USD's eTrack Initiative is Igniting Passions and Accelerating Dreams

Bibble Team - eTrack Accelerator WinnersLyfBox Winners featured left to right: Colin Polacek, Matteo Hernandez and Charlie Bullard (Team Member Brandon Kennedy not Featured).

San Diego is ranked as one of the top cities for tech startups, with booming technology clusters in software, robotics, medical devices, electronics and our blue economy. And through USD’s engineering entrepreneurship program, the eTrack Initiative, startups and social enterprises flourish — ones that not only create jobs and build wealth, but also solve pressing societal issues and improve lives. 

With generous gifts from entrepreneurial and technology leaders, the University of San Diego's Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering now offers two new Technology Track awards, the Larry Kull Endowed Student Award in Engineering and Entrepreneurship and the Starpoint Award, both designed to reward game-changing projects that embody technological innovation.

As part of the Starpoint Award, student teams first competed in the eTrack Accelerator pitch competition in early Spring. Three teams, Bibble, HITS and LyfBox, were selected and awarded $5,000 each to help accelerate the achievement of their technical and market milestones. 

“The main strengths demonstrated by the teams were passion, dedication and creativity,” explains competition judge and computer science faculty member Jay Kunin. “All the teams have the potential to launch successful startups and have the capability to attract capital investment. The teams awarded funding at this time were those that most clearly explained their market, their progress, and how the funding would be used.”

Bibble is a startup developing a social network platform for college students experiencing personal and professional challenges on campus. “For me, winning one of the eTrack Accelerator Awards validates our idea,” says team member Joy Olowoniyi. “We realize it is something students need and that we are doing something meaningful.”

Chris Reese, from the winning team HITS, found winning the competition to be a big confidence boost. “This is huge for us. The award gives us funds needed to enter into the prototyping phase. It felt great that the advisory panel believed in our idea as much as we did.” 

The HITS team is developing a wearable sensor for tracking performance and detecting concussions that can be used with helmets and other protective headgear worn by athletes.

In April, after a campuswide competitive process, three teams — some of which may be eTrack Accelerator Award winners — will be selected as finalists and presented at the Technology Track of USD's V2 Pitch Competition

From the three teams, one will be selected as the recipient of the Starpoint Award, and a second as the winner of the Larry Kull Student Endowed Award in Engineering and Entrepreneurship. Each carries an award amount of $10,000.

“Technology track has been added to the V2 Pitch competition in 2020 to reflect the importance of technology in successful startup launches and the growing collaboration between USD’s School of Business and USD’s Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering,” says Venkat Shastri, De Sanctis Professor of Engineering and Entrepreneurship. 

Positioning themselves for the upcoming V2 Pitch Competition, the LyfBox team will now build a 4 ft. x 8 ft. proof of concept model of their modular rapidly deployable mobile barrack for rescuers, firefighters and other critical personnel who are at the frontline of recovery from natural disasters.

“This is our 4th pitch competition,” says LyfBox team member Charlie Bullard. “This experience has allowed us to work with wonderful mentors to vet our pitch deck. We’ve received a lot of feedback — not just in engineering, but within the USD community, including the Brink and the USD Law Clinic. “ 

Through the ongoing development of cross-campus collaboration, innovative programs and new competitions, students, faculty and industry alike are all deeply invested in USD’s eTrack Initiative engineering entrepreneurship program.

“One of the reasons why I transitioned from CTO of the startup incubator EvoNexus to a Professor of Practice here at USD’s Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering is because I believe that the eTrack Initiative is helping to develop the entrepreneurial mindset in our students,” says an inspired Charles Pateros. “You can feel it in the air as you walk around our wonderful facilities.” 

— Michelle Sztupkay


Michelle Sztupkay

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