2023 Santa Cruz Launchpad Awards $50,000 in Cash Prizes and Hosts Over 25 Companies Looking to Fill 100s of Jobs

June 6, 2023

Having a major university in our back yard yields larger benefits than most people see. It adds a wealth of young people who can bring their innovative talents to our community. The 6th Annual UCSC Business Pitch Awards highlights just that. As part of Santa Cruz Launchpad 2023, which includes the Santa Cruz Works Job Fair, 21 undergraduate student teams presented their business ideas to a panel of five judges with a variety of professional experience. The teams were competing for $50,000 in cash prizes.

Presented at the iconic Cocoanut Grove, student pitches were evaluated on seven areas: overall presentation, innovation, impact potential, business model, feasibility, team, and the concept X-factor. Over a dozen expert mentors partnered with the student teams depending on the concept’s need and the teams presented to a panel of five judges. The judges included:

  • Tze Yee (G.E.) -- built out the content operations team and helped launch the Google Play Music
  • Tina Bullington -- UCSC's Executive Fellow of the Everett Program
  • Local LeBaron Meyers -- business development executive, leadership and communication coach
  • Bindu Gakhar -- Head of Product & Design at Silicon Valley Unicorn Paystand, a blockchain-based B2B payments company
  • David Schwartz -- retired Department Chair of Geology, Oceanography & Environmental Science at Cabrillo College
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The four-hour event ultimately named Vela Rajesh the overall winner and recipient of $10,000 for their business, Closed Loop. Edward Fisher and Martin Michalko won $6,000 for their tech business idea, Biogenesis Trials as the Tech Winner. Winner of the Social Impact and People’s Choice Award and a combined $12,000 prize was Kellyann Greene for her business, Guardian Angel. Additional winners included:

  • Runners Up ($2000)
    • Farm it Up (Elizabeth Firestone)
    • Wako Ai (Jerry Zhu, Jonah Daian)
    • Collegiate (Ishaan Bansal)
    • Helperly (Dishita Jhawar)
  • Santa Cruz Community Award ($1000)
    • Patched Up (Freddie Torres, Grace Oveson, Selim Jones, Kendall Robinson)
    • Electric Slugs (Alex Beattie, Sophie Craviotto)

In total, nine participants were awarded, with the decision of the Climate Action Award which will be awarded to a pitch that has a great business idea that is clearly aligned with the California Climate Action Priorities. This award comes from the Innovation and Business Engagement at UCSC Hub led by Ryan Sharp.

After the event, Cocoanut Grove hosted 25 local businesses looking to fill 100s of jobs during the Santa Cruz Works Job Fair. Some of the participating companies included Joby Aviation, Gazelle Bikes, Cabrillo College, Santa Cruz Bikes, Paystand, and the University of California, Santa Cruz.

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