Tool To Warn Of Concussions Wins Grand Prize At Sunstone CSU Startup Launch Competition 2024

CARSON – A San Jose State football player/graduate student and a mechanical engineer with two successful business exits joined forces to take the top prize in the CSU Startup Launch Competition on May 3 at California State University, Dominguez Hills. 

Andrew Jenkins and Anna Vartan represented the Concussion Coach team in the third annual pitch competition, which boasted 33 teams from 17 of the 23 California State University campuses. The young entrepreneurs were vying for $200,000 in prize money from the Sunstone Community Fund, the charitable donor-advised fund which raises money to support entrepreneurship at its earliest stages.  

For the first time, AnnenbergTech, an initiative of the Annenberg Foundation, joined in the sponsorship with a $25,000 donation. SCF Administrator Jayro Sandoval said at the event while thanking Annenberg for their participation that Sunstone is actively pursuing more donors, sponsors and grant makers, to extend the Startup Launch beyond Sunstone’s five-year commitment (worth $1 million). 

“If more of you would like to consider a sponsorship to support next year’s event, it would allow us to keep this going for many years to come,” Sandoval said. 

Andrew Jenkins said Concussion Coach’s journey to the Grand Prize didn’t start auspiciously. 

“Our flight was delayed,” he said. “Then we had to go and get our posters, so we had to miss the Dave & Busters mixer with all of the other teams… But we were able to rehearse, and my partner is awesome. We got settled in with the first hour of the expo in front of the judges, and it went from there.” 

Concussion Coach uses an air tag-sized custom flexible PCB to register blows capable of causing concussions. The tags can be attached to football helmets, bicycle helmets and more. 

Concussion Coach took the $30,000 first prize, added $5,000 for reaching the finals and $6,000 by winning the Market Validation category from the morning expo. 

“We needed that money,” Jenkins said. “Those boards are expensive, and we were at a stopping place. No one took any of the money – it’s all being reinvested so we can do a full field test with one of the teams we are talking with.” 

Addressing Public Safety 

Concepts among the 33 teams varied widely, with many taking advantage of the recent boom in Artificial Intelligence (AI). Case in point was the second place finisher in the Grand Finale, Team Azuki with its Safeguard AI. The software solution uses AI to turn static security systems in schools and elsewhere into quick danger recognition and notification to safety officials. 

“Our team originally developed SafeGuard AI for an AI Hackathon against other brilliant minds of the school (Sacramento State) just last month,” said Huy Dao, speaking for the team. “Let alone winning that one, we did not imagine going as far as coming to the Sunstone competition… our team is extremely grateful for this funding of $31,000, for it will provide much needed support toward making Safeguard AI a reality.” 

Mike Stone, Sunstone Management’s Chief Investment Officer and one of the judges, explained how Team Azuki fulfilled one of the primary criteria for a winning presentation. 

“You have identified a great need in society with better, quicker identification of active shooter situations,” Stone said. “And you have come up with an innovative tech solution to fill that need. We believe it can have even broader applications. That’s what this (competition) is all about. We thank you.” 

The third place finisher, Nexstera Tech from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, is working to solve a tech-caused problem – identification of potentially flammable lithium-ion batteries in refuse trucks and other dangerous places. In addition to the $10,000 prize money for third and $5,000 for reaching the finals, Nexstera won two of the category contests for another $12,000. 

“I was the only representative from my team since my co-founders were at radar and AI/ML conferences, but I thoroughly enjoyed sharing our mission and vision with the judges and guests,” Nexstera CEO Penny Lane Case said. “It was inspiring to see so many young entrepreneurs striving to make a positive impact, whether on the environment, society, or their specific target market. The funding we received … will enable us to bring in radar and software experts to assist my co-founders with their R&D efforts and help us acquire the necessary equipment to develop our advanced radar system.” 

Challenge Will Continue 
David Ochi, Executive Director of the Innovation Incubator at California State University, Dominguez Hills, and coordinator of this year’s Startup Launch Challenge, said teams from 14 different campuses took home prize money. San Jose State and CSU Chico both had two teams in the finals.  

In addition to the top three, other finalists were BookBound, CSU Long Beach; FusionNFC, CSU Chico; Project FireWatch, San Jose State; Fresh Haven, CSU Chico; and Cram, San Diego State. 

Fifty judges participated in the Expo portion of the competition, voting on teams to reach the finals. Five experts questioned the finalists and made the big decisions. 

Next year’s Sunstone CSU Startup Launch Competition will be at San Francisco State University in Spring 2025. To keep up with the program, visit For more about the Sunstone Community Fund and its efforts to support innovation and entrepreneurship, go to this link

About Sunstone Community Fund   

The Sunstone Community Fund is a key nonprofit component of the Sunstone Management vision to advance public benefit programs that support the development of inclusive and vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystems. A Donor Advised Fund managed by the National Philanthropic Trust, the SCF supports a network of universities, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies that develop and implement entrepreneurship programs, early-stage tech accelerators, and advance local economic development.  

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Jennifer Huang 

Sunstone Management 

(562) 732-0617 

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