ASU entrepreneurs travel to Silicon Valley for innovation retreat

Trip marked end of eSeed Challenge’s inaugural year

April 8, 2016

Entrepreneurs from five Arizona State University student-led startups traveled to the promised land of startups, Silicon Valley, from March 31 to April 2. There they met with top-level professionals, toured startup companies and had the opportunity to pitch to successful entrepreneurs.

The trip marked the end of the eSeed Challenge’s inaugural year, an entrepreneurial competition open to all ASU students. Run by the Startup Center within the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, the eSeed Challenge develops promising early stage student ventures, preparing them to secure funding and win competitions to support their startups. The five teams represented on the innovation retreat were all incubated within the eSeed Challenge, emerging as the top startups out of more than 25 competitors. The Prescott Fellows, representatives from the top five startups incubated in the Fulton Schools Startup Center's eSeed Challenge program, pose at YCombinator during their innovation retreat to Silicon Valley, April 1, 2016. Photo courtesy of Brent Sebold Download Full Image

The selected ventures were:

• Tech Dispatcher, led by aerospace engineering student Brandon Garrett and Co-founder Dallas Grantham

• PhysioCheck, led by biomedical engineering student John Templeton and Co-founder Connor Chilton

•, led by biomedical engineering student Susan Sajadi, computer systems engineering student Rex Blank and Co-founder Tim Bujnevicie

• Feromone Robotics, led by engineering students Miles Mabey and Corey Hulse and technological entrepreneurship and management student Alex Opstad

• ZingFo, led by computer science student Nikhil Kumar and Co-founders Butterfly Cherry and Kim Nolan

These top ventures and their representatives were dubbed the Prescott Fellows, in honor of Tom Prescott, former President and CEO of Align Technology Inc., and the eSeed Challenge’s lead benefactor. At the outset of the retreat, each venture had the opportunity to make an “investor style” pitch to Prescott to compete for entry into the upcoming Arizona Collegiate Venture Competition (ACVC) on April 8.

Tech Dispatcher claimed the prize and will compete against other ventures from ASU, as well as Northern Arizona University, Grand Canyon University and University of Arizona for $60,000 in cash prizes, scholarships and mentoring.

Going into the competition, team lead of Tech Dispatcher Brandon Garrett feels confident.

“We feel like we can take the win at ACVC, but there are some strong teams so we will definitely be preparing coming up to the event,” said Garrett.

Reflecting on the first year of eSeed, Startup Center director Brent Sebold said the strength of the teams on the retreat was a testament to the success of the program.

“The confidence we have in the ventures we brought on this trip alone speaks to how well this first year has gone,” said Sebold. “Another measure of success is the tight bond that developed between many of the startups and their assigned venture mentors. They’ve worked hard and really grown over the past year.”

Garrett also highlights the involvement of mentors as a reason for Tech Dispatcher’s success.

“eSeed definitely prepared us for this level of competition,” said Garrett. “Joan Morgen was our mentor through the program and really pushed us to the next level while providing constructive criticism and helping us define our message.”

The trip itself provided more opportunities for growth by immersing the entrepreneurs in startup culture.

“The experience really guided how we present our startup,” said ZingFo Co-founder Butterfly Cherry. “We had to say our 30-second pitch everywhere we visited. It was pretty cool to see how every venture’s pitch was refined in just one day.”

Garrett added: “It was really eye-opening. I’d almost compare it to a study abroad program. The culture isn’t as different as another country, but business-wise it’s a completely different landscape.”

In addition, the entrepreneurs rubbed shoulders with Silicon Valley movers and shakers such as Tim Draper, founder of Draper University, as well as leaders from the Fogarty Institute for Innovation and YCombinator. YCombinator, an organization aimed at rapidly developing early-stage startups, has funded more than 1,000 startups since 2005, including DropBox, Twitch, Reddit and Airbnb.

“It was really motivating,” says Cherry of meeting with a YCombinator Partner. “My biggest takeaway was to get our product out there as soon as possible, even if it is crap at the moment. This is important to quickly find out what is and isn't working.”

eSeed will kick off its next round in the fall 2016 semester. Looking to the future, Sebold hopes the program will attract more participation and looks forward to operating out of the Startup Center’s new facility, Generator Labs.

“I encourage all ASU students who have an idea to apply,” said Sebold. “The startup process is 1 percent conceptual and 99 percent hard work, but we’re ready to mentor and motivate those ready to put in that work.”

Apply to the eSeed Challenge; the deadline for applications is noon on April 29. For more information about the eSeed Challenge, attend the application workshop and information session April 15.

Pete Zrioka

Communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


Poetic and political

New ASU exhibition highlights ceramic work of Courtney M. Leonard

April 8, 2016

The word “breach” can be used in many different ways. Legally, “breach of contract” is the failure to observe an agreement. It can also mean a gap in a wall or barrier. Breach can also be used as a verb — especially when it comes to the act of a whale breaking the surface of water.

Santa Fe-based artist Courtney M. Leonard grew up in the Shinnecock Nation of Long Island, New York, where culture historically revolved around whaling and water. Leonard’s exhibition “Breach: Log 16,” on view April 16 through Aug. 6 at the ASU Art Museum Ceramics Research Center and Brickyard Gallery, is an exploration of historical ties to water and whale, imposed law and a current relationship of material sustainability. Artist Courtney M. Leonard's exhibition "Breach: Log 16" is an immersive multimedia exhibition that includes ceramics and video. Image credit: Courtney M. Leonard, “Artifice,” 2015. Ceramics. Image courtesy of the artist.

This immersive multimedia exhibition includes a two-channel video installation that Leonard created during a unique art residency that occurred in 2015 on the Charles W. Morgan, a recently restored 1840’s whaling vessel based in Mystic, Connecticut. While on the boat, Leonard marveled not only at the intense hand-hewn physicality of the boat itself but also at the work routines of the sailors.

“I began to focus on the hand movements of everyone rigging and started video recording these actions, focusing entirely on the hands of the individuals,” recalled Leonard. “Once I retuned to the studio, I began to realize that these movements of the hand are very similar to the movements and actions of the hand while shaping a clay coil.”

Clay is essential to Leonard’s art. Her work is intensely crafted using a variety of techniques and natural clay drawn from Native American traditions, including the use of sparkling micaceous clay that is often used for cooking vessels. The ceramic work in “Breach: Log 16” makes reference to images and themes as diverse as whales’ teeth, scrimshaw and traditional indigenous fishing baskets. All of these relate to the sustainability and availability of water, but also to the sustainability of culture and tradition.

Garth Johnson, ASU Art Museum curator of ceramics, selected Leonard as the first artist to mount a solo exhibition at the museum’s new Brickyard Gallery location.

“Courtney M. Leonard is one of the strongest emerging voices in the field of ceramics today,” said Johnson. “Her art manages to be both poetic and political, and also simultaneously personal and universal. ‘Breach: Log 16’ is meticulously crafted to contain historical and cultural references, but also to make the viewer reflect on their own relationship with nature and sustainability.”

Leonard will give the 2016 Jan Fisher Memorial Lecture at 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 15 at the ASU Art Museum Ceramics Research Center and Brickyard Gallery, with the opening reception of “Breach: Log 16” to follow. The exhibition preview for museum members and ASU alumni will begin at 5:30 p.m.

This exhibition is supported by the Centering on the Future campaign.


About the artist

Courtney Michele Leonard is an artist and filmmaker from the Shinnecock Nation of Long Island, New York. Leonard’s work explores the evolution of language, image and culture through mixed media pieces of video, audio and tangible objects. She studied art and museum studies at the Institute of American Indian Arts (AFA 2000), Alfred University (BFA 2002) and the Rhode Island School of Design (MFA 2008). Her current work embodies the multiple definitions of “breach,” an exploration and documentation of historical ties to water, whale and material sustainability.

Leonard has given lectures and exhibited nationally and internationally at Toi Ngapuhi, Northland College (New Zealand), Museum of Art and Design (New York), Eastern Connecticut University (Willimantic, Connecticut), Tribeca Film Institute (New York), National Museum of the American Indian (Washington, D.C.), University of the Creative Arts Farnham (United Kingdom) and the University of Rostock (Germany).

Leonard currently lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and works as a professional artist, lecturer and educator.

Communications Program Coordinator, ASU Art Museum