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Friday, March 31, 2023

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A student working in the Zahn Innovation Center. A student working in the Zahn Innovation Center.

Zahn Challenge Expands Competition Pool

Zahn Challenge applications must be submitted by Oct. 25.
By Stefanie Banks

For the first time since its inception, the annual Zahn Challenge has opened applications to alumni, while still seeking current students, faculty and staff with the most promising ideas for new startups.

Since opening its doors four years ago, 103 teams made up of more than 350 students have used the Zahn Innovation Center’s resources to help launch their entrepreneurial endeavors.

"SDSU offers students a unique environment at the Zahn Innovation Center by providing resources that help them bring their ideas to life. Now is a great time to be an entrepreneur at SDSU," said Cathy Pucher, executive director of the center.

One in ten teams that have participated in the Zahn Innovation Center have launched their businesses, and $1.2 million has been raised to fund their success.

The Zahn Challenge is the premier event for showcasing the center’s newly accepted teams as well as teams under incubation. Challenge finalists will compete for cash prizes totaling $12,000.

This year, the three tracks for challenge participants are as follows:

  • The $2,000 Alumni Track is open to teams with at least one founder who graduated from SDSU within the last three years.
  • The $3,000 Zahn Track is open to current Zahn Innovation Center teams.
  • The $6,000 Applicant Track is open to new applicants with an idea for a startup or social enterprise. 

At least one team member must be an active SDSU student, faculty or staff member or alumnus to apply.


Teams will be evaluated based on the novelty of their idea or technology, the size of their market opportunity and their ability to scale.

Judges with strong connections to entrepreneurship will come from all over the West Coast to help select the winners.


Finalists will also have the opportunity to compete for a $500 Audience Vote and a $500 Best Showcase award.

Applicant track finalists will automatically receive admission to the Zahn Innovation Center, with access to a wide range of services and support at no charge.

Dates and deadlines

To participate in the Zahn Challenge, applications must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. on Oct. 25.

An overview of the Zahn Innovation Center, application process, and Zahn Challenge is available online.

The Zahn Challenge showcase, quick pitch and award ceremony will be held  from 5:30 to 7:15 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 2, at the SDSU Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center.

Entrepreneurial campus

The Zahn Challenge is just one example of the entrepreneurial spirit of SDSU, which has been named in the top 25 for entrepreneurship by U.S. News and World Report, Forbes and Entrepreneur magazines.

A $5.1 million gift from the Moxie Foundation created the Zahn Innovation Platform for collaboration across disciplines. It also established the Zahn Chair of Creativity and Innovation and the Zahn Professorship of Creativity and Innovation. Annually, a $25,000 Irwin Zahn Spirit of Innovation Prize created from the gift is awarded to a graduating senior. 

SDSU is committed to fostering entrepreneurial experiences for its students through the Zahn Center as well as The Lavin Entrepreneurship Center. The university also offers a variety of classes and programs including an entrepreneurship minor open to students of all majors and a Music Entrepreneurship and Business program.