Behind the Scenes of the BASES $100K Startup Challenge

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Sabina Beleuz Neagu is a sophomore studying Symbolic Systems from Toronto, ON. She currently does research on access-to-justice through legal technology, and is excited to share her passion for impact through community entrepreneurship as this year's VP of BASES Challenge. Below, Sabina provides an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of designing, organizing, and executing the Challenge competition each year.

When I joined BASES Challenge as an officer at the beginning of Fall Quarter, freshman year, I had no idea would be in this for the long haul. When I joined, I knew little about BASES, and even less about Challenge -- I knew, basically, that it was a pitch competition for Stanford-affiliated startups that awarded $100K in prize money.

Little did I know, however, that this massive endeavor was run entirely by students. Or that it has been running like this since 1999, with over 1300 entrants to date. And soon, I would realize that something like this could make an impact far beyond the monetary value it had up for grabs.

From the very beginning, the VP leading our team asked us to hit the ground running. We were tasked with emailing industry experts, venture capitalists, and entrepreneurs from around Silicon Valley to be judges and mentors for the competition. I was intimidated at first to be reaching out to innovators I never would have been brave enough to speak to in-person myself, but frantic typing and flooded inboxes were fairly common come January. At this point it might have looked like we were in our own little reality TV show, Extreme Networking, each playing to see who we could connect with by merely sending an email. However, rather than being a vain test in schmoozing, the everyday outreach aspects of Challenge taught me some lessons in humanity -- that people, on the most part, are more than willing to talk to you and help you out when asked. Challenge, in turn, helped me refine my “ask” so that I became clearer, more professional, and less intimidated by that dreaded SEND button.

Despite the coziness of my comfort zone, at the end of the year, my VP at the time offered me a chance to step into the spotlight and encouraged me to take the lead on organizing and facilitating a fireside chat, interviewing our keynote speaker. This wouldn’t have been a big deal, had it not been Joe Lonsdale -- co-founder of Palantir and Midas-List investor -- and had it not been me, the frightened, feeble-voiced freshman of the flock. However, soon after hearing Lonsdale’s answer to my question about why he decided to pursue founding his own company, I knew that being a part of the Challenge journey was the right decision. In his own words, “Building companies is not a good goal, in and of itself ... if you find something you’re really interested in, and if you think, this is how the world is now, and this is how the world should work, if we can fix’s about fixing something about the world.” And, later, standing next to Kartik Sawhney, the presenter pitching for the grand-prize-winning team, which aimed to empower people with disabilities by connecting them with mentors in the tech sphere, I realized how much this undoubtedly rang true.


I take the perspective I gleaned and mistakes I made as an officer with me as I run Challenge this year. Right now, we are organizing Challenge Kickoff, which takes place on Thursday, January 11th, and I have the feeling that Season 2 of Extreme Marketing might be on its way. Nevertheless, I am trying to offer the entrepreneurial experience to others by bootstrapping with the Challenge team, taking risks, and trying to help the rest of the community find and fix the issues that they care about. If that’s not entrepreneurship at its very heart, then I’m not sure what is.