Skip to main content

The Basement Celebrates Student Entrepreneurship with Demo Day-Pitch Competition 2024

The crowd gathers together to celebrate the pitch competition winners for 2024.

Published Date

Article Content

A new way to secure bikes and prevent theft. A humanoid AI system helping students access mental health resources. A small kit to have accessible, vitamin-rich microgreens growing in your home or dorm room.

These were some of the recent student innovations presented at this year’s Demo Day and Pitch Competition, hosted by The Basement under the Office of Innovation and Commercialization at the Design and Innovation Building on May 23, 2024.

The annual spring event spotlights student innovations and celebrates their achievements over the academic year through its principal programs Blackstone LaunchPad and Innovating for X (i4X), both of which are designed to foster an entrepreneurial mindset. These programs empower students to create a startup or collaborate with local organizations to develop disruptive solutions for real-world issues.

“This event represents the culmination of student team efforts over the past year and really drives home the diverse entrepreneurial culture we have here at UC San Diego and beyond,” said Christine Liou, assistant director of The Basement. “Our student teams have been working diligently this year, and it’s hard not to join in their excitement as they show off what they’ve been working on. It’s a great celebration of our students.”

Demo Day Showcase

With over 20 student innovations on display, all were welcome to explore program participants’ big ideas up close and personal from large fiberglass prototypes to VR simulations, and learn what it took to get there.

Attendees stopped by Swap-A-Can with second-year Warren College student founders Thiago Donato and Thais di San Marzano Pereira Leite, as they laid out their refillable aerosol’s evolution from bits of folded paper prototypes to its more realized, 3D-printed version.

Demo Day attendee chats with Machani Robotics' humanoid RIA.
Demo Day attendee gets the unique opportunity to chat with Machani Robotics' humanoid RIA.

The ChatGPT-powered humanoid RIA was ready to answer attendees’ thought provoking questions alongside third-year Samantha Sayson and her i4X team. Transforming RIA into a helping hand to those in need with their project sponsor Machani Robotics, the team conducted essential customer research to outline better solutions to triage students with mental health issues.

Blackstone LaunchPad startup Vertiband connected with attendees as founders Harris Dalal, Margish Chodvadiya, and Ben Garofalo showcased the fourth iteration of their product: a wearable velcro strap that attaches to any dumbbell, granting healthy exercise habits to people with disabilities.

“We actually talked to a yoga instructor who was interested in our programs and learning more about how we make working out at home more accessible to people with disabilities,” Co-founder and third-year Ben Garofalo stated.

Outside The Basement, attendees explore all of the student innovations on display. 
Outside The Basement, attendees explore all of the student innovations on display. 

At each display, bustling guests connected with entrepreneurial minds all around as they discovered what was possible in a space dedicated to thinking beyond the box. Most importantly, all were invited to share in the entrepreneurial spirit of the event.

“It honestly made me want to develop my own idea and create a startup here at The Basement,” noted attendee and fourth-year Ned Bitar about the startups and conversations had.

Pitch Competition

Collins Billhardt pitches his startup MyGrow to the crowd.
Founder Collins Billhardt pitches his startup MyGrow to the crowd.

Capping the day off, student innovators from the Blackstone LaunchPad program competed for top awards in the pitch competition, presenting brief proposals about their solutions to a panel of expert judges, which included Dr. Silvia Mah, Maisha Cobb, PhD., Andy White and Joe Cardini. Prizes totaled over $50,000 in cash and in-kind gifts from Pillsbury Law, HelloAdvisr, Richtr Financial Studios, Amazon Web Services, and OmniSync with special recognition given to the top four pitches.

Pitch competition judges included Maisha Cobb, PhD, Joe Cardini, Dr. Silvia Mah, and Andy White.
Pitch competition judges included Maisha Cobb, PhD, Joe Cardini, Dr. Silvia Mah, and Andy White.

Each one laid out the societal issues they saw in the world, ultimately revealing how their start-up would create novel, diverse solutions to make the world a better place. Of the 26 startups at The Basement, five startups competed in the pitch competition, which included:

  • Darksight and their software solutions for scientists using dark field microscopes for cellular imaging by utilizing deep-scale image reconstruction.
  • Delilate and their soft medical vaginal dilators to prioritize patients’ comfort, while not compromising effectiveness.
  • LockPod with their next-level bike lockers to prevent bike and scooter theft.
  • MyGrow with their conveniently small microgreen shelves to store anywhere indoors from a kitchen to a closet to make healthy eating more accessible.
  • Wild Genomics and their cutting-edge bioinformatics tools to monitor and prevent invasive pests in farms and forestries.

The student startup winners of The Basement Pitch Competition 2024 were:

LockPod winning First Place
Ohmeed Shahhosseini and Paulina Laba of LockPod win First Place.

Second Place: Wild Genomics

Founders Eirik Torheim and Bilgenur Baloglu
Watch Founder Eirik’s Reaction.

Wild Genomics winning second place
Eirik Torheim and Bilgenur Baloglu of Wild Genomics wins Second Place. 

Third Place: Delilate

Founder Brian Li
Watch Founder Brian’s Reaction.

Delilate winning third place
Brian Li of Delilate wins Third Place. 

Audience Choice Award: MyGrow

Founder Collins Billhardt
Watch Founder Collins’ Reaction.

my grow winning audience choice award.
Founder Collins Billhardt and the MyGrow team celebrate winning Audience Choice Award. 

On the heels of the win, each of the award recipients plans to put the award funds towards furthering their startup in its next critical evolution, which includes patents, marketing strategy, and additional prototyping refinements.

LockPod Founder Paulina Laba discusses her startup with attendees.
LockPod Founder Paulina Laba discusses her startup with attendees.

In the case of First Place Winner Paulina Laba, she hopes to continue her goal of reducing bike theft with a pilot program on campus, establishing bike lockers on UC San Diego campus, and potentially expanding into the larger San Diego area.

“I came to [The Basement] with just a drawing on my iPad, and now it’s grown into a full company,” beamed Laba. “I’m really grateful for everyone who supported me along the way, and everyone who helped spread the word of LockPod’s mission.”

This event has certainly demonstrated just how eager the UC San Diego campus community is for entrepreneurship and innovative solutions.

Alex Towfigh, founder of AquaMesh, showcases his mesh-networking based solution for remote water quality monitoring.
Alex Towfigh, founder of AquaMesh, showcases his mesh-networking based solution for remote water quality monitoring.

“It’s truly a warm and inclusive community here that actively supports, celebrates, and inspires each other's success,” Liou concluded. “We’re incredibly thankful to all those who attended, and we hope to see them again next year.”

Until next year, stay innovative, UC San Diego!

Learn more about what you can do with your big ideas at The Basement.
Follow The Basement on Instagram.
Stay caught up with Basement events on Eventbrite.
See all of the programs at the Office of Innovation and Commercialization.

Topics covered:

Share This:

Category navigation with Social links