ZOTPODS Mental health Innovation Challnege team posing with Juan Odombrown (far left), Metta World Peace (second left), and Ryan Foland (far right)

We are excited to announce that the UCI ANTrepreneur Center was named a 2023 CASE Circle of Excellence winner for their event, Hacking Student Success: Mental Health Innovation Challenge (Mental Health Challenge). The Center received a Bronze Award in the “Special Events: In-Person, Multi-Day Event” category.

About the Award

CASE (Council for Advancement and Support of Education) is a global nonprofit association that champions education to transform lives and society. CASE strives to advance higher education by inspiring professionals to support the success of their institutions in new and innovative ways.

CASE presents several awards throughout the year to celebrate the individuals, organizations, and initiatives that demonstrate excellence in education advancement. CASE’s annual Circle of Excellence Awards showcase outstanding work in educational advancement and recognize exceptional achievement across a wide variety of categories, including alumni relations, publications, communications, fundraising, marketing, and events. 

“The Circle of Excellence Awards showcase the impact advancement professionals have upon their institutions and communities around the globe every day,” says CASE President and CEO Sue Cunningham. “Our 2023 honorees—from diverse institutions and teams of all sizes—are bold, creative, and resourceful. They demonstrate how powerful it is when advancement teams champion teaching, learning, research, and the progress that education ignites.”

In 2023, teams from 583 institutions in 22 countries entered the awards. Out of a staggering 4,021 entries, 521 entries across 96 categories were selected for bronze, silver, gold, or Grand Gold recognition. The UCI ANTrepreneur Center Mental Health Challenge received a Bronze Award in the category “Special Events: In-Person, Multi-Day Event.” Entries in this category were evaluated on the following criteria:

  • Overall concept and creativity
  • Ability to serve as a model for other institutions 
  • Audience experience 
  • Impact and results 
  • Use of resources (budget, people, and time) and return on investment
  • Planning and execution 
  • Quality and clarity of nomination and supporting materials 
  • Special circumstances/overcoming adversity

About the UCI ANTrepreneur Center’s Mental Health Challenge

In May 2022, the UCI ANTrepreneur Center kicked off the multi-part Mental Health Challenge. This event invited student teams to develop original product ideas on the theme of student success and mental health. Over the course of the challenge, 125 students came together to form 27 teams. Together, teams participated in a series of workshops and a semi-finals pitch competition to select the five teams that would compete for the grand prize of $20,000. 

Each of the 27 teams received $1,000 for their time and commitment, and the five teams chosen to advance were awarded an additional $5,000 to fund the continued development of their ideas. Over Summer 2022, the finalist teams worked with UCI’s Summer Undergraduate Research Program to bring their ideas to life. Paired with faculty advisors, the teams worked to create minimum viable products to showcase at the final pitch event in December 2022. At this final event, the teams delivered five-minute pitches to a judging panel and a crowd of over 100. The winning idea was ZOTPODS, sleeping pods for UCI students. The team is currently using the $20,000 grand prize to create prototypes and begin testing with UCI students.

One distinctive aspect of this event was its ability to combine entrepreneurship and mental health. With this event taking place shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic amidst a climate of political unrest and social upheavals, many students were facing unprecedented challenges. The Mental Health Challenge encouraged students to openly acknowledge these difficulties and apply their innovative thinking to develop actionable solutions. Ultimately, the goal was to show students that they had the ability to use their creativity and unique strengths to make a tangible, positive impact on others. To emphasize the importance of student mental health, the ANTrepreneur Center invited mental health experts to present at events and encourage students to consider mental health concerns relevant to their own lives when developing product ideas. This sparked candid conversations about mental health issues and positive ways to address them. 

The Mental Health Challenge was also unique in the amount of funding it offered participants. As mentioned, all student teams received $1,000 for participating in the competition and the chance to win an additional $5,000 and the grand prize of $2,000. With funding so often the difference between entrepreneurial success and failure, the availability of funding through this event encouraged students to explore entrepreneurship and to consider it as a viable career option.

Finally, the array of exciting partners, sponsors, and guest speakers that participated in the event made it truly exceptional. Event partners included 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. The event also featured Metta World Peace—NBA Champion, mental health advocate, and entrepreneur—as the keynote speaker. In total, the event drew support from 13 partners and sponsors and served as a fantastic example of collaboration and mutual benefit.

Award Recognition and Response

In their feedback, the CASE judging panel explained that the Mental Health Challenge received a Bronze Award due to its unique implementation, student-focused goals, and impact both on and off campus:

“The panel has seen competition-style entries before but felt this was unique for its impact on the institution itself and its student body, in addition to grand societal challenges. The implementation on campus was a differentiator from other programs where grand solutions can feel disconnected from the current student experience. The judges also liked the partnership with sponsors to show the importance of and support for this work beyond the university.”

Upon receiving the award, Ryan Foland, Director of the UCI ANTrepreneur Center, shared his excitement:

“I am thrilled to see our Mental Health Challenge included as part of this year’s Circle of Excellence Awards. We are honored to be recognized alongside some of the top institutions across the globe. Moving forward, we are excited to continue the theme of entrepreneurship as a means of addressing the most pressing issues facing society today. With the Mental Health Challenge, we set a replicable model that we plan to follow with our future events. At the end of the day, we want to show students that they can use their strengths and innovative thinking to create products and services that have the power to change the world. While this seems like an overly ambitious statement, events like our Mental Health Challenge demonstrate that this is possible and that UCI students are already accomplishing this goal.”

Visit the UCI ANTrepreneur Center website for additional information on the Mental Health Challenge and the Center’s other events and services. Visit the CASE website to view the full UCI ANTrepreneur Center Mental Health Innovation Challenge award submission and explore the 2023 CASE CIrcle of Excellence Awards winners’ gallery.