SF State students showcase their entrepreneurial spirit

Three female students and one male student posing with their compost machine

Students from Professor of Marketing Minu Kumar’s New Product Marketing and Launch course won the pitch competition with their compost product, DeSpose.

College of Business hosts symposium and pitch competition to promote innovation

Some business ideas are great. Some are garbage. But a team of four San Francisco State University students recently managed a neat trick: They had a great business idea for garbage … and it won them $5,000.

The idea — a household composting system that makes it easy to use worms to dispose of food waste — was dreamed up by one of five student teams presenting product concepts at the College of Business’ second annual Entrepreneurship Symposium & Innovation Pitch Competition April 26. The composting system won first place, earning its student creators the cash prize to continue its development. Members of the winning team were students in Professor of Marketing Minu Kumar’s New Product Marketing and Launch course. Union Bank provided a total of $8,500 in awards for the competition, which featured “Shark Tank”-style pitches to a panel of investment experts.

Senior marketing major Erik Fernandez’s team developed “smart” spandex leggings that use sensors and an accelerometer to track exercise activity. Though the idea might have a lot of potential, Fernandez knows that’s not enough to guarantee its success.

“People can think of great products, but only a few of those products will make it to the market,” he said. “One reason for this is the amount of market research and development needed to create a novel product that will be able to compete in this innovative world.”

Fortunately for Fernandez, the smart-leggings idea got a boost that could help it become a reality: As the second-place winners in the competition, his team received $2,500 to develop the concept further.

The day-long symposium gave students a chance to rub elbows with entrepreneurs and investors. The students also heard speeches from business and nonprofit leaders such as Kate Sofis, chief executive officer and co-founder of SFMade, a nonprofit dedicated to developing the manufacturing sector, and Zack Onisko, CEO of Dribbble.com, an online social and professional network for designers.

“San Francisco is full of some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world,” said Onisko, who graduated from San Francisco State with a B.A. in industrial arts in 2003. “The more you can put those people in front of your students, the more real-world value they will take away from their experience at SF State.”

Senior Andrea Rodriguez, a member of the winning compost-system team, said she gained invaluable skills she will use in her career and life moving forward.

“Before this competition I was not very confident in my ability to communicate my ideas when it came to business and marketing,” she said. “This whole process has taught me the importance of being innovative and inclusive … I have confidence in my abilities and look forward to the next chapter of my career.”

The Entrepreneurship Symposium & Innovation Pitch Competition will return next year with a focus on design thinking, according to College of Business Executive Director of Business Development and Marketing Sandra Henao.