College of Business

Student Start-Ups: from Concrete Mixing to Medical Devices and Craft Beer Apps

May 29, 2015

Alex Van Dewark shakes hands with Peter Straus, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship

California State University, Chico Entrepreneurship student Alex Van Dewark took first prize for his business pitch for The Mix Mat(opens in new window) at the 2015 Future Four Business Concept Competition hosted on campus. Van Dewark started his presentation with the story of how he was working for his father—a contractor—and was repeatedly stuck mixing concrete the old-fashioned way with a shovel and wheelbarrow.

“I tend to have these entrepreneurial moments,” he describes, “where I feel like I could do something in a better way.” Van Dewark reveals he had gone through six prototypes of The Mix Mat before he got it just right. “I have a billion ideas all the time so I submitted one that I’ve worked on for a while and ended up winning. It was a total shock to me,” explains Van Dewark, “It’s hard to make a concrete mixing tarp exciting.”

But he did; now Van Dewark has prize money as well as a summer scholarship to Boot UP Academy in Palo Alto where he will continue to launch his company.

The second-place finishers were from Sacramento State and presented a medical tool called "SafeScope," a device to minimize the risk of infection while monitoring a patient’s vital signs. Team presenters brought along a prototype and already have commitments for trials with Sacramento-area medical providers. Third place went to Sonoma State students who have launched an app called “Hops.” It is initially focusing on users in the Bay Area and guides them to microbreweries featuring craft beers of choice, as well as related festivals and tasting events.

The April 24th competition attracted an audience of business and non-business majors, as well as a panel of highly successful business leaders as judges. The evaluation team included Scott Bedford of Peninsula Capital Management; Debra Cannon of; Cedar Reuben of Humboldt Investment Capital; Mike Rizzo of Five Star Bank; Ellie Ruben of Boot UP Academy; and Marc Nemanic of 3Core.

“It felt great,” said Peter Straus, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship (CFE) “I think it’s a testimony to the strength of our program and how it’s growing. We have a strong entrepreneurship program and it shows, our students are doing a great job.”

Despite it being only the second annual Future Four, the CFE has hosted a Business Concept Competition for seven years. In the beginning the competition was small, starting with only three competitors, all from Chico State. Straus has since expanded the event to include teams from three other California State Universities—Sacramento State, Humboldt State, and Sonoma State—and hopes in the future to include even more.

“This past year we had about eighty entries. It has grown a lot. It’s taken time to get people interested, and we have just scratched the surface,” Straus explains. “We want to make it accessible to more than just business students. An entrepreneurship minor is open to anybody from any college on campus. We had engineering students from Sacramento State, and the entries from Chico State were led by one business student and one computer science student. It’s growing.”

Van Dewark has some advice for his fellow students: “No matter what your age, experience level or even major, I would tell other students to go for it. You have to be uncomfortable to get ahead. Entrepreneurs take risks and are persistent. All of that roots from being able to be uncomfortable. The Business Concept Competition is an excellent way to test yourself as a person and as an entrepreneur.”

CFE Director Peter Straus encourages all students to attend more events like these. “We are part of this entrepreneurial ecosystem that is critical to building our country. This is the future of America. It’s a big deal. I’m passionate about it.”

So, in the spirit of building something new, it is time to try the new way to mix concrete. 

The Mix Mat

Glenn Hall

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Persons with disabilities who need accommodations or have questions about physical access may call the program sponsoring the event or call Accessibility Resource Center at 530-898-5959.