ASU Venture Devils competition results in cash awards to help students launch new enterprises

Jackie Collens
MS Innovation and Venture Development
4 min readDec 10, 2020

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Justice Kelly, Elizabeth Deitchman, and Syed Deenah, the founders of Galleri, a fully digital, subscription-based contemporary art gallery.

What do you do when a pandemic gets in the way of your plans? You look for new opportunities — or in the case of some enterprising up-and-coming entrepreneurs, you create your own path.

For four students in Arizona State University’s new Master of Innovation and Venture Development (MSIVD) program, creativity turned into cash when they were awarded $17,000 in ASU’s Venture Devils competition, held in early December.

Three teams, representing five MSIVD students — Travis Andren, Syed Deenah, Elizabeth Deitchman, Justice Kelly and James Spisak — competed among 40 teams that pitched their ideas to judges, comprising numerous donors and sponsors.

“Not a bad showing from this group of MSIVD students,” said Brent Sebold, MSIVD Faculty Lead for the Schools of Engineering. Sebold’s enthusiasm is buoyed by the fact that the hands-on program is in its first year and the awards are evidence of early headway being made by several of the 20 new ventures that have been established within the program.

“This is our inaugural class,” he said. “And we worked hard to select a hugely diverse array of students, representing pursuits that will change the world.”

Design is at the heart of the MSIVD approach, with Cheryl Heller leading the program. Heller is also Director of Design Integration and Professor of Practice in Innovation Design at Arizona State University, a joint position in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, The Ira. A. Fulton School of Engineering and the W.P. Carey School of business.

Elizabeth Deitchman, Galleri co-founder said, “Our venture stands out because of our unique position as both creatives and innovators who care deeply about art.”

“From our research, the judges were able to see that there is significant room for disruption within the global art market,” said Deitchman. MVISD students, Syed Deenah and Justice Kelly are also Galleri co-founders.

“We believe art should be accessible at all times for everyone, and we are set on disrupting the traditional art world,” said Kelly. Galleri plans to use the $3,000 award to create a digital prototype with which they test user experience and demand.

According to Kelly, Galleri is expected to be the world’s first fully digital, subscription-based contemporary art gallery. With guided tours, artist encounters, sales and special events, the digital approach avoids the expenses generally associated with traditional galleries.

“We believe art should be accessible at all times for everyone, and we are set on disrupting the stuffy, traditional art world,” said Kelly. Galleri plans to use the $3,000 award to create a digital prototype with which they test user experience and demand.

In an entirely different sector, MSIVD student Travis Andren and his team are helping solve the problem of nitrate and other toxins in farm-water runoff. They will use the $1,500 investment to develop a scalable prototype and proof-of-concept of a solar-powered agriculture-related technology they call Lemna. Lemna is the scientific name for several varieties of a plant more commonly known as duckweed.

MSIVD’s big winner, with a $10,000 award, was a company called Illusions Software, being launched by MSIVD student James Spisak, along with Roderick Marciel, his ASU-affiliated co-founder.

Spisak, with several years’ experience as an IT technician, was frustrated by the inefficiency of existing cybersecurity and automation processes. According to Spisak, “Illusions Software has the potential to save labor, cut service time, improve record-keeping and reduce worker fatigue.” Spisak and his team will use the award to scale Illusions from proof-of-concept into an operating company.

Venture Devils is a program to support ASU students, staff, faculty and community entrepreneurs within the newly named J. Orin Edson Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute at ASU. Over the past five years, the entrepreneurship initiative has grown to include 44 team members and more than 40 venture mentors and has raised about $40 million of external funding.

The Master of Science in innovation and venture development is a transdisciplinary partnership among three schools at ASU: The Design School in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, the W. P. Carey School of Business and the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

The one-year, on-campus program, which is now accepting applications, is experiential. Students participate in several intensive studio courses and work in teams, according to Heller.

Priority application date for the fall 2021 class is January 15. For more information, contact Jacklyn Collens at Jacklyn.Collens@asu.edu

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