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‘Deck the Palms’ Wins Top Prize at USD’s Fowler Business Concept Challenge

MBA student Jorge Muñiz won a grand prize scholarship of $15,000 at the University of San Diego’s Fowler Business Concept Challenge (FBCC) earlier this month (Dec. 2).

The FBCC is an annual event hosted by USD’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Catalyzer, which ignites new ideas from entrepreneurial students at USD.

This year, 16 semifinalists were selected to pitch their ideas for a chance to win scholarship prizes. The semifinalists were chosen from 26 submissions submitted by students who participated in workshops throughout the semester to refine their business ideas and hone their pitching skills.

Behind the scenes, the teams presented their business idea to Ron Fowler, chair emeritus of the University of San Diego’s Board of Trustees and CEO and chairman of Liquid Investments; along with Mike Fasulo, former president, COO and CMO of Sony; Dan Moshavi, Dean of the Fowler College of Business at San Diego State University; and Caroline Winn, CEO of San Diego Gas & Electric.

Jorge Muñiz’s winning pitch, Deck the Palms, featured a robotic device that keeps Christmas decorators safe from tall, unstable ladders — a major cause of hospital visits during the holidays — by climbing palm trees and then descending down to hang Christmas lights.

“I am so proud to have had the opportunity to work on this project for the past year with my son,” said Muñiz. “For 20 years, I’ve climbed palm trees to hang Christmas lights. But last year, my son said, ‘Dad, there’s gotta be a better way.’ His creativity is the reason I entered this competition.”

Muñiz is currently putting the finishing touches on the prototype of his device, which he 3-D printed from home.

A $7,500 scholarship was awarded to Embrace the Red, pitched by Kroc School of Peace Studies graduate student Aakriti Adhikari. Her idea aims to make eco-friendly sanitary pads more accessible to school-age children in Nepal. Embrace the Red also won the evening’s People’s Choice Award voted on by the audience.

A $5,000 scholarship was awarded to Honorebel Walker, an undergraduate student in the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering, for his collaboration platform idea, SpaceTime, and Eddie Williams, a student in the USD School of Law, was awarded $3,500 for his environmentally minded fitness platform, Ecofit.

An additional $12,000 in scholarships was awarded to the 12 semifinalists who did not advance to the finals.

“By all accounts, this event was a great success. The judges praised the preparation of the students and the quality of their presentations. And most importantly to me, each of our competitors had their moment in the spotlight and told me that the competition was a very rewarding experience,” said Helder Sebastião, faculty director of USD’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Catalyzer.

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