In May 2022, the UCI ANTrepreneur Center kicked off the multi-part Hacking Student Success: Mental Health Innovation Challenge (Mental Health Hackathon). This event invited student teams to develop original product ideas around the theme of student success and mental health. Over 125 student participants formed 27 teams, attended three workshops, and pitched their ideas at the semifinals. Five finalist teams emerged from this showdown, with each receiving an additional $5,000 of funding to continue developing their products over Summer and Fall Quarter 2022. 

In December 2022, the ANTrepreneur Center hosted the final Mental Health Hackathon event. Held at UCI Beall Applied Innovation, the finals drew a crowd of over 100 students, community members, and ANTrepreneur Center sponsors and partners. The five teams each presented their refined ideas and product prototypes for the chance to win the $20,000 grand prize and test their product across UCI’s campus. After intense deliberation, the panel of judges declared ZotPods the winning team.

Judging Panel and Criteria

The judging panel for the Mental Health Hackathon Finals consisted of esteemed mental health experts, entrepreneurs, tech investors, and more:

  • Frances Diaz, Psy.D., Director of the UCI Counseling Center
  • Mia Fujii, Director of Academic Enablement at Siemens
  • Cynthia McKee, Ph.D., BioTech Venture Capitalist
  • Nancy Hur, UCI Board of Directors
  • Marcia Riner, Business Growth Strategist
  • Armen Arevian, M.D., Entrepreneur and Psychiatrist
  • Marshall Moncrief, CEO of Be Well OC
  • Luis Morales, SVP of Corporate Development for Merlin Acquisitions Corp.
  • Kevin Soltani, Investor for Blockchain x Gaming

The judges were asked to evaluate each team on the following criteria:

  • Problem: Did the speaker explain the importance of solving a problem related to student mental health?
  • Solution: Did the speaker present the solution clearly and in a compelling way?
  • Market: Did the speaker have a clear understanding of the target market?
  • Organization: Did the presentation follow a clear and logical sequence?
  • Delivery: Did the speaker demonstrate strong stage presence, eye contact, and vocal range?

Each item on the rubric was graded on a scale of 1 to 5, and the total score determined the winning team. While the judges emphasized how close the competition was, the ZotPods team was declared the winner thanks to their lively energy and the fact that they were able to present a functional prototype during their pitch. 

About the Winning Team

The ZotPods team delivers their pitch at the Mental Health Hackathon finals.

The ZotPods team consists of Stephanie Kirk, Nico Allemann, Sydney Schapansky, Luke Wells, Jennifer Wang, and Troy Outwater. Looking to address the negative health effects caused by sleep deprivation, the team’s idea was to create sleeping pods that could be installed throughout campus and reserved by students through a mobile application. Named ZotPods, these solar-powered pods would offer students a safe and secure location to catch up on sleep or simply have a quiet place to unwind.

During their pitch, the team presented a working prototype of their sleeping pod and gave a live demonstration of the pod’s operation. Though the mobile application is still in development and was not included in the pitch, the audience and judging panel were excited to see the team’s vision for what ZotPods could become. 

“Pitching for the final prize was what I can only imagine Shark Tank is like,” said team member Luke Wells (third-year biomedical engineering major). “It was the real deal, because we were all so passionate about our blossoming startups.”

To commemorate their win, the team was awarded $20,000 to fund the advancement and deployment of ZotPods across campus. With this massive influx of capital at their disposal, the team has big plans for ZotPods. “We hope to utilize all these invaluable contributions to bridge the gap between ourselves as striving university students and our professional careers, ” said Nico Allemann, (third-year biomedical engineering major). Stephanie Kirk (third-year biomedical engineering major) added:

“Moving forward, we plan to make an even better pod design with more features and an app connected to it. We hope to have the new design by the end of the school year and use summer to manufacture and get them on campus. The passion and fire are still there, and we are extremely excited for our future.” 

In addition to the grand prize, the ZotPods team will also have access to important resources and support through the ANTrepreneur Center to continue the development of their sleeping pods. For instance, the team will be able to sign up for startup coaching with the ANTrepreneur Center’s professional Venture Consultants, attend Legal Office Hours for free legal support, attend networking events to meet and connect with important business contacts, and much more. 

Opportunities for the Other Finalist Teams

To recognize the hard work and commitment that the other finalist teams demonstrated throughout the hackathon, the ANTrepreneur Center arranged a special demo day to show its support. At this private event, the teams had the opportunity to deliver their product pitches to a respected group of investors and mental health experts. Each pitch was followed by a Q&A session with the audience and a discussion of what each team should work on to further their development. 

In addition to this special demo day, the other finalist teams will also have access to the ANTrepreneur Center’s full suite of support resources and programming. The ANTrepreneur Center is also working with OOTify, a digital mental health solution, to develop a platform that students can use to learn more about mental health startups at UCI. Through this app, students will be able to get involved with existing student-led startups, like the ones featured at the Mental Health Hackathon, or even launch their own. More information on this app will be released in the near future, so stay tuned for updates.

Reflecting on the Mental Health Hackathon

When the Mental Health Hackathon launched back in May, the ANTrepreneur Center had two main goals. First, they wanted to shine a spotlight on student mental wellness and spark candid conversations about the mental health challenges that many students face. Second, they wanted to encourage UCI students to explore entrepreneurship and recognize that they could use their unique strengths and skill sets to positively impact the lives of others.

Throughout the eight months of the Mental Health Hackathon, many partners joined the ANTrepreneur Center in support of these goals. From mental health professionals to campus leaders to successful entrepreneurs to internationally recognized corporations, the Mental Health Hackathon was considered a success on all fronts. 

“The Mental Health Hackathon was a crucial step in bringing attention to the pressing issue of student mental health at colleges,” said Dr. Frances Diaz, Director of the UCI Counseling Center. “By publicly supporting and addressing mental health, we are taking a comprehensive approach to ensuring the well-being of our students. The UCI Counseling Center is proud to have been a part of this important event.”

Similarly, Metta World Peace, NBA Champion, Chief Impact Officer for OOTify, and mental health advocate, also expressed his pride in the hackathon and its mission to support mental health:

“It was an honor to be a keynote speaker at the Mental Health Hackathon and to partner with the ANTrepreneur Center. Mental health is a cause close to my heart, and it aligns with the mission of my mental health company, OOTify. I am thrilled to continue supporting and partnering with UCI to drive student mental health initiatives and innovations. Together, we can make a positive impact on the well-being of our future leaders.”

Hackathon sponsor and finals keynote speaker Ravi Sharma, Board Director and Co-founder of OOTify, added:

“I am both proud and honored to have sponsored this incredible mental health hackathon event series. I believe this generation will solve the mental health crisis, and it was truly special to share my mental health story and journey with the incredible students who attended. I hope that by sharing our own experiences, we can inspire others to take solutions into their own hands and create positive change. I am excited to see so many diverse solutions being developed by these students, who are tackling such a challenging problem with creativity, innovation, and empathy. I have no doubt that their passion and dedication will lead to a brighter, more hopeful future for mental health.”

In regards to the goal of supporting entrepreneurship, Ryan Foland, Director of the ANTrepreneur Center, said, “It was exciting to see students take an active role in finding solutions to the problems they face and using entrepreneurship as a tool for positive impact.” He added, “Giving students the opportunity to pitch their ideas in front of an audience and receive feedback from experts was a valuable experience that enabled students to practice real-life skills that will translate to experience and growth.” 

Finally, Tom Andriola, Vice Chancellor for Data and Information Technology and UCI Chief Digital Officer, who served as an event sponsor and judge for the hackathon semi-finals, celebrated the teams:

“Congratulations to ZotPods and all the student teams who participated in the hackathon. Your innovative spirit and commitment to making a difference in the lives of others is something to be recognized and celebrated. Being a part of the mental health hackathon was a truly enriching experience, and I was impressed by the diversity of the student teams—consisting of individuals from various majors and backgrounds—which led to dynamic and innovative solutions. I am proud to have our office be a resource for these talented individuals, and I look forward to our continued collaboration with the ANTrepreneur Center to support student success.” 

Thank You to Event Partners and Sponsors

Hacking Student Success was made possible by sponsorship from the UCI Office of Data and Information Technology, UCI Wellness, Health, & Counseling Services, UCI Graduate Division, UCI Division of Undergraduate Education, Blackstone LaunchPad, Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute, UCI Beall Applied Innovation, Sigma Computing, OOTify, XvsX Sports, UC Davis + AWS Cloud Innovation Center, AWS, and SmartWell.

Introducing Hacking Student Success: Sustainability Challenge

Following the resounding success of the Mental Health Hackathon, the ANTrepreneur Center will launch a new multi-part hackathon during Spring Quarter 2023. Kicking off on Thursday, April 13, 2023, the Hacking Student Success: Sustainability Challenge will invite student teams to develop sustainable solutions to some of the most pressing environmental issues our planet faces today. Each team will develop a solution to address an issue that falls within one of the following categories: energy, water, air, livable spaces, and food/waste.

With over $65,000 in prizes and funding available, this is a can’t-miss opportunity for UCI students of all majors and experience levels. Students can RSVP for the kickoff event on the ANTrepreneur Center’s CampusGroups page

For More Information

To learn more about the Mental Health Hackathon, watch the video replay of the semi-finals or  the video replay of the finals. You can also read this article recapping the semi-final event and this article highlighting the finalist teams. Finally, you can also check out the ZotPods prototype displayed in the ANTrepreneur Center’s outdoor courtyard.

To learn more about the ANTrepreneur Center and its programs and services, visit the website here. Finally, for more information about the upcoming Hacking Student Success: Sustainability Challenge, visit the webpage here.

As always, to keep up with the latest news, updates, and events from the ANTrepreneur Center, follow them on Instagram and CampusGroups.