Two UC entrepreneurs take home top prizes at global innovation summit

The University of California congratulates the accomplished winners and finalists of the third annual UC Entrepreneur Pitch Competition, which recognizes creative approaches that revolutionize contemporary business models.

UC faculty, alumni and students were invited in November to submit pitch videos and materials explaining their vision and strategy. Entrepreneurs affiliated with all 10 UC campuses competed in this year’s contest. Company models represented a range of industries including technology, health care, energy, agriculture and transportation. More than 30 percent of the competitors represented women-founded companies.

The 12 finalists pitched their startups to two panels of corporate investors who served as judges as well as an audience of more than 800 people. The judges selected Byron Shen of Velox Biosystems as the early-track winner and Jason McKeown of Neurovalens as the late-stage winner, each receiving a $15,000 cash prize.

Early-stage finalists:

  • Byron Shen, UC Berkeley (winner) – Velox Biosystems. Based at UC Irvine, this clinical diagnostics startup has created a comprehensive digital detection system that rapidly identifies pathogens, biomarkers and other abnormalities in patient samples, reducing diagnostic wait times from days or weeks to under an hour.
  • Nicholas Halverson, UC San Diego – Occuspace. Originally created to help students discover unoccupied study spaces, Occuspace uses sensors to evaluate how occupants actually use building space. The result is more sustainable, cost-effective and safe buildings that improve the experience of staff, customers and students.
  • Shawn Headley, UC Davis – Aluminum Oxide. Alumina is a chemical used to create semiconductors and lithium-ion batteries. Its traditional manufacturing processes are expensive and environmentally toxic. The Woodall Process dramatically reduces alumina production costs and environmental impact.
  • Lorenzo Rossini, UC San Diego – Veocor Diagnostics. This cloud-based diagnostic technology uses standard ultrasound images to determine patients’ risk of blood clots in the heart and associated stroke risk. An analysis takes less than five minutes and does not require special operator training. 
  • Viola Sutanto, UC Berkeley – LimeLoop. In response to the substantial increase in packaging waste generated by the growing e-commerce sector, LimeLoop offers brands a sustainable alternative: lightweight, durable and reusable mailers composed of recycled billboard vinyl and cotton.
  • Charlie Yeh, UCSF and UC Berkeley – mFluiDx. Outpatient physicians typically base diagnoses on observing patient symptoms or paper-strip tests, which are often unreliable methods. mFluiDx offers multitarget DNA detection that can be deployed in primary care offices with the same simplicity and cost-effectiveness as paper tests.

Later-stage finalists:

  • Jason McKeown, UC San Diego (winner) – Neurovalens. With its flagship product, Modius, Neurovalens offers noninvasive, wearable technology that promotes weight loss through electrical neural stimulation. Consumers experience decreased food cravings and appetite, while feeling full more quickly.
  • Michael Demetriou, UC Irvine – GlyTR Technologies. Antibody-based cancer therapies have many shortcomings. GlyTr’s antibody-independent solutions overcome obstacles while targeting the majority of cancers, from breast cancer to leukemia. These customizable treatments require less time and cost for development than traditional therapies.
  • Neel Grover, UC Irvine – Indi. As social media platforms seize greater control of customer engagement and data, Indi’s SaaS video platform helps brands engage their customers directly in their digital properties. This ensures brands own all content, while giving them the ability to access consumer email addresses and other data.
  • Olin Hyde, UC San Diego – Novel artificial intelligence software accelerates B2B sales and marketing by finding and engaging customer prospects to generate demand, significantly reducing customer acquisition costs. Businesses grow three times faster than their competitors within three years of using LeadCrunch.
  • Megan Mokri, UC Berkeley – Byte. Byte embeds unattended storefronts within commercial spaces, providing consumers with on-demand, fresh food 24/7. Foods are locally sourced and stocking is customized based on consumer habits. Businesses can receive analytics regarding local usage and consumer preferences.
  • Homayoon Kazerooni, UC Berkeley – suitX. This wearable robotics company creates a variety of modular exoskeletons that provide physical support. suitX technology aids industrial laborers and athletes, as well as people who experience movement challenges or paralysis.

Christine Gulbranson, UC senior vice president for innovation and entrepreneurship, and UC chancellors representing the campuses of the finalists, congratulated the entrepreneurs in a video message.

“The UC community is full of entrepreneurs and startups creating groundbreaking products and revolutionary companies, so we created two tracks for this year’s competition,” said Gulbranson. “I’m so impressed with the innovations in our ecosystem: there isn’t an industry we aren’t tackling. These finalists embody the bold range of innovative, market-driven and impactful initiatives our entrepreneurs are undertaking.”

Each of the 12 finalists was paired with a mentor to help them prepare for their GCVI pitch. This year’s mentors:

  • Linda Elkins, chief technical officer, Gore Innovation Center at W. L. Gore & Associates
  • Jay Eum, co-founder and managing director, TransLink Capital
  • Albert Kim, head of Ericsson Ventures
  • Pramila Mullan, principal director, Accenture
  • Hash Pakbaz, senior director of emerging businesses and principal, Lam Research Capital at Lam Research
  • Bonny Simi, president, JetBlue Technology Ventures

The 2019 Global Corporate Venturing & Innovation (GCVI) Summit was held in Monterey, California, from Jan. 29 to 31, 2019, and supported by ClearAccess IP, P&G Ventures and LAM Research.

For more information about the contest and innovation driven by the UC system, visit