Scripps Students Win Start-Up Funds for Innovative Environmental Solutions in Cross-Campus Competition

From algal farming microbusinesses to synthetic-free pharmaceuticals, student innovators at the University of California San Diego’s 8th Annual Triton Innovation Challenge cast a wide net on solutions to global problems.

These ideas and more were in the running for the Triton Innovation Challenge, a business competition that fosters creativity and uncovers commercially promising, environmentally focused technologies from the finest minds at UC San Diego. Generous support from the William and Kathryn Scripps Family Foundation Inc. supported four prize categories and Wells Fargo, an audience choice award. 

All participants are eligible to apply for $300,000 in investment funding from the Rady Venture Fund and Triton Technology Fund. And this year, each finalist received 10 hours of donated consulting time from Braid Theory, a team of technology leaders that support companies in growing industries. 

The challenge is open to students, staff and faculty from across UC San Diego. A panel of five judges with experience in veteran-owned businesses, venture capital industries, sustainable technology and even the popular Dr. Bronner’s soap brand graded each live pitch based on product viability, market strategy, and a clear tie to the environment. This year for the first time, all applicants to the Challenge were invited to display a poster at the event’s reception. The audience voted digitally for best poster and best pitch presentation as well.

This year, Scripps Institution of Oceanography dominated the field representing four of the five final teams all competing for $13,500 worth in seed money to jump-start their business venture. The final teams were selected after two rounds of pre-screening for a chance to make their final pitch before a live audience of over 200 people. Scripps startups spent four weeks in a boot camp prior to the semifinals. They were matched with external business mentors to develop their pitch, interview customers, and build their business model.

Daren Huan Shen Tan, a PhD candidate at the Jacobs School of Engineering, took home both the grand prize of $7,000 and the $2,000 audience choice award for his presentation of sodium-based battery storage. The technology could serve as a cheaper alternative to lithium-ion batteries, widely used to power electric vehicles and increasingly used to prop-up electric grids worldwide.

Hope Metabolics, a venture presented by Scripps Oceanography doctoral candidate Kate Bauman and Peter Jordan, a former UC San Diego postdoc from Bradley Moore’s lab, won the second place prize of $3,500. They proposed a method of engineering medicines from natural bacteria found in the human gut. This concept is under development in the Moore Lab at Scripps Oceanography’s Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine.

Scripps’ Center for Environmental Imaging (CEI) took home $1,000 for their poster presented before the award ceremony. The idea was presented by CEI’s Clinton Edwards, a PhD candidate, and Nicole Pederson, a staff researcher, in the Scripps lab of Stuart Sandin in collaboration with the 100 Island Challenge. CEI’s teammates told the judges their center hopes to provide 3D image-based modeling of underwater environments to clients as a software consulting services firm. 

Other featured Scripps finalists impressed the judges with their pitches. One called mantaz proposed a wrap-around business propping up the health of coral reefs by generating microbusiness in algal biomass cultivation. Scripps Oceanography representatives Daniel Wangpraseurt, a postdoc in the Marine Biology Research Division, explained his company could provide training to local fisherman in the Carribean. The business would help draw-down excess nutrient pollution which could be resold as algae biofertilizer in the U.S., in turn propping-up fishermen’s wages. 

And Chris L’Esperance, a chemical oceanography research affiliate with UC San Diego, proposed manufacturing and selling sensors that measure volatile organic compounds to aquaculture farms. A digital app would read the health of the water where fish are grown in close quarters, helping to prevent the spread of disease. 

This year, the Triton Challenge received 245 attendees and 27 total team applications. Students from all positions in academic life from undergraduate through postdoctoral participated. 

For more information on innovation, commercialization, and corporate collaborations at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, visit

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