CSULB Engineering Students Build Electric Motocross Bike to Win ‘Innovation Challenge’

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Electric Motocross Bike Created by CSULB Students Wins 2011 Innovation Challenge

In the shadow of the engineering building at Cal State Long Beach, senior mechanical engineering majors Dan Southard (left) and David Pearce show off their electric motocross bike, which took top honors in the university's 2011 Innovation Challenge. --Photo by David J. Nelson/CSULB

An electric motocross bike unique to the United States and developed by a team of students at Cal State Long Beach (CSULB) has won the campus’ 2011 Innovation Challenge, which comes with it a package of business services and $10,000 of seed funding to further develop the product and create a business plan to help the students get their venture started.

The team of seniors David Pearce, Rogelio Rosas, and Dan Southard beat out about a dozen other teams with their Electric Motocross Bicycle (EMXB) and now has the chance to create its own company, and the opportunity comes just as all three will be graduating in May with their mechanical engineering degrees.

Sponsored by the university’s College of Engineering and College of Business Administration, the Innovation Challenge gives CSULB students an opportunity to put their entrepreneurial spirit in action.

“We are ecstatic about winning the CSULB Innovation Challenge. It certainly makes all of the hard work worthwhile. We want to build a successful business around our product, and the Innovation Challenge is the perfect opportunity to make this vision a reality,” said Pearce. “The application of classroom theory to the design and construction of a real product was a great way to showcase what we learned here at Cal State Long Beach. After finding out we were in the finals, the last few weeks were a little unnerving, but we remained confident in knowing our product has great potential.”

Competing against innovative ideas from more than a dozen teams totaling 80 students, the threesome created the Electric Motocross Bicycle (EMXB), a high-performance electric mountain bike. The EMXB is a hybrid between a mountain bike and a dirt bike — lightweight, nimble and practical like a mountain bike, while having power to go up the hills and heavy-duty suspension to go fast over any terrain like a dirt bike. The unique design takes after a motocross style dirt bike with its relatively comfortable seat and seating position and aggressive, functional styling.

The EMXB can be ridden like a bicycle or a motorcycle, or anything combination in between, making it a very versatile, practical and fun vehicle for recreation or transportation. It is also silent, emissions free and efficient, costing a fraction of a penny in electricity per mile.

“With winning the CSULB Innovation Challenge, we have the opportunity to share the experience of an Electric Motocross Bicycle with the public,” Pearce pointed out. “We hope that we can inspire others to take their projects beyond the classroom and to the next level.”

Innovation Challenge participants submitted their business plans in February, and the four team finalists were chosen in March. The finalists then continued to develop their products and business plans in preparation for a presentation to a judging committee made up of real-world investors and entrepreneurs representing various industries.

Barbara Barcon, retired vice president and CEO of Pacific Gas and Electric Company, MBA graduate of the CSULB College of Business Administration, and member of the campus’ College of Engineering Advisory Council, served as a key facilitator for the competition.

“Seeing the fresh ideas and enthusiasm from the students and recognizing the need for this competition in the university was a great experience and one I hope to see sustained for many years to come,” said Barcon. “What a great way to support the practical education for all of them. The students all commented consistently on how much they learned and how much they appreciated the professional and academic advice and the chance to see how a business really gets started.”

“It is so exciting to see these company ideas and then see them become real companies. To know that the possibility exists that a major new company could come from this competition is worth the effort,” she added. “It is certainly the educational experience for the students with the added bonus of creating an innovative new company out of the university. It doesn’t get much better than that.”

What makes the challenge more interesting and practical is the partnership between the College of Engineering and College of Business Administration. In most cases engineering students focused on the creation and design of the product while teammates who are business students focused on the financing and marketing of the product. Michael Solt, dean of the College of Business Administration, and Forouzan Golshani, dean of the College of Engineering, have both initiated similar efforts in other universities.

“I have been on the CSULB Engineering Advisory Council for some time. We talk on a regular basis on how to strengthen the programs we have for the students. It was determined that offering innovative students a chance to do their own thing would be a worthwhile project,” said Mike Baghramian, president of Bager Electronics, competition committee chair and a judge. “On a personal basis I have always believed that from a student body of the size that the College of Engineering has there would be some number of very good ideas that would merit moving them further into a business. The fact is that much of the new technology innovation that has taken place in the U.S. has come from the universities in this country.”

Since the fall information sessions on various topics including legal issues regarding patents have been held to help prepare students interested in participating. As part of the learning process, those teams not selected have the opportunity to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of their plans and hear suggestions for possible next steps. In addition to the other benefits, organizers say that it is a great opportunity for students to develop business, leadership and analytical skills and make connections with others who have similar interests.

Among companies and company representatives involved in the Innovation Challenge are Bager Electronics, Pacific Gas and Electric Company and Boeing Defense Space and Security. Other sponsors include The Curran Family, the Dean’s Advisory Council of the College of Engineering, the CSULB Provost’s Office, Bager of Southern California, Lerder and Associates Investment Council and the Schulten Group.

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