in the form of a toothbrush. The device was developed by general engineering senior Janis Iourovitski of Palo Alto, California, biomedical engineering junior Tina Vo of Chula Vista, California, blended bachelor’s and master’s biomedical engineering program student Grant Coe and recent graduate of the same biomedical engineering program Grace Boyes of Ventura, California.

Business Outsider, an online source for satirical business and technology news created by Ross Levine, a manufacturing engineering senior from Redondo Beach, California, and Sean Riley, a recent aerospace engineering graduate from Sunnyvale, California. 

Intego Sports, an innovative sports shoe company that creates footwear expected to be three times more durable than any market competitors. The company was founded by business administration sophomore Alexandra Joelson of Carlsbad, California, environmental management and protection sophomore Samuel Andrews of Boulder, Colorado and aerospace engineering sophomore Jack Browers of Sammamish, Washington.

Framework, a dignified tiny home community equipped with facilities and services that invite the homeless to change their lives for the better, founded by Boulder’s Sarah Holland, a business administration senior, and mechanical engineering seniors Nash Elder of Salt Lake City, Utah and Bowen Schwoerer of San Luis Obispo.

SLOLAR, a robot that cleans solar panels and an accompanying app that provides data to help keep solar panels operating at maximum efficiency. The product was developed by seven Cal Poly seniors: mechanical engineering majors Paul Romano of Los Olivos, California and Chris Linthacum of San Jose, California, computer engineering majors Fernando Estevez of Goleta, California and Yash Desai from Fremont, California, electrical engineering major Russell Caletena of Glendale, California, manufacturing engineering major Alex Garcia Cruz of Goleta and business administration major Camila Fuenzalida of Gilroy, California.

Limbotics, one of the only prosthetic bionic arms with powerful microprocessors and a full sensor suite to improve grip functions. The device was developed by aerospace engineering junior Jared Bell of Royse City, Texas, electrical engineering sophomore Mark Wu from Ontario, Canada and UC Irvine student Heath Muskat and Cal State Sacramento graduate student Altia Picott, both from Vacaville, California.

Instamoov, a property technology company eliminating security deposits with small subscription payments, founded by computer science juniors Mukhammadorif Sultanov of San Francisco, California and Andrew Doud of Belmont, California and University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign graduate Oybek Olimjanov.

Mezzrow Energy, a solar cell composed of hemp waste fibers and other organic materials to generate affordable and environmentally friendly solar power, developed by Greenville, South Carolina’s Matthew Kilbride, a liberal arts and engineering student.