UC San Diego Student Innovation Shines

At the base floor of UC San Diego’s Mandeville Auditorium, things are getting loud—demos are being tested, young minds are pitching to industry experts, and ideas abound. There is an energy buzzing among the clamor of presentations as the latest generation of game-changers present their version of the next big thing. This is The Basement’s biggest moment—Triton Entrepreneur Night (TEN).

One year after the opening of The Basement, TEN signifies a culmination of all the innovation and ideas that have been fostered within the university’s newest entrepreneurial incubator. A total of 18 teams, each with their own budding enterprise, stand ready to pitch, network, and fundraise after getting their designs off the ground under the guidance of the program.

“The Basement is all about starting at the bottom,” says Aryeh Bourkoff, Muir ’91, chief executive officer at Lion Tree LLC and co-founder of  The Basement. “When you start at the bottom, you start at the basement. You have nowhere to go but up.”

BREWnGO Demoing Take 2
The Basement team behind the BREWnGO product presents demos of the self-contained brewing/drinking vessel.

Indeed, The Basement is a stand-in for the classic startup “garage,” where grand visions are first tinkered with and then equipped with the resources and connections needed to bloom in the real world. It’s where teams like the audience-award winner of the night, nanoVR—which uses virtual reality as a tool to manipulate matter at the molecular level—are given the entrepreneurial know-how to see their innovation through to impact society. Or where Shaze, the “world’s first automated sunshade,” and EatSafe, a device used to ensure the food we eat is safe for consumption, can find legal advice, network, and gain funds through pitch competitions such as TEN.

Amid the congestion of noise and conversation throughout the evening, it becomes quickly apparent that the room is brimming with spirit of visionary innovation. While TEN is the Basement’s biggest showcase thus far, the evening shows what the space has always been since its inception a year ago—a birthplace for ideas.

“I think that’s one of the big things about these spaces like incubators—being able to bounce off knowledge from person to person. That’s been really beneficial to us,” Ryan Pedersen of Additive Rocket Corporation (ARC) says. “Before, we were very closed off to ourselves. We were a very internal group. After becoming a part of The Basement, we got to see what other entrepreneurs and other companies are going through.” While ARC deals with the space industry, using 3D printing to produce cost-effective rocket engines, Pedersen notes that as a collaborative space to relay ideas, The Basement enabled them to find unexpected common ground with teams like BREWnGo, which also uses 3D printing in making the world’s first automatic and portable coffee and tea brewer.

Karmonize Pitching
Teams of student entrepreneurs showcased ideas for companies like Karmonize, a platform where students can support good causes and volunteer within the UC San Diego community.

As five teams closed out the night with on-stage pitches, their showcases of incredible concepts and calls for six and seven-figure seed funding truly shatter the stereotypical notion of “teams.” It’s not so much a competition of groups as it is a hub of real companies with paradigm-shifters that will inevitably shape the outlook of our world. Their potential perhaps is only matched by the seemingly boundless future for all those bound to pass through the Basement in the following years. With such success in just the first year, there’s no telling what to expect for the coming generations of futurists toying with prototypes in a bottom-floor basement.

“The students here are really representative of our best and the brightest,” says Steph Barry, assistant vice chancellor for Alumni and Community Engagement, the group responsible for the management of The Basement. “They’re an investment in our future, and the future of UC San Diego. They’re definitely going to go out and demonstrate the value of our incredible university.”