2012 Y-Prize Winner Dick Zhang on His Competition Experience

Y-Prize Grand Prize Winners
2012 Y-Prize winners (r-l) Andy Wu, Kelsey Duncombe-Smith, and Richard Zhang. Photo by Lamont Abrams.

Penn Engineering undergrad Dick Zhang is one of three members of IDENTIFIED, the 2012 winning team of the Y-Prize competition. In this guest blog post, he shares insight about his Y-Prize competition experience. 

Some innovations seem to materialize out of nowhere. But in the pursuit of innovation, sometimes all you have to do is look more closely at what you already have.

Penn Engineering has developed so many state-of-the-art technologies over the past few years, but many of these technologies haven’t expanded into practical use. The Mack Institute works to understand the challenges of bringing disruptive technology to market. Through the Y-Prize Competition, it offers talented students a hands-on opportunity to propose their ideas for commercializing Penn technology.

Last year’s Kickoff was a great way to understand the competition and how the Y-Prize stands out in the plethora of business plan competitions available to students. Many challenge entrepreneurs to come up with innovative solutions to complex problems, but the Y-Prize flips this model: it challenges entrepreneurs work together to identify problems for the technology to solve. It was initially uncomfortable to me and other competitors to talk about our potential ideas, but after a few minutes it was clear that collaborating and bouncing ideas off each other was clearly going to lead to more valuable idea generation.

The Y-Prize was a great chance to interact with hard-working students and world class faculty I wouldn’t normally have connected with. My team emerged as a diverse group with a unique skill set. Composed of a mechanical engineer, an electrical engineer, and a financing and strategy lead, it was the dream team for a technology commercialization competition.

I learned more in this experience than I had in any class I’ve ever taken. I had never put together a business plan, pitch deck, or given a pitch to a large audience before. Our team’s business helped me develop a compelling pitch for my idea. I also worked closely with our engineering consultant, provided by the competition, to learn more about the intricate details of the technology. The most rewarding part of the experience was seeing dozens of hours of practicing the same 10 minute pitch pay off at the Y-Prize Grand Finale.

We spent the next months after Y-Prize formalizing our product and business model. We are wrapping up our seed funding round, which includes angel investors, institutional investors, and an accelerator. We are working closely with Penn, our industry partners, and our advisors over the next year to prototype our product.

Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and pursue an idea with the Y-Prize competition. If you’re uncomfortable, it means you’re trying things you’ve never done before. If you’re trying new things, it means you’re learning. And if you’re learning, it means you’re growing as a person. You’ll be pleasantly surprised with how many new skills you develop and friends you make along the way.

Dick Zhang
Co-founder and CEO
IDENTIFIED Technologies Corporation
rzhang@identifiedtech.com | W: 908.240.1342