Our story is an entrepreneurial process, whereby we began, we folded, we restarted by pivoting, and we excelled each step of the way. We have progressed from being an off-campus non-profit, Triton Innovation Network, that would distribute finances to the student-run organization on campus, to an ad-hoc sustainable campus entity run with full-autonomy, the UCSD Entrepreneur Challenge, back to the mixed model system of UCSD Entrepreneur Challenge (on-campus student run organization) and Entrepreneur Challenge(an off-campus non-profit). Today, we are the Entrepreneur Challenge, a non-profit and a student organization. We have grown from one model to the next, never forgetting that our true value was and is to create other entrepreneurs. During each stage large tweaks in the business model were necessary to ensure viability.
The Culture Creation: Our First Attempt
Founded, originally, in 2006 by a group of students as Triton Innovation Network, co-founders include Nikki Truitt & Neha Batadia, The Triton Innovation Network wanted to create a culture of innovation across all schools to unify students. This was a great foundation for our organization as a vision was created for what was to become our ultimate value proposition for students, business leaders, entrepreneurs, and innovators. Following many complex issues with the university system and off-campus non-profit partnership, we decided to dissolve the non-profit in the summer of 2008. The board members were made up of sponsors, alumn executives of the organization, and the student leaders, who were ex-officio members of the board. This model was not sustainable.
The Evolution: Learn from Failures : Fail fast and fail often at work. A billionaire on your side helps & everything remains.
In 2008, Dany Kitishian, CEO of TIN at the time of board dissolution, achieved a complete rebrand, and a startup atmosphere emerged with the newly founded entity being called the UCSD Entrepreneur Challenge. This was spearheaded by a new team of co-founders led by Dany Kitishian, John Yamauchi and Tom Cohen to resolve legal hurdles, governance efficiencies, and community engagement. They worked tirelessly with the legal team of UCSD, CFO, and deans of every college to satisfy their concerns. A very simple structure was set in place, whereby an Advisory Committee of 4 deans of colleges, a few community sponsors, and some advocates of our cause were all ex-officio members; furthermore, the students would decide the progress, having full control of the process. Bringing Dr. Irwin Jacobs as a personal sponsor and mentor helped with the university’s acceptance of our new model. This could have never happened had it not been for a strategy set by the new co-founders and accepted by campus administration. This innovative way of allowing students to take control of their own culture on campus is what sets UCSD apart from all other campuses around the world. Students raised the money, students controlled the expenditure, and the students involved them in the process each step of the way. Another interesting point to make is that in 2008, the worst financial crisis of our times occurred, yet our organization raised more money than any year and for many future years to come. We also utilized our marketing team skill sets to be ranked amongst the top competitions in the country for the first time.
In 2017, a visionary CEO, Alex Boone, decided to re-incorporate the original intents of the Executive Committee, which included Dany Kitishian, John Yamauchi, Tom Cohen, and Rajesh Grover, with those of his growth strategy. By continuing our cross campus relationships, he began a transition once more into an off-campus non-profit, however this time run by students or alumni of the Entrepreneur Challenge. Our funds would remain controlled by us and for our sole use. Sponsors remained engaged because they relied on us to make the crucial decisions. New events, like Ignite, were co-sponsored with immense success. The organizations back-end systems included new tools for organizational collaboration which helped streamline tasks and keep all up-to-date on progress.
Today, our 12 year timeline shows that we practice what we preach to entrepreneurs because we have been through the process. Those that were influential in each of the stages remain engaged and committed to our core mission--making San Diego and, specifically, UCSD a powerhouse of Innovation, Collaboration, & Inclusiveness. We pride ourselves on the statistics of accomplishment, having already had statistics of failures. This is how we created a firm that has created over $1.2 Billion in corporate valuations and produced the highest valued Series A company in history, with twice the combined value of Google and Facebook during their series A round.
As we continue to evolve, join us in our culture of dynamic entrepreneurship, of an iterative learning process, and of success.
With a vision of excellence,
Dany O Kitishian (chair), John Yamauchi, Tom Cohen, Rajesh Grover, Remi Raphael
The Executive Committee of the Entrepreneur Challenge
Sponsor and Visionary Community Members Highlights
Thank you to all sponsors over the years. We would like to highlight the main ones who remained through thick and thin. These include and are not limited to Michael Lutz, Mary Ann Beyster, Dr. Irwin Jacobs, Leo Spiegel, Dean Seible, Dean Sullivan, Barbara Bry, Neil Senturia, Randy Socal.