Silicon Valley Innovation Challenge Kicks Off Its 20th Year
(Editor’s note: Yvette Trejo and Adriana Avila contributed to this story.)
In 2004, five years before ABC debuted its popular show “Shark Tank,” San José State University began inspiring creative minds to present their best ideas in an entrepreneurship competition unlike any other.
Originally called the Silicon Valley Neat Ideas Fair, the Silicon Valley Innovation Challenge (SVIC) has since firmly established itself as the culmination of innovation, collaboration, mentorship and networking. Marking its 20th convening on November 28, participants, judges and organizers gathered to find out whose ideas would receive top recognition.
With an open invitation to students from all nine SJSU colleges, the SVIC received a total of 87 completed applications, a 25% increase from 2022. Competitors eager to show the benefit of each of their concepts vied for recognition in Best Overall Innovation and Best Elevator Pitch, as well as the Social Impact Innovation Award, Emerging Technology Award and the People’s Choice Award.
The Winning Teams
Sequio, an AI-powered standardized competitive exam and interview prep tool, received the $1,500 first place prize for Best Overall Innovation. It was presented by Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering students Vashisht Anand, ’24 MS Engineering Management; Akshat Gupta, ’25 MS Computer Engineering; Ashay Ilame, ’24 MS Engineering Management; Sharad Nataraj, ’23 MS Software Engineering; and Dhyey Nikalwala, ’24 MS Engineering Management.
According to Anuradha Basu, director of the Silicon Valley Center for Entrepreneurship and professor in the Lucas College and Graduate School of Business, the judges were “impressed to learn that the team has already taken steps to prove the feasibility of their idea, which involves utilizing AI to help students address a big problem: namely, preparing for standardized tests.”
Second place went to Project Firewatch, a team of software and aerospace engineering students who created an unmanned aerial vehicle system to detect wildfires and forest fires early on.
Plastic Purge, presented by a team of undergraduate business entrepreneurship students, secured third place with their project that turns non-reusable plastic into oxygen by utilizing biochemical applications.
Winning the coveted title of Best Elevator Pitch was ConcussionCoach, a device that captures life-saving concussion data for athletes. The team responsible for this concept was composed of a multidisciplinary group from the Lucas College and Graduate School of Business, the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering and the College of Social Science.
The Social Impact Innovation Award went to Kai-Ren Hou, ’23 Business Administration, who is concentrating in business analytics. Hou’s platform, Home Sweet Home, connects elderly individuals with available space in their homes with low-income families and students seeking housing.
VitalWatch, a smartwatch that detects vital compounds in human sweat, won the Emerging Technology Award. Meanwhile, BioConnect, a real-time marketplace for listing and purchasing laboratory resources, earned the People’s Choice Award. Both of these teams were made up of Master of Biotechnology (MBT) students.
A Look into the Past and Present
Chris Surdi, ’06 Business Administration, a strategic account manager at Ascend, was among the 36 volunteer judges from industry and academia who evaluated this year’s competition. He was also a crucial student member of the faculty-student volunteer team that organized SJSU’s first-ever innovation challenge two decades ago.
“I recall being part of the founding team 20 years ago for the inaugural event and it’s such a pleasure to see it live on,” said Surdi. “It’s so important to teach students innovation and entrepreneurship, especially in the heart of Silicon Valley.”
Students walked away with valuable knowledge and connections from the competition. Vaibhav Ingale, ’24 MS Computer Software Engineering; Sagar Sutar, ’24 MS Computer Software Engineering; Jing Shu, ’24 MS Computer Software Engineering; and Hyelim Yang, ’23 MS Artificial Intelligence from the SugarSense team praised the competition.
“From the insightful panels and engaging elevator pitch competition to the innovative atmosphere, every aspect of the event was meticulously organized and truly inspiring,” the team said in a joint statement. Their innovation showcased a simple, non-invasive and precise blood sugar monitoring method. “The opportunity to connect with like-minded judges, exchange ideas from other groups and witness groundbreaking innovations was invaluable.”
The SVIC program is hosted by the Silicon Valley Center for Entrepreneurship (SVCE). Alongside this program, the SVCE also hosts two additional entrepreneurship competitions: the Silicon Valley Business Plan Competition and the ZinnStarter Program.