Student Entrepreneurs Win Cash Prizes for Their Innovative Ideas at 12th Annual Cal Poly CIE Elevator Pitch Competition

SAN LUIS OBISPO — A Cal Poly student and one from Allan Hancock College each won $1,000 at the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) 12th annual Elevator Pitch Competition, a fast-paced, high-energy competition for Cal Poly, Cuesta College and Allan Hancock College entrepreneurs, held recently in the Cal Poly Performing Arts Center.

A third student, also from Cal Poly, received the $500 audience choice award.

Nine finalists, selected from an initial pool of over two dozen applicants, had 90 seconds each to pitch their innovative product, service and startup ideas on Nov. 2. They were evaluated by a panel of judges on four criteria: How well the problem or opportunity was explained; whether the idea was innovative and creative; if the direction was clear; and whether the pitch was persuasive.

Cal Poly’s Surya Venugopal, an industrial engineering senior from Pleasanton, California, won with his pitch for XCredit, a peer-to-peer platform that allows users to cultivate their credit scores by fulfilling their payment requests.

“It’s something I’ve been working really passionately on,” said Venugopal, the startup’s chief operating officer and co-founder. “(Winning the Elevator Pitch Competition) is another step along the way of bringing it into a reality … I’m investing (the $1,000) directly into my company.”

Allan Hancock College’s Ruby Ramirez’s winning pitch was for Home Goodies, an e-commerce platform that allows users to sell home-cooked food — an income source that grew in popularity after Assembly Bill 626 took effect on Jan. 1, 2019, allowing residents to obtain permits to sell food from their home kitchens.

“Winning is a huge confidence boost,” said the Santa Maria native, who plans to use her winnings to further develop her startup. “It means my dreams can come true.”

Cal Poly business administration junior Sara Dada’s startup idea was the top pick of attendees. Dada, from San Ramon, California, pitched Beacon, an app designed to prevent violence on college campuses by centralizing campus safety resources.

“It’s been such an amazing experience networking and connecting with so many people within the Cal Poly and SLO community and getting funding to hopefully start and launch my startup,” said the business administration major in the Marketing Management Area.

Dada and her team are currently working with the Cal Poly CIE Hatchery, an on-campus incubator that helps develop students’s startup ideas. They are developing a prototype of the Beacon app.

Other Elevator Pitch Competition finalists included:

— Fleet, a startup developing solar power docking technology to reduce maintenance and charging costs of Bird scooters, pitched by Cian Amor, a Cal Poly business administration senior.

— Peer Connect, an app supervised and developed by healthcare professionals that allows students to easily access peer listening and counseling programs, pitched by Hugo Balcazar, a high school student also enrolled at Cuesta College.

— Foveo, a digital health platform that allows users to send each other letters that they can access when they need support, pitched by Alyssa Liu, a Cal Poly fifth-year computer and biomedical engineering student, from Concord, California.

— Picasso Learning Academy, a private school focused on relationships and interactions with a strong commitment to innovations and research, pitched by Asael Picasso of Hancock College.

— Extendable Shoe, a startup developing an adjustable children’s shoe to provide greater shoe longevity, pitched by Zander Sheffield, a Cal Poly industrial technology and packaging junior from Austin, Texas.

— Nritya, a digital platform simplifying the process of learning and sharing choreography on a freelance basis, pitched by Anvita Vyas, a Cal Poly business administration sophomore from Dublin, California.

Alexandra Joelson, founder of CIE startup Intego Technology, formerly Intego Sports, from Carlsbad, California, was the forum’s keynote speaker.

The business administration senior, with a concentration in financial management, won the 2019 Elevator Pitch Competition with her proposal for the Cleat Guard, a silicone-like mold that adheres to the bottom of a cleat to prevent the studs on the shoe sole from wearing down. Since that pitch, Intego Technology has pivoted from their original idea; today Joelson and her team are focused on innovating and licensing technology to improve footwear durability and sustainability.

To watch the pitches of the event go to the CIE YouTube channel here.

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About the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship):

The CIE opens a world of entrepreneurial opportunities to Cal Poly students, faculty and community members and promotes entrepreneurial activity and dialogue across the university and throughout San Luis Obispo. For more information, visit

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Contact: Stephanie Zombek