Photo courtesy of Luis Martinez
This article is a part of the Trinitonian’s coverage of Trinity University’s response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Click here to read the rest of our coverage.
Every spring since 2015, groups of student entrepreneurs have competed for $5,000 in the Stumberg Venture Competition seed round. Every year, hundreds of audience members have gathered in the CSI Cube to watch, the teams have stood in front of posters answer questions prior to their main pitches before a panel of judges, and everyone has awaited the names of the (traditionally) five finalists.
This year was a bit different. It happened over Zoom, a video conferencing service.
“Basically, everybody was in a waiting room until you were pulled out and it was time for you to present. So the only people that were in my session were like me, my team, people from the [Entrepreneurship] Department and then the judges. And so, we gave our pitch. And then we were just like, kicked out of the meeting,” said Neha Kapur, a sophomore and a finalist.
Ten teams competed, and only six left the Zoom call as finalists. Each of the finalists will participate in the Summer Accelerator program and have a chance to win $25,000 in the finals this fall.
Kapur suffered from an injury when she was 16 years old. The pain started in her arm and began radiating to her back.
“I was no longer able to carry my backpack,” Kapur said. That’s how she came up with the idea for Chiropack. “I was encouraged to get a rolling backpack, and I was very much so against it. And I wasn’t able to come up with the solution at the time.”
However, when she got to Trinity, Kapur thought about getting an entrepreneurship minor, and she’s been working on her product since.
Chiropack is a backpack that is designed to redistribute weight so it doesn’t fall onto one’s lower back.
“The way our bodies are built is to pin the most amount of weight on the curve of our spine,” Kapur said. “With the way backpacks are built right now, you have these really big pockets, you put in everything you could need for the day, and ultimately, everything falls to the bottom of the bag. It causes some pressure on your lower back as well as on your shoulders because the backpack is physically weighing you backwards.”
The Chiropack includes pockets that keep heavier items against the curve of the spine. Kapur is working with two engineering majors to help her with the backpack’s design: sophomore Sasha Litvinov and senior Stanley Shao.
Kapur has personal experience with occupational therapy, and there are physical therapists in her family, too, which she said has helped with her research.
Sophomores Amy Platter and Kincannon Wilson make healthy snack alternatives for college students. Their business, Revive Snacks, was one of the six finalists.
“We’re thinking about the relationship between stress in students and in students’ diets, as well as students snacking habits,” Platter said. “And so, the idea is combining it in a way so students can achieve holistic wellness through their diet, which is something that is difficult for students to do.”
Wilson described the snack as having a waffle-textured exterior with a signature filling that has L-theanine from green tea leaves, all with an outside coating. They’ve had success with their current flavor, chai spice chocolate, but they’re working on developing other flavors too.
“We have a recipe we’re really happy with. We’re gonna continue getting feedback and changing it and continually improving it for shelf-life and water content,” Platter said. “You know, just some of the next-level stuff that you don’t typically think about when you make your own baked goods.”
Most importantly, Revive Snacks wants to prioritize their customers’ health.
“Our development process is taking the common ingredients in packaged snack foods and replacing them with healthy alternatives,” Platter said.
Revive Snacks is focusing on the scale of their production, developing new flavors and making packaging convenient for and appealing to students.
Seniors Francisco Macias and Alvaro Marquez are working on creating the first taco cart franchise in San Antonio.
“We pretty much resemble New York hot dog stands, but for tacos,” Macias said. “You don’t see the cart system in the U.S. like you see them used worldwide. It’s only really used in the East Coast of the United States. So we want to just bring that kind of traditional selling cart into, like, the Texas region.”
According to Macias, he and Marquez initially developed the idea to make money.
“Both of us are independent students at Trinity, and we’re kind of running low on money,” Macias said. “So we decided that since we’re both from traditional families — and we usually rely on cooking to like solve problems and bring comfort to us — we decided to bring home our recipes and share with the San Antonio community.”
Macias hopes for five carts placed around San Antonio. Each would operate as a sort of franchise, and the menu would be consistent.
“We’re not reinventing the wheel, but bringing a new spin on how to sell food in the United States, or at least in Texas,” Macias said.
Sebastian Trujillo is a sophomore, and he and his teammates — sophomores John Jay and Austin Sanders — were also awarded with a $5,000 prize as finalists.
Their business, Empower Media, provides portable chargers to entertainment companies and venues, specifically music festivals. But it’s more than just phone batteries:
“At first, it will be just that just the battery pack, just the charging and rental service offered by the festival … but eventually we want to be able to offer the festival-goer, you know, charging their phone, having access to wifi, being able to store data localized on the device,” Trujillo said. “It will be much more than just that but with like all things you know, you can’t start there. You have to start with the base minimum and, you know, slowly build up.”
There would be potential for customization by their customers too.
Trujillo said a big chunk of the prize money will go to providing product samples, but some of it will also go into their website and email campaign services.
However, during the current circumstances of the COVID-19 outbreak, Trujillo has found some obstacles.
“Our market has virtually, from one day to another, evaporated because people aren’t going to book us right now,” Trujillo said. “So we’re really dealing with the challenge of, you know, building the prototype, building the product, being ready to sell it and getting ready for next year.”
Sophomore Tara Lujan and senior Zachary Taylor have created a way to prioritize hydration: a smart water bottle cap.
According to Taylor, the idea started with Lujan, who is an athlete.
“She’s on the soccer team at Trinity and has been athlete her entire life. I guess she has just historically faced trouble with keeping hydrated, and so in her being a particularly entrepreneurial-type person, she started thinking about how she could tackle those problems,” Taylor said.
The solution the two came up with? A cap that you can put on any of the big-brand water bottles that tracks how much water you’re drinking throughout the day.
“Instead of doing like a full smart water bottle, we decided to just focus on the lid, just do a lid replacement. There are a lot of water bottles out there. I mean, Hydro Flask, RTIC, Yeti. $30 to $50 on a stainless steel vacuum sealed bottle is very hard to compete with, right?” Taylor said.
So, the two looked into resolving hydration problems with just a lid.
“It replaces the lid in common water bottle sizes. Just picture a standard stainless steel water bottle screw on our product, and it turns it into a smart water intake tracking device. So there’s a lid on the top of it. There’s there’s buttons that you can switch through different screens,” Taylor said.
Taylor also said the lid can connect to Bluetooth and that there’s potential for an app in the future, but for now, they’re focusing on the lid itself, specifically on the creative rights to the lid design.
“We had initially planned on using the basically 100 percent of the funds from the competition to go towards legal because we’re protecting our intellectual property,” Taylor said. “But I anticipate that probably what we’ll do over the next couple months here, we’ll put that money towards finishing the prototype.”
Junior Tiffany Perez is a U.S. Coast Guard veteran at Trinity through the GI Bill. She and her wife, Tara Perez, are working together on their company CompassVet.
CompassVet is a humane, at-home pet euthanasia service, and the two have already had some customers. The name is inspired by Tara’s logical side and Tiffany’s creative side — which form a sort of compass — and by their jobs — Tiffany is a veteran and Tara works in the ER.
They want to offer customers a reliable and compassionate option.
“People just don’t know, it’s an option,” Tiffany said.
Currently, they work within Bexar County, but the goal is to expand:
“We’re moving into making sure we have a nice smooth process, the long term would be to bring on additional doctors and expand to a little bit beyond the region here in the Texas area. And then, you know, we’ll be able to handle more euthanasia from 40 a month and increase to 90, you know, because we have thousands that occur annually here that are not shelter related,” Tiffany said.
Each finalist received $5,000 and will participate in the Summer Accelerator program, which will be held virtually this year.
- alvaro marquez
- amy platter
- austin sanders
- empower media
- Francisco Macias
- john jay
- kincannon wilson
- neha kapur
- revive snacks
- sasha litvinov
- sebastian trujillo
- seed round
- stanley shao
- Stumberg Competition
- summer acclerator
- tacos papi
- tara lujan
- tiffany perez
- zachary taylor
| Class of 2020 | Major: English