USD's Xatalyze, Sunlight U Advance to Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge

Entrepreneurial students at the University of San Diego never cease to amaze. Especially in the past decade, these Toreros are utilizing strong critical thinking skills, concocting smart, innovative ideas and exploring possibilities outside the norm — and even pivoting when the unexpected occurs — all for the purpose of making change happen.

The latest example was Wednesday, when 15 teams competed in the USD finals of the Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge (FGSIC). The event, run by USD’s Center for Peace and Commerce, and hosted by CPC Director Silvia Mah, was shown virtually on a private YouTube channel (those who registered had free access).

The event was held to determine two USD finalists for the June 13 global finals. Xatalyze, a three-student group’s idea to utilize a capacitor energy storage device, and Sunlight U, an educational subscription-based website about healing from sexual trauma and focused on the science of trauma, advanced.

Reflections from the Finalists

The top teams earned the majority share of $13,000 in seed funding — Xatalyze earned $3,500, Sunlight U got $3,000 for second place and but earned an additional $1,000 in bonus awards — while HUGS (software to assist international student housing opportunities) and Second Wind (recycling wind turbine blades) finished in the top four. HUGS earned $1,500 and Second Wind received $1,000 for fourth place, but the latter received a $500 bonus award.

Contacted one day after finishing first, Xatalyze’s Jarvis Lu — a junior integrated engineering student — spoke about entering a competition that he’d only learned about at the start of the semester.

“I’m still really excited, but I was a little surprised we won,” he said. “There were many other teams with really good ideas. I started getting worried (when others won bonus seed funding awards), but I was happy when they announced we won.”

When Mah announced Xatalyze’s name, Lu, who entered the SIC with Environmental Studies major Kyla Knauf and Computer Science major Rylee Bers, wasn’t on screen. Bers was, and she immediately thanked several USD faculty members who had been mentors, advisors and supporters for the Xatalyze project.

“There were so many amazing people who helped us,” Lu said Thursday, naming an interdisciplinary list of USD faculty members including Administrative Director of School of Law’s Energy Policy Initiatives Center Scott Anders, Engineering Professor of Praxis Caroline Baillie, Clinical Professor of Business Management Abigail Berk, Assistant Professor, Theology and Religious Studies Christopher Carter and Assistant Professor, Integrated Engineering Diana Chen. “They put in a lot of time. The support they gave us was mindboggling.”

Brittany Kirk ’05 (BA), ’20 (MA) also put a lot of time and effort into her Sunlight U project, but she moved ahead with it after being in the Social Innovation Challenge audience last year.

"It feels incredible," said Kirk, on advancing to the global final. "I attended in person last year and was so inspired that it sold me on applying to the (Kroc School) Master's in Social Innovation program. The chance to participate in global social innovation right here in San Diego? It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Kirk, who will complete her MASI degree in May, was second at the inaugural Fowler Business Concept Challenge in November, earning $7,500. Sunlight U has hosted multiple survivor retreats and workshops for a deeply personal program Kirk developed to help others and herself cope with sexual trauma.

"This is who Sunlight is designed for; it’s for the brave trauma survivors who want to move on with their lives, but feel stuck," she said.

Strong Showing by Non-Finalists

Seven teams earned some seed funding. All USD teams gave a 90-second pitch, but were broken down into five, three-team groups based on which of the United Nations' 17 Sustainable Development Goals their projects most closely resembled. Audience members voted after each three-team group presented and one team advanced from each group to vie in another online vote for a $500 Community Choice Award.

Hydra Technology (software for small-to-medium construction organizations to run efficiently) finished with $1,500 total by winning the Community Choice Award, another online vote beating all 15 teams for a $500 Torero Alumni Association Award.

“I was most energized by the spirit of the competition,” said Brianna Dyrdahl, a senior engineering major, who was part of a five-person team with Arrion Archie, Daniel Dayto, Devin Devlin and William Trevena. “We were excited about the showing we had, but disappointed that we couldn’t go on, keep developing, keep getting more feedback from world-class entrepreneurs who can give you good advice.”

The USD Finals shared six $500 awards that had been decided on April 24 after all teams did their full 10-minute virtual pitch in front of judges. Awards were for “most inclusive” (Hydra Technology), “women innovator” (Sunlight U), “most resilient” (Sunlight U), “most socially innovative” (Second Wind), “social change” (Mags New Tech), and “COVID-19 innovation” (Lyfbox).

Although some teams were shut out of seed funding, all teams earned at least some in-kind services support to move their projects forward. These teams were Alinea, Terre, Global Partnerships Solutions, Head Impact Tracking System (HITS), Microfinance for Migrants and Deportees in Tijuana, Bibble, Discrete Solar Technologies, and GR Solutions.

Another perk during the event was airing “commercials” after each group of teams pitched with GSIC alumni giving an update on what they are doing now, as well as a spotlight on Mysty Rusk, director of The Brink Small Business Development Center at USD.

Next Step: Fowler Global Finals

Though both have finals to prepare for in May, both Xatalyze and Sunlight U know the global finals are in six weeks and they’ll compete against nearly 30 universities and multiple teams from around the world. Both know there are things to improve upon.

“I will definitely work to incorporate the judge's feedback from the (USD) finals,” Kirk said. “I attended all three sessions with the mentors and I found it so valuable to get outside my own perspective and listen to people much more seasoned who have been there and successfully launched successful ventures. They made points where I could clarify and what I can champion more.”

Said Lu: “Yes, we want to do our best, but these ideas are for the whole society, so it really doesn’t matter who winds up winning, since all participants’ ideas are to the benefit of society. This idea is more than just about the competition. It’s about making a difference in the world.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

Sign-up now to view the Fowler Global SIC Finals on June 13. Also, check out the new FGSIC website!

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