Mother’s survival leads CSULB engineering student to Sunstone Innovation Challenge win

Published April 24, 2024

A biomedical engineering student, informed by his mother’s experiences surviving cancer and proposing a medical device to help hospital patients maintain healthy body temperatures, led his team to victory in this year’s edition of the Sunstone Innovation Challenge.

“I feel excited, happy, grateful mostly to be able to attend this type of event,” said second-year Cal State Long Beach student Antonio Alvarado, adding that his enthusiasm also extends to the prospect of bringing his idea to market.

“Now we have access to change how we take care of people,” Alvarado said.

The Sunstone Innovation Challenge is an opportunity for Beach students to gain entrepreneurial knowledge, whether or not they are seeking a business degree. Participants, who receive mentorship along the way, accept the challenge of drafting a business plan and discover what it takes to transform an idea into a bona fide enterprise.  

Finalists face the additional crucible of presenting their ideas to develop a product or service, find customers, and generate cash flow to expert judges with experience starting and investing in new businesses.

“Those that have a plan and take action, that’s what makes you an entrepreneur,” said Wade Martin, director of the Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship.

Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Director Wade Martin address the 2024 Innovation Challenge finals audience
Wade Martin, director of the Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, addresses audience members gathered for the 2024 Sunstone Innovation Challenge final presentations on April 16 at The Pointe.

The 2024 finalists gathered on the evening of April 16 at The Pointe Conference Center, a meeting space inside Walter Pyramid, to deliver their presentations. The teams who made it to the final presentation moved along either of two tracks. The first is for competitors who want to win immediate support for their business plans. The second lets students learn about business planning but does not put winners in the position of needing to quickly put prize funding and other support to use.

Alvarado and the other members of his team, SensiVitalis, will receive $15,000 plus access to workspace and help with legal, accounting and marketing needs by virtue of winning the Track One competition.

SensiVitalis’ goal is to develop an exoskeleton capable of tracking intensive care patients’ body temperature. The planned device would be integrated with a machine learning algorithm informed by individual patients’ circadian heart rhythms and breathing patterns.  

The technology would be able to determine a given patient’s ideal body temperature, sense whether someone is either too hot or too cold, and then activate warming or cooling devices within the exoskeleton to enhance a patient’s comfort and prospects for a recovery.

Alvarado and his team members call this technology SITIS (Safely Intelligent Temperature Intervention System). The idea was inspired by hospital visits with his mother.

“By repeated visits, what I understood was that what my mom needed was a warm blanket,” he said.

Two of Alvarado’s team members in SensiVitalis are his siblings, in-home certified nurse assistant Stacey Alvarado and licensed vocational nurse Aylin Leos. Rounding out the roster are University of Utah computer science graduate student Sergio Remigio and Quaid e Azam University microbiology graduate student Sarah Saleem.

A group photo with members of the 2024 Sunstone Innovation Challenge winning team, plus family
CSULB student Antonio Alvarado, far right, with victorious SensiVitalis teammates (from left) Aylin Leos and Stacey Alvarado, and supporters.

The colleges of Business, Engineering, and The Arts founded the Innovation Challenge, and it remains an interdisciplinary activity. For example, the MindBodySoul Coaching team assembled MBA candidates – one of whom coaches basketball – with another student pursuing a master’s in computer science and team members with backgrounds in mental health care and user experience design.

“We’re creating a solution to a problem and there is so much creativity that comes with that,” said Christina Lang, a second-year MBA student. “It’s important to be open, to work with people that you did not know before, that come from a different background or a different college.”

Sunstone Management, an Irvine investment company, has sponsored the Innovation Challenge since 2019. The program is among the campus’ activities helping to shape California’s future workforce, one of the core objectives of its ongoing No Barriers fundraising campaign.  

“Sunstone is proud to partner with the CSULB Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship in this competition and with the program as a whole,” said John Keisler, CEO and managing partner at Sunstone Management. “This is where it all begins, where young entrepreneurs learn the skills needed to pursue their own American Dream. That in turn creates communities with stronger, more diverse businesses. That’s exciting.”

Sunstone Management CEO John Keisler holding microphone
Sunstone Management CEO John Keisler praised the 2024 competitors who reached the final stage of the 2024 Sunstone Innovation Challenge.

Members of the 2023 Innovation Challenge winners, BookBound, visited this year’s final competition with words of encouragement for this year’s contenders. The BookBound team is developing a platform for readers to submit reviews and chat with each other.

“I really believe that you win if you let yourself win,” BookBound team member Elias Babaalian-Morales ‘23 told the assembly.

“When I say, let yourself win and try not to get caught up too much about first place, second place, third place,” he went on to say. “What happens after that? Where were you before this competition and where are you now? Did you get something out of it? ... Something that we got out of it is real confidence to believe in ourselves and actually push BookBound forward.”