Student Entrepreneurs Pitch Ideas For Prizes From Bill Gross, Sunstone, American Lending Center

PASADENA — A unique student entrepreneurial pitch competition took place on the Caltech campus in early April, and both Sunstone Management, Inc., and American Lending Center had a hand in the event. 

The Bill Gross Business Plan Competition featured 15 student teams – finalists from 80 applications – delivering five-minute pitches in front of a panel of three judges. The graduate and undergraduate students were competing for the Bill Gross Prize for Entrepreneurship – a first-place prize of $30,000, $25,000 for second and $10,000 for third. 

What the teams didn’t know when they arrived on April 10 was that all of the teams would take home at least $10,000, thanks to $50,000 donations from both the Sunstone Community Fund (Sunstone Management, Inc.’s donor-advised fund) and the American Lending Center donor-advised fund. 

“We were extremely impressed by the caliber of all of the presenting teams and the innovation of the companies that we saw today,” Richard Jun, Sunstone’s Chief Strategy Officer and Head of Venture Capital, said. “We are so excited to work with Bill and Caltech to continue to support this wonderful program and help fund such brilliant entrepreneurs who are at the earliest stages of building transformative companies.” 

 Zhen Wang, representing Sunstone Founder Community and American Lending Center also was present at the event to meet and greet founders and judges. 

Bill Gross is the founder of Idealab in Pasadena as well as multiple successful startups. He graduated from Caltech in 1981 with a B.S. in engineering, and has been on the Institute’s Board of Trustees for more than 20 years. 

Gross taught a science and technology entrepreneurship class at Caltech last fall and is passionate about helping Caltech students bring their ideas to fruition. “Our hope is that with winning this Caltech event, other investors will join you to make your dreams possible,” Gross said at the beginning of the competition. 

Teams began work last fall on ideas backed by the scientific expertise gained at Caltech. The 15 finalists were chosen in January, then paired with a mentor and worked on their business plans. During the pitch sessions, the teams were judged on the quality of their team dynamic, market opportunity for their idea and differentiation of their technology. 

The eventual winner was a three-person team called, which uses an AI-powered method to convert 2D engineering sketches into 3D computer-aided design (CAD) models. Graduate student Aditya Shedge came up with the idea and enlisted undergraduates Sarah Hashash and Sarah Yun to form the team and complete the business plan. 

Second place went to Chiron, a personalized AI assistant that learns from medical papers to help patients interpret their medical results. Third went to String, with an approach to the coffee supply chain that would increase transparency and quality assurance while increasing profits for farmers and cooperatives in East Africa. 

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Note: Information for this release was provided by the Caltech Office of Technology Transfer and Corporate Partnerships. 

About Sunstone Management 
Sunstone Management is a diversified private capital sponsor firm headquartered in Southern California. Identified by Financial Times as one of America’s Fastest Growing Companies three years in a row. In the latest Pitchbook rankings, Sunstone Management was #15 in the third quarter of 2023 nationally, and #18 in the fourth quarter.1 

  1. Rankings from Pitchbook Venture Monitor, Q3 and Q4. 


Jennifer Huang
Sunstone Management
(562) 732-0617

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