Six startups compete for funding money

The Annenberg Innovation Lab hosted the 2015 Evening of Innovation on Thursday evening to showcase the year’s Innovation Lab projects and six cutting-edge startups competing for a $10,000 funding prize.

The evening was sponsored by Maury Domengeaux and Blackstone Launchpad USC.

Each team completed the eight-week CRUNCH Student Design Challenge + Incubator program prior to the evening. The course consisted of activities that helped the startups test and develop their brand and consumer demand. Mentors also shared expertise with students during the business incubator to help improve the startups.

The night marked the second Evening of Innovation and the fifth year of the CRUNCH Student Design Challenge + Incubator.

Erin Reilly, creative director for the Annenberg Innovation Lab, said the evening is a formal presentation of what the lab has been working on.

“The Evening of Innovation is an opportunity for the Annenberg Innovation Lab and all of its programs and researchers to come together and share with the public what we’ve been up to in the past year,” Reilly said. “It’s not only the startups that we do, but it’s also the applied research. There are 30-plus people in the Lab working … and a whole gamut of research fellows with very diverse expertise and they’re sharing with you tonight what they’ve been up to.”

Francesca Smith, research associate at the Innovation Lab, said the judges looked at multiple qualities to select the winner.

“[The judges] will be looking at how innovative the teams are [and] how viable their [products are],” Smith said. “[Judges will look at] whether [the startup] is differentiated in some core way from other players in the market, whether it provides a level of social justice and basically makes the world a better place, whether the teams are really polished and have in some way shown that they really care and put a lot of effort into this product and finally just that sort of indescribable wow factor.”

The teams competing were ElemenTerra, HexCare, LOUDER, Prefound, Prevail Games, Bridge to Solas and Stunt Players.

Geoffrey Long, technical director and research fellow at the lab, said the functions of the competing startups differ from one another.

“The main motivation varies from start-up to start-up — some of them have more of a social good at their core,” Long said. “Prevail Games, for example, is trying to figure out how to use video games in order to help trauma survivors reacclimate themselves into their day-to-day lives. Others are a little more multipurpose. LOUDER is an app that allows multiple phones to chain together to serve as speakers for a single audio source.”

Prefound, an online start-up that gives thrift shop consumers the ability to shop online, ultimately won the fund and was the 2015 CRUNCH Student Design Challenge winner.

Alex Zhang, CEO of Prefound, said the current way to thrift shop online isn’t easy enough.

“With the recent dependency on having a digital footprint, [thrift] stores are now moving on the e-commerce platforms — [such as] Etsy and eBay,” Zhang said. “This has clearly laid out a very obvious problem. These current solutions aren’t designed for clothing discovery; they’re designed for specific search functionality.”

In addition, Zhang said he would help those stores with his startup.

“The supply comes from these stores who are currently hosting on Etsy and Amazon and the demand comes from shoppers like us who are looking for really rare, curated finds,” Zhang said.

Alexx Murphy, founder and president of Prevail Games, said CRUNCH helped her create her start-up.

“These [mentors] have so much experience — they are so knowledgeable and that’s kind of how this [game] became to be,” Murphy said. “It would be a completely different thing, even at this same stage of development, if it hadn’t been for them.”