Two Cal Poly Student Startups Win a Combined $28k in Awards at Sunstone CSU Startup Launch Competition

CARSON - William Burns (left) founder and CEO of ENTEIN and Penny Lane Case (right) co-founder and CEO of Nexstera Tech both attended the Sunstone CSU Startup Launch Competition on May 3, 2024 taking home a combined $28k in awards.

CARSON — Two California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) startups won prizes at the Sunstone Startup Launch Competition, a California State University (CSU) pitch competition with a total of $200,000 in prize money, held at CSU Dominguez Hills on Friday, May 3, 2024. Various teams showcased their ideas to a group of 50 judges from all over the state.

Nexstera Tech, a startup aiming to shape the future with AI-driven radar technology by pinpointing lithium-ion battery risks within waste streams, received the third-place overall grand prize of $10,000, two first-place showcase awards totaling $12,000, and $5,000 for reaching the finals. In total, Nexstera Tech won $27,000.

“I thoroughly enjoyed sharing our mission and vision with the judges and guests. It was inspiring to see so many young entrepreneurs striving to make a positive impact, whether on the environment, society, or their specific target market. The funding we received will enable us to bring in radar and software experts to assist my co-founders with their R&D efforts and help us acquire the necessary equipment to develop our advanced radar system,” said Penny Lane Case, CEO of Nextera Tech.

The Nexstera Tech team is composed of three co-founders: recent Cal Poly business administration graduate Penny Lane Case of Santa Rosa, California, who acts as the company’s CEO; recent Cal Poly mechanical engineering graduate Stefany James of Chula Vista, California, who acts as the company’s CTO; and senior Cal Poly computer science student Kylene Landenberger of Roseville, California, who acts as the company’s CPO.

Nexstera Tech recently received first place at AngelCon, a pitch competition that connects Central California tech startups and dedicated investors for funding and mentorship, hosted by the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Small Business Development Center (SBDC), receiving $165,000 in equity investment.

ENTEIN, a startup utilizing food waste to grow insects as an affordable animal feed protein supplement, won the third-place award in competition advantage, receiving a prize of $1,000. The competitive advantage awards were given to startups that differentiated themselves from existing or potential competitors, providing an edge in the market.

ENTEIN is founded by Cal Poly materials engineering senior William Burns of The Dalles, Oregon, who acts as the company’s CEO.

Both winners participated in the 2023 Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Summer Accelerator, an intensive 12-week program that provides Cal Poly students and recent graduates with the resources necessary to turn their innovative ideas into full-fledged startups.

The Sunstone CSU Startup Launch Competition followed a new format this year, consisting of a “science fair” style expo where judges roamed the room evaluating the startups for up to 3 hours. Six to eight teams were later selected as finalists to compete in the Grand Finale. Finalists delivered a 3-minute pitch presentation, followed by a 5-minute Q&A from the judges. Seventeen of the 23 CSU campuses participated, totaling 33 teams.

Next year’s Sunstone CSU Startup Launch Competition will be held at San Francisco State University in Spring 2025.



About the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE):

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