Wednesday, October 26, 2016

UC San Diego Alum goes from von Liebig to Tech Coast Angels

Winston Chen, Ph.D, pitching his project VOR at the Tech Coast Angels competition.
When Winston Chen, Ph.D, was told to apply for the highly competitive Tech Coast Angels (TCA) Quick Pitch competition, he didn’t know what to expect. By the end of it, he certainly did not expect to win fifth place out of an applicant pool of 60. 

Winston’s journey towards the TCA competition was a bit unexpected. After participating in a pitch competition presented by the Von Liebig Entrepreneurism Center (VLC) and BMES, he was referred directly to Larry Morgan, Executive in Residence (EIR) of the VLC. Larry insisted that he could skip past the I-Corps program and immediately become his mentee through the VLC Accelerator program. After seeing how gifted and hard working Winston was, Larry encouraged him to apply to this year’s TCA Quick Pitch competition with his startup project, VOR. Winston’s great love for food pushed him to develop VOR, and he is in the process of developing a platform that rapidly detects illness-causing bacteria in food. 

Tech Coast Angels (TCA) Quick Pitch, Winston learned, was the perfect opportunity to help him hone his business skills. In a competition as fast-paced and competitive as this, Winston quickly learned how to present successfully -- all in under two minutes. 

“It was really challenging putting everything together in just a couple of minutes to make a compelling story to the target audience,” recalled Winston. Despite its challenges, Winston was thrilled to be participating in such a unique opportunity. “When I heard about it, I did some research and found that TCA is very competitive. It gives startups great exposure, and brings them valuable networking opportunities.” 

TCA Quick Pitch is a widely-recognized angel investor event, and is one of the biggest in the nation. Its challenge comes from the fact that competing entrepreneurs have only 2 minutes to pitch their startup ideas to an expert panel of carefully chosen and experienced judges, who are investors, execs and community leaders and professionals. The 10 finalists receive coaching, and winners are awarded with cash and business services. 

This year’s competition was especially unique in that audience members now had the opportunity to choose the winners. For Winston, he won fifth place not only because the judges liked his presentation, but also because the audience members believed in him and VOR.

Still incredibly humble despite his success, he believes he cannot yet give advice to anyone looking to tackle the challenges of a startup. Yet, he believes passion is what drove him so far.

“Passion is really important,” he said. “VOR’s other founder, Tsung-Feng Wu, is as much a food lover as I am. We realized that our deep domain expertise could make safety testing faster and easier for our favorite foods. If we weren’t passionate we would not have made it. So passion is what drove the energy in us to succeed.”

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