Students Vie for $100,000 Thursday at the UCI Stella Zhang New Venture Competition

IRVINE, Calif. (May 22, 2023) – Ten UCI  teams will pitch their startup concepts Thursday evening, May 25, in hopes of earning part of the $100,000 in prize money at stake in the Stella Zhang New Venture Competition at the University of California, Irvine Paul Merage School of Business Auditorium.

The teams, numbering about 100, have spent the last seven months working on their proposals at the Beall Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. On May 12, 52 semi-finalist teams pitched their concepts to panels of judges in a boardroom setting – the final 10 are the first and second place winners in each of five categories.

The New Venture Competition – designed as an educational experience about the process of taking an idea from concept to refined venture — has taken place for more than 10 years, according to organizer Jenn Huynh, but became the Stella Zhang New Venture Challenge last year after Stella Zhang, a 2005 UCI graduate with an MBA from the UCI Paul Merage School of Business, made a significant contribution to the event and the prize money pot.

Zhang is a cofounder and partner at Sunstone Management Inc. and American Lending Center (where she is COO), both headquartered in Irvine.

“When we moved our headquarters to Irvine in 2020, I decided to have more interaction with the school,” Zhang said. “I feel it is needed. I think it is good for people, good that they get what they need. And it is my school!”

In the semi-finals May 12, the 52 teams competed within their tracks – Business Products and Services, Consumer Products, Consumer Services, Life Sciences and Social Enterprise. In the Grand Finale, the top 10 teams all compete against each other for the grand prize of $20,000. The runner-up will receive $5,000. That’s in addition to the prize money the teams earned by winning first or second place in the track competitions.

The 10 competing teams are:

  • Helios – A license plate kit with advanced safety features to enhance driver safety.
  • Orii.AI – An AI scheduling platform to aid students with time management.
  • Help Belt – A device that helps those with arthritis or other disabilities with buckling seat belts.
  • Omni Pet Club – A diverse modern and inclusive leash system for all pet owners.
  • ChewRank – Connects foodies with friends to share rankings, creating an unbiased ranking system.
  • Leprendo – A specialty food marketplace centered around short-form video.
  • Hyperion Therapeutics – A set of mechanism-based Therapeutics targeting early retinal disease.
  • VagAligna – An easy-to-use product that expedites vaginal healing by directly targeting damaged tissue.
  • Shower Power – A shower system with technology to recycle the 5% of water wasted at its source.
  • TeamMade – Affordable and sustainable housing with Accessory Dwelling Units.

“These teams have been working for seven months,” Jenn Huynh said. “We’ve conducted 10 workshops, and when concept papers were due in March, we received almost 100. It is very competitive.”

The public is invited to the Grand Finale this Thursday, May 25. Registration is 4-5 p.m., with presentations beginning at 5:30 p.m. The awards ceremony will be at about 8 p.m., with a reception to follow.

The event is at the UCI Paul Merage School of Business auditorium, 4293 Pereira Drive, SB1. Registration in advance is required; please go to

© Sunstone Management Inc.


About Sunstone Management

Sunstone Management is a diversified private capital sponsor firm located in Southern California that invests in diverse early-stage technology entrepreneurs who seek to build great companies. We believe in the aspirational power of the American economy to attract and inspire investors and entrepreneurs from throughout the world. We deliver new and exciting opportunities for economic growth through the creation of innovative public-private partnerships, and our unique experience across government, education, and private sectors. Identified by Financial Times as one of America’s Fastest Growing Companies three years in a row.

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