Two engineering entrepreneurs from Cal Poly won a combined $35,000 for their emerging businesses – Ryde and X-Adapt – during the inaugural California State University startup launch competition on May 5 at San Jose State University.
The Sunstone CSU Startup Launch Competition is a groundbreaking partnership between the CSU system and Sunstone Management – an international investment firm based in Long Beach – designed to support and fund innovative startups created by CSU students.
Emily Gavrilenko, who graduated in December with a master’s in computer science, won first prize and $25,000 in the service track for her business Ryde – a carpooling marketplace that allows college students in California to buy and sell empty seats in their car.
Evan Lalanne, who graduated in December with a bachelor’s in manufacturing engineering, placed second in the product track, winning $10,000 for X-Adapt – a modified electric unicycle that allows people with disabilities to access rough terrain like hiking trails.
Thirty-six teams from 18 CSU campuses competed in the only competition of its kind that focuses on rewarding the business acumen of CSU entrepreneurs.
The contest required participants to make an 8-minute pitch before a panel of judges followed by a question-and-answer session, according to Gavrilenko.
“I was more nervous for the award ceremony than the competition itself because I wanted to call and tell my co-founders that we had won first place,” she said.
Once Gavrilenko was indeed named the top winner in her track, she called co-founders Johnny Morris, an experience industry management graduate, and Josh Wong, a computer science senior, to tell them the good news.
“We were all screaming together on the phone,” she said.
The trio founded Ryde in January 2022 to connect California college students who are traveling in the same direction so they can travel hundreds of miles, affordably and comfortably, according to Gavrilenko.
“We’ve built a community of riders and drivers, and we want to be the go-to travel option for college students,” she said.
The Ryde website launched in March 2022 and became available on the App Store in October 2022. By March 2023, users could download the app on Google Play. More than 3,500 Cal Poly students, or 16% of the campus community, have signed up for Ryde and have collectively traveled more than 500,000 miles.
Since October, Gavrilenko, Morris and Wong have been part of the Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship’s incubator program, which helps early-stage companies develop into financially stable, high-growth enterprises by supplying tools, training and infrastructure.
Funds from the Sunstone CSU Startup Launch Competition will pay for marketing efforts, incentive programs and product development. One of the new features will be a rating system similar to Airbnb’s five-star system and a profile redesign, according to Gavrilenko.
She added Ryde will expand to another California college in the fall, with more campuses to follow.
“SLO is a great community for starting a company, and I think we can go far,” Gavrilenko said.
To learn more about Ryde, visit the website here.
By Emily Slater