By Ariel Liu
At the annual Business Association of Stanford Entrepreneurial Students (BASES) Challenge kickoff event last Friday night, organizers announced that a total of $100,000 will be awarded to eight teams. This year, competition planners emphasized connecting contestants with industry leaders.
BASES Challenge is Stanford’s largest entrepreneurship competition, according to the BASES website. Teams with at least one Stanford affiliate pitch their venture ideas to judges for a chance to win monetary prizes and professional opportunities. Applications opened after the kickoff event, and winners will be announced at the May finale.
Intending to better serve the needs of new challengers, the Challenge team surveyed last year’s participants during the planning period, according to Ryan Matsumoto ’16, BASES Challenge vice president. Survey results led the team to seek out more non-monetary prize options, such as positions at a biotech accelerator or a summer startup boot camp.
“Some teams felt that they weren’t really connected with judges who had expertise in their area,” Matsumoto said. “This year, we’re focusing the events a bit more so we can pair up teams with mentors. We also secured various partnerships with various accelerators and VC companies to offer opportunity prizes to these teams.”
In addition to creating new connections, the kickoff planners brought back previous years’ winners and participants to display their market-ready products. One company was Reflex Robotics, the winner of last year’s Consumer Category prize of $15,000. Reflex is a personal robotic cameraman that stabilizes a GoPro about three axes and intelligently tracks subjects using computer vision.
As Reflex prepares to launch its kickstarter campaign, Seongdo Kim, third year Ph.D. student at UC Santa Cruz and computer vision expert of the team, admits that the monetary prize was only enough to file their patent. Nevertheless, the Challenge became a formative experience for the company, according to Kim.
“[Participating in the challenge] actually inspired us since many people looked at us,” he said. “Actually, that was the first time we announced our product in public so that was a very amazing experience for us. That was the starting point of our company, we thought.”
While the monetary prize may be the initial incentive for participants, there are hidden rewards to be gained, as well. Matsumoto cited an example of a previous team that, despite not winning the BASES Challenge, secured $75,000 on the spot from a sponsor who liked their product.
“There are a lot of opportunities that are not necessarily set in stone,” Matsumoto said. “But there’s just a huge possibility for what can happen.”
Over the years, the challenge has gone through several changes. Three years ago, BASES Challenge was separated into three competitions. When organizers realized that the contests attracted similar applicant pools, they consolidated their funding and opportunities into one large competition, according to BASES co-president Shivani Baisiwala ’16.
This year, BASES expects around 200 teams to apply and will choose 100 of those to move on to the next round. Fifty finalist teams will then be invited to a showcase event in May when judges will score the teams while other industry leaders and sponsors interact with teams and examine their products. The showcase is one of the most valuable experiences for the teams, according to Baisiwala.
“You need funding, and you need investors, and you need to meet people who can give you really good feedback,” she said. “[The challenge] gives you the opportunity to talk to investors in an informal way and to understand what is expected before you put yourself in front of a panel of investors, before you ask them to actually give you money.”
The BASES Challenge application period will end on Feb. 19.
Contact Ariel Liu at aliu15 ‘at’ stanford.edu.