June 23, 2021 • By Sydney Charles
On May 27, Shaka won the 2021 New Venture Competition (NVC), taking home a total of $17,500 for their innovative culture-building app that boosts employee engagement, builds community and hosts engaging challenges to help bolster a company’s success.
Shaka strives to make work environments more enjoyable and fulfilling for employees; this mission is even integrated into the company’s name. According to the company’s official website, the name was inspired by the shaka hand gesture representing friendship, understanding, compassion, solidarity—and for residents of Hawaii where the symbol originated—the “aloha spirit.”
According to Melanie Wertzberger MIE ’22, co-founder of Shaka, she got the idea for the company in 2019.
“I was at work one day and I had gone to the cafeteria for lunch, and it was one of those moments where you’re looking for a familiar face to sit with and I didn’t see anyone,” she said. “I ended up eating my lunch at my desk alone wondering ‘why did that just happen to me.’ That’s when I had the idea for a platform that could help introduce me to people outside of my normal team in the office.”
In April 2019, co-founder Austin Chauncey committed to Shaka and spent the next five months creating and building the technology for the app. Once Wertzberger enrolled in the MIE program, she met like-minded individuals Agustine Pimentel MIE ’22 and Preston Le MIE ’21.
“Austin and I met in my undergraduate studies and I knew that he was a skilled developer,” she explained. “I met my two other teammates through the Master of Innovation and Entrepreneurship program.”
Shaka’s three tiers of focus are community, challenges and connections. The app builds connections by automatically pairing employees for short networking sessions to connect within their companies. Shaka also boosts engagement and teamwork through wellness initiatives, food drives, photo contests and more. The last aspect Shaka focuses on is building community through a centralized home page for employee professional organizations, leadership groups, volunteer committees or sports leagues. Currently, the Shaka platform integrates with Microsoft Outlook and Google Calendar.
Wertzberger said: “I am confident that winning NVC will open new doors for Shaka. We have gained awesome mentors, developed the ability to pitch to any audience and have a community at UCI rooting for our success. The grand prize will accelerate our ability to scale and help bring Shaka to more workplaces. I am very proud of my team.”
The New Venture Competition is presented by the Beall Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at The Paul Merage School of Business and represents a five-month journey open to all UCI students, staff members and researchers as well as community members. Participants attend a variety of workshops and mixers to transform and perfect their business projects.
The competition consisted of three rounds. For round one, contestants submitted a three-page concept paper and a 60-second video pitch. In round two, the semi-finalists chosen from round one prepared a business pitch and presented it to a panel of judges. For the third and final round, the remaining teams competed in a live, virtual Shark Tank style quick pitch. All participants in the grand finale went home with a cash prize.
Our judge panelists included Gina Heitkamp, Pam Moellenhoff, Ken Neeld, Carrie Reynolds and Hicham Semaan – all distinguished investors and entrepreneurs.
The categories for this year were the following: social enterprise, life sciences, business products and services, consumer services and consumer products.
Circular took home first place prize in the social enterprise category for its eco-friendly service that picks up food waste, composts it, uses that compost to fertilize a vertical farm growing organic produce, and then distributes the produce to partner restaurants. Tooke Fabrics came in second place for the idea of creating a company that consciously produces fabric, contributes to climate action and creates jobs for widows who are financially marginalized.
The first-place prize was awarded to StyloSonic, a handpiece that provides key periodontal metrics to accurately diagnose gingivitis in the early stage and reduce the rate of advanced periodontitis. HydroVasc, a platform injectable hydrogel that has the capability to regenerate tissue and organs, took home second place for its innovative design.
Business Products and Services
Shaka also took home first place in this category, and Health Libro, a dual-sided marketplace focused on redefining price transparency in healthcare for patients, won second place.
This category had the only tie of the competition. One half of the $5,000 prize was awarded to MoodCloud, an AI lifestyle and health management app that helps users improve their long-term health. The resumé management system Remsys tied for first place with a system designed for college students to alleviate the hassle of managing multiple resumes when applying to multiple jobs.
Moni employed the use of an adorable dog to win first place prize for their NFC activated pet tag and community-based app to monitor pet health and safety. Second place prize went to Hydroflow, a smart water bottle cap that tracks water intake and monitors hydration levels.
Moni also won the audience favorite and took home an additional $1,000.
“The hard work of these teams, their openness to coaching and feedback and their innovative ideas truly speak to the amazing depth and breadth of talent that is found among UCI students,” said Breanna Hale, associate directorof the Beall Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.