May 23, 2013 – Union Tribune

UCSD's Geisel Library

UCSD’s Geisel Library — K.C. Alfred

Need to plug in at an outdoor cafe?

A team of mechanical engineering students may be able to help you out eventually.

A trio who designed a solar umbrella that can provide electrical outlets at outdoor cafes won the grand prize at UC San Diego’s Zahn Prize Competition last week.

The team, made up of seniors Sara Taghizadeh, Austin Steussy and Faizan Masood, won the $6,000 prize to help bring their product to market.

They came up with their idea in a product design class after seeing outdoor spaces at coffee shops empty while indoor seating was crowded because there was no way to power mobile devices at patio tables.

The team has a prototype that it is preparing to test at the Price Center on the La Jolla campus.

“It’s amazing how it started as a class project, but now we’re actually thinking of starting up our own company,” Taghizadeh said in a statement.

Ten undergraduate student teams competed in the competition at the Moxie Center for Undergraduate Entrepreneurship, which opened at the Jacobs School of Engineering in January with a gift from Irwin Zahn and his family through their Moxie Foundation.

The second place winner was Uzair Mohammad, a freshman engineering major, who won $3,000 for his method of growing a biological filter for drinking water purification.

Kevin Liang and Eric Suen won third prize and $1,000 for their aquaponics business model. Liang and Suen invented a filter for aquariums that recycles fish waste to fertilize plants. Liang is a third-year biology major and Suen is a sophomore studying economics.

“The Moxie Center provides an opportunity that most of us could only dream about when we were back in school,” Jay Kunin, the center’s director, said in a statement.

“We believe that all students participating in our incubator will enhance their technical education by gaining experience understanding why products are built, who will benefit and who will pay, the keys to successful innovation.”

Through his charitable foundations, Zahn and his son, Peter, have funded similar incubators at City College, City University of New York and at San Diego State University. The incubators are places where students and faculty can nurture and hatch their fledgling business ideas into revenue-generating endeavors.

Zahn founded General Staple Company in 1954 in New York City, which created bottom stops for zippers, and later grew it into a global electronic interconnect company named Autosplice, Inc. He lives in San Diego and had relocated his business here before it was acquired.

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