Innovation Quest 2021 Recap

Empowering innovators to find their path

Yasel Hurtado
May 10, 2021

Cal Poly students Sara Glaser, Clayton Pelz, Emily O’Neal and Madison Lewandowski first pitched their idea for an interactive children’s fitness video game in 2019 at Cal Poly’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Startup Marathon. Their pitch, Fearless Fitness Kids, was cut off for time at that competition, and they walked away hungry to improve.

After over a year of continuous work, Fearless Fitness Kids took first place at the 2021 CIE Innovation Quest on April 24. The event takes place annually and awards about $30,000 to teams of young entrepreneurs so that they can bring their ideas to reality. This year, it was held via Zoom due to the pandemic.

“As they started announcing third and second place, we were like, alright there’s no way we can get first but we’ll still try for the Accelerator. We were blown away and not expecting it,” Lewandowski said.

After the challenges they faced competing at the CIE Startup Marathon—a 54 hour-long event, in which developers, designers, and innovators meet for the first time and develop a business over the weekend—the Fearless Fitness team worked tirelessly to improve their pitch for Innovation Quest.

“If you look at that pitch compared to this pitch, it’s a world of a difference," Glaser said. "I mean, we forgot what we were saying, we didn’t finish in time. We had so many pivots and ups and downs since then, but we kept trying to push forward and it paid off."  

The 12 finalists that pitched at Innovation Quest 2021 were selected from a pool of about 50 teams of applicants and were then put into Shark Tank-esque Q&A sessions with the judges, according to Event Director and Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship Thomas Katona.

During the livestream, past Innovation Quest competitors introduced each finalist before they pitched their idea to the audience and judges by way of pre-recorded video.The pitches this year ranged from innovative shoe designs to prosthetic limbs, and even a toothbrush that lets you know when you’re ovulating. While Fearless Fitness Kids commanded first place, the second place award went to architecture software company Artifex, and Large Round Hay Bale Handler took third.

CIE Interim Executive Director and judge John Townsend attributes the Fearless Fitness Kids team’s win to the clarity and effectiveness of their pitch.

“The judges were very impressed by quite a number of things. [The Fearless Fitness team] was very effective at articulating what [they’re] doing, why, for who, and how,” Townsend said. “The fact that [they] had some really good proof points, like the early adopters who want it yesterday, was validating evidence that was compelling with the judges today.”

This is only the beginning for this talented team of students, who hope to take their idea to the next level by participating in the CIE’s Hothouse Summer Accelerator. This program, exclusively for Cal Poly students and recent alumni, provides hands-on mentorship and weekly workshops. Companies also have access to $10,000 in seed funding to start building their business.

“I’m excited to make Fearless a reality more than it already is. We already have our beta out there but I am so excited to actually get it into the hands of numerous kids,” Pelz said. “I think this is one of the first huge steps that we’ve seen that will get us there.”

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