A gold medal.

ASU students win $70,000 for innovative solutions

The New Venture Challenge assists entrepreneurs in growing their businesses.

Molly Loonam

Between 12 and 16 years old, Sam Bregman (BS Business Data Analytics '26) began to feel dizzy. After experiencing a concussion that triggered a months-long rapid deterioration in his health, doctors were still unsure of his symptoms' cause.

"Every day was a living hell," says Bregman, who was bedridden and nearly died. "But it ended up being the best thing to ever happen to me."

After years of battling symptoms, Bregman was diagnosed with postural tachycardia syndrome (PoTS) in 2021. PoTS impacts low blood volume, resulting in rapid heartbeats, lightheadedness, and fainting. People with PoTS are encouraged to incorporate a high-sodium diet, stay hydrated, implement a consistent sleep and exercise routine, and meditate to manage stress and regulate their nervous systems.

Bregman entered a life-changing, intensive outpatient PoTS program that helped him learn to manage his symptoms following his diagnosis. He began to improve on a sodium-rich diet — which increases blood volume in PoTS patients — but worried how added processed foods might affect his health in other ways. Additionally, many of the recommended high-sodium foods didn't taste good.

"I knew there had to be a better way. How could I eat natural foods while having an electrolyte-rich diet, more specifically sodium?" he asked.

Bregman graduated from the outpatient program and began looking for solutions to increase his sodium intake in healthier and more appealing ways. But after weeks of searching, he couldn't find a salt-rich food or beverage item that didn't come with added sugars or colored dyes like sports drinks.

"I concluded that the solution I and others needed didn't exist," says Bregman. "So I decided to build it."

New Venture Challenge
Following years of testing, Bregman created Melts, an electrolyte-rich strip resembling a Listerine breath strip that dissolves into the mouth's membrane and directly into the consumer's bloodstream. This spring, he was accepted into W. P. Carey's New Venture Challenge — an annual, application-based eight-week course that aims to empower student entrepreneurs to grow successful businesses and culminates in a competition for an investment in their business — and won $50,000 to continue developing his product. Now in its seventh year, the challenge was created by entrepreneur and visiting scholar and researcher Scott Wald (BS Management '76, MBA '79) and is run by the Center for Entrepreneurship and New Business Design.

"Entrepreneurship is an exceptionally dynamic experience for anyone interested, and aside from the traditional challenges of an entrepreneurial journey, students have several additional constraints that they must traverse to launch new businesses successfully," says Jared Byrne, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and New Business Design. "Programs like the New Venture Challenge and its associated mentorship and investment opportunities are essential to supporting these unique student journeys from idea through launch."

Bregman says Melts has the potential to help PoTS patients and athletes, military groups, pregnant mothers, cancer patients, older adults, and people who work outdoors, like construction workers and delivery drivers. The strips are lightweight, easy to ship, and don't melt in the heat. Melts are not only a sodium-rich alternative to a sugary sports drink, but beverages like Gatorade can take up to 15 minutes to enter the bloodstream. Melts take around one minute to produce impact.

Bregman, who describes the New Venture Challenge as "one of a kind" and attributes Melts' success to the help of Wald and Byrne, applied for the challenge after his brother Max Bregman (BS Business Data Analytics '24) — the CEO and co-founder of BreatheEV, an electric vehicle charging solutions company — competed last spring. BreatheEV has won several awards, including this year's ASU Innovation Open and the Crowd Favorite Pitch at ASU's 2022 Open Pitch Week.

"The caliber of assistance available in this program is what student founders need," says Bregman. "The New Venture Challenge accelerated Melts' growth, and my gratitude goes beyond words. If you're a student founder thinking about applying, do it. It might just be one of the best decisions you make for your company."

Supporting student entrepreneurs
In addition to Bregman, two other student entrepreneurs were honored with awards for their ventures during this year's challenge. Deven Meyers (BA Business Health Care '24) won $15,000 for her venture TimeTogether, a workflow management software she created to help increase efficiency within the Department of Child Safety (DCS). Meyers worked as a DCS case aide for several years, supervising interactions between children in foster care and their biological parents.

"Case aide agencies still use paper systems, which leads to inefficient and disorganized visitation schedules and increases the time children are in the system," she says. "TimeTogether has the potential to increase administrative efficiency by over 30%."

Meyers, who was commissioned into the Air Force as a second lieutenant in the Medical Service Corps upon graduation, has partnered with a former Microsoft developer to continue work on TimeTogether. She hopes to have the software on the market by the end of the year.

"Before the New Venture Challenge, TimeTogether was just a good idea," says Meyers. "I'm so excited for its potential now that I have the resources to make it happen."

Jeff Watkins (MBA '24) returned for the 2024 New Venture Challenge after winning $50,000 last year with teammate Roman Stephan (BS Business Entrepreneurship '17, MBA '24) for their venture Proper Pack, a sustainable paper beverage packaging product. Watkins received this year's inaugural Blutera Sustainability Award and plans to use the funds to conduct biodegradability and compostability lab testing on the product. The award has already helped the company increase Proper Pack's efficiency.

"The Blutera Sustainability Award is an exciting new supporter of the New Venture Challenge and will continue to help students advance sustainability-driven ventures," says Watkins.

Poonam Shah (MS Information Management '02) created the award. She's the executive director and co-founder of Blutera, a non-profit that empowers people to escape poverty through education while supporting youth advocacy and innovation in environmental sustainability.

"Students don't always have the financial support to create and operate businesses," says Shah. "We want to support entrepreneurship by providing grants to young entrepreneurs."

Blutera has supported K-12 schools in countries with limited access to education since 2021 and partners with organizations abroad to build new schools with sustainable materials. Shah has always been passionate about environmentalism, and the non-profit has expanded to offer scholarships to U.S. students studying biology, chemistry, sustainability, and other environmental-related subjects. The company also encourages student volunteerism and takes groups of students abroad to learn about sustainable farming and education at Blutera partner farms and schools around the globe.

"We're trying to create leaders at home and abroad," says Shah.

After graduating from ASU with her master's degree in 2002, Shah held management positions at the information technology companies HP and Oracle. She credits ASU with launching her career and allowing her to give back to Sun Devils today.

"ASU gave me a great opportunity when I was a poor international student," says Shah. "As an entrepreneur myself, I know the journey can be challenging. That's why I want to encourage students to pursue entrepreneurship with a sustainability and environmental focus."

Latest news