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Zahn Center to launch start-up companies at SDSU

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College students who have dreams of starting their own businesses can get a head start by taking part in a contest at San Diego State Univeristy.

Eleven teams entered the Zahn Incubator Challenge for a chance to enter into SDSU's Zahn Center. The three winning teams will split a $25,000 prize.

San Diego businessman Irwin Zahn has donated $700,000 to the SDSU College of Engineering to create an on-campus “incubator” for promising young entrepreneurs to take their ideas and turn them into actual companies.

“There are so many creative people that, if just given an opportunity and a little guidance, will change the world,” Zahn said. “We want to make that happen right here in San Diego, at SDSU.”

The Zahn Center will guide teams of engineering, technology and business students from concept to business plan to market. Zahn’s initial gift will fund the operational costs of the center, which will become a working office to several of the start-up companies. The center will also work closely with the College of Business in developing long-term, campus wide goals.

“San Diego was built by entrepreneurial spirit, by people like Irwin Zahn,” said SDSU President Elliot Hirshman. “Our students have brilliant ideas and they need support to turn these ideas into successful businesses. The Zahn Center will be the place where this happens; a place where ideas become companies which, in turn, drive our economic recovery forward. In this respect, Irwin's gift will support the entire region, as well as the students, faculty and staff of San Diego State University.”

Zahn Incubator Challenge entries will be judged by industry experts who will select five finalists to move on to the next round of judging, which will take place in March, in collaboration with SDSU’s Entrepreneurial Management Center’s Venture Challenge Competition, where they will also gain exposure to potential mentors, investors and contacts. Awards will be announced on March 17.

Once invited into the Zahn Center, teams will have 18-24 months in the center to get their companies off the ground. Already, student start-ups eager to enter the Zahn Center include a Prosthetics team with new market approach and a Novel Green Energy team.

Richard Kerr, a longtime entrepreneur with SDSU degrees in physics and electrical engineering, will direct the Zahn Center, mentoring the fledgling entrepreneurs and eventually connecting them with venture capitalists. Kerr will guide students through the process of developing a business plan, obtaining patents, building collateral like websites and email addresses and creating prototypes.

“We are trying to give them the ability to go out and start companies and a place to start it,” Kerr said. “But like the real world, their companies have to get to a point where they are a viable option for venture funding. And when they get to that point, we will introduce them to venture capitalists and gently push them out into the real world.”

Kerr will also tap SDSU’s College of Business Administration and Entrepreneurial Management Center to identify business students interested in joining the startups and providing as much business innovation as the engineering students are providing technical Innovation.

“So often, great ideas die on the vine because young people don’t have the capital or contacts to bring them to fruition,” said David Hayhurst, dean of SDSU’s College of Engineering. “This exciting new facility will give students a chance to develop their ideas at the earliest possible stage.”

Though not an alumnus, Zahn is a member of the SDSU College of Engineering Dean’s Advisory Board and a longtime San Diego resident. Autosplice Inc., the company he founded, has employed dozens of SDSU engineering alumni.

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Gangaram Singh, PhD.

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Paul Wong

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Joseph Johnson

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Morteza Mehrabadi

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Joyce Gattas

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Stanley Maloy

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Marilyn Newhoff

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