ASU Innovation Open finalists announced; groups will compete for $100,000 top prize

Wearable tech, autonomous vehicles and nanoparticle coatings mark ASU’s inaugural inter-collegiate innovation competition

February 21, 2017

ASU’s blueprint for building change makers includes generous measures of innovation and entrepreneurship — likely part of the reason it tops the U.S. News & World Report list of “most innovative schools.”

That innovative spirit is expanding beyond the university’s laboratories, maker spaces and residence halls with the ASU Innovation Open, a new technology venture acceleration competition designed to fuel multidisciplinary teams of collegiate founders. The grand prize, sponsored by Avnet, is $100,000 to move the winning enterprise forward. Ryan Leeper (left) and Kory Chinn Ryan Leeper (left) and Kory Chinn, entrepreneurs from University of Arizona, present their pitch for Nunami Labs during the ASU Innovation Open semifinals. The team earned a spot as one of four finalists and will compete for a $100,000 grand prize April 2. Photo by Pete Zrioka/Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Download Full Image

Nearly three dozen teams — including groups from California, Hawaii and India — submitted video pitches and fielded tough questions from a panel of evaluators. The field was narrowed to 15 semifinalists this month. They're eligible to compete for four, $9,500 scholarships to Draper University, one of ASU’s key entrepreneurship education collaborators in Silicon Valley. 

Meanwhile, four finalists announced last week each will receive a $5,000 award from Zero Mass Water to prepare for the finals:

  • Nunami Labs, from the University of Arizona and recipient of the ZMW Sensors Award, is developing cutting-edge sensor technology that enables autonomous vehicles to understand their surroundings and make roads safer.
  • Somatic Labs, from both the U of A and ASU, and recipient of the ZMW Haptics Award, builds wearable haptic devices that augment human perception for uses including GPS navigation, caller ID and alerts.
  • Swift Coat, from ASU and recipient of the ZMW Materials Award, has developed coatings that range from less than 1 nanoparticle-monolayer thick to more than 1 mm thick, offering solutions for solar, glazing, filtration, display and sensor markets.
  • Rep Watch, from California Lutheran University and recipient of the ZMW Wearables Award, provides wearable technology that tracks physical therapy and fitness activities and a mobile app that helps users stay on track during injury rehabilitation and workouts.

Zero Mass Water CEO and ASU materials engineer Cody Friesen laid the groundwork for the Innovation Open.  

The core technology for Zero Mass Water — a solar panel that makes water out of air — was developed in Friesen’s ASU lab. An established entrepreneur whose work includes providing cost-efficient, sustainable power to remote areas around the world, Friesen’s long-term partnership with Avnet, a business-to-business technology distributor, enabled him to secure the company’s sponsorship for the open.

“The Innovation Open represents ASU’s commitment to valuing entrepreneurship in all of its forms,” said Fulton Schools of Engineering Dean Kyle Squires. “In this case, Fulton Schools has been honored to collaborate with Avnet, along with many other dedicated sponsors and ASU colleagues, to make this inaugural competition a success. Collectively, we are thrilled to have provided an impactful experience for all of the participating student founders who have come to compete from all over the Southwest and beyond.”

Final Four Demo Day

The ASU Innovation Open, hosted by Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, will take place on Sunday, April 2 from 1 – 4 p.m. in the Beus Center for Law and Society

Adam Goulburn, Partner at Lux Capital, will be the keynote speaker, with more than 200 entrepreneurial community leaders from Arizona, California and Colorado expected to attend.

The event is free and open to the public. Reservations are requested. 

Terry Grant

Media Relations Officer, Media Relations and Strategic Communications


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AZLoop at ASU: How about mass transit at 750 mph?

AZLoop at ASU works on proposed Hyperloop mass transit system for SpaceX.
February 21, 2017

Competing in SpaceX Hyperloop competition, squad of more than 100 students from range of majors gets ready to submit plans

A large group of students at Arizona State University has been spending every Friday night trying to figure out how to get to from Phoenix to San Diego — in about half an hour. 

Through a SpaceX competition, they’re working on a new form of proposed mass transit called “Hyperloop” that promises to hit speeds of up to 750 mph.

“Picture a plane without wings, called a pod, that resides in a steel tube,” said AZLoop team captain and project lead Lynne Nethken. “The idea is to bring down the pressure in the tube, near vacuum, significantly eliminating the atmospheric drag, allowing it to go much faster.”

The AZLoop team — more than 100 students from ASU (including Thunderbird School of Global Management), Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Northern Arizona University — meets at ASU’s Polytechnic campus in Mesa in the hopes of creating a high-speed corridor across the Southwest. The students come from a range of majors that include mechanical engineering, robotics, physics, astrobiology, marketing and business management.  

ASU has encouraged the effort by providing dedicated lab space and funding to purchase materials for prototyping. AZLoop has received grants through the Poly Undergraduate Student Government’s Student Fee Allocation Board, and the Print and Imaging Lab worked up a gratis banner and business cards.

As part of the competition, the team recently submitted a design package for faculty review. Next, the students will get ready to present their plans before SpaceX engineers this spring.

With SpaceX approval, “we’ll have the OK to go to the build phase,” said project co-lead Josh Kosar, an undergraduate student in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, studying robotics.

If it gets to that point, Nethken and Kosar said their team would construct a Hyperloop test track on the Poly campus.

AZLoop started last year as a project involving about a dozen students who survived a competition round that narrowed the field from about 1,300 teams to about 120.

Nethken and Kosar don’t know their competitors because SpaceX hasn’t released that information. Still, they like their chances.

“We’ve got the right team,” Kosar said. “We’ve got the right backing. We’ve got the resources. The timing is right — it’s going to happen.”

Below: Watch a video of one key component of the Hyperloop system. 

Ken Fagan

Videographer , ASU News