There were a lot of reasons Alex Dassise decided to transfer to Portland State University (PSU) in his pursuit of an undergraduate business degree, but chief among them was to be able to live with his mother and brother, Seiji, so that he could help care for them between classes.
Another reason was to participate in the rich entrepreneurial ecosystem at Portland State that he was exposed to during his participation in the 2017 InventOR collegiate competition.
And considering that Dassise’s entrepreneurial pursuits are closely linked to his relationship with his brother, these two reasons are more closely linked than you might think.
In April, Dassisie took his company, Seiji’s Bridge, to the e-Fest Entrepreneurship Challenge, a top national undergraduate entrepreneurship competition held each year at St. Thomas University in Minneapolis. In addition to being selected among well over 100 applicants to compete, he placed third in his group, walking away with $6,000 in prize money.
“It was a really cool experience,” said Dassisie, whose company, named for his brother who has a severe form of autism, makes high-tech therapy toys. “It exposed me to this huge entrepreneurship community in Minneapolis.”
Seiji's Bridge is an education technology company that uses researched based curriculum to bridge social, emotional, and educational gaps for students with developmental disabilities.
Dassisie’s assigned roommate for e-Fest was an engineering student at Missouri University of science and technology who also had a close tie to autism. Now Seiji’s Bridge has developed a partnership to further develop its products with the help of the engineering students. Dassisie is also working with students at University of California, Davis and Berkeley to expand the Seiji's Bridge team.
“Walking away with some prize money was nice, but the relationships we built will take us farther,” said Dassisie, who has developed Seiji’s Bridge with his business partner, Quincy Brown, who attends Claremont McKenna College.
As an OSU student last year, Dassisie brought Seiji’s Bridge to the inaugural InventOR Collegiate Challenge, a statewide competition operated by PSU’s Center for Entrepreneurship that empowers college students to develop prototypes of their world-changing ideas and compete with students across the state for grants and prizes.
As part of the InventOR process, Dassisie spent time at the PSU Business Accelerator for a boot camp for participants that included pitch coaching and the chance to meet with Silicon Valley-based investors. He loved the experience and got to know the PSU community and the variety of traditional and nontraditional students pursuing degrees there.
“The big reason why I love PSU is that everyone isn’t the same age,” Dassisie said. “I met Chao Doan, an electronic systems engineer, who was on one of the other teams and who works in Portland as an engineer. I ended up working with him and he developed an innovation—flex sensors— for our Eli Ball.”
As for E-Fest, Dassisie said he hadn’t researched the opportunity but when Ted Khoury, associate professor at the PSU School of Business, learned about e-Fest, he encouraged the Entrepreneurship and Social Innovation team to apply for a grant to participate. Juan Barraza, director of student innovation at the PSU Center for Entrepreneurship prompted Dassisie and Seiji’s Bridge to step forward. As a result, Dassisie's travel and participation were all covered, and Abby Chroman from PSU Impact Entrepreneurs traveled with him for the intense weekend experience
Closer to home, Dassisie also pitched his company in April at the 2018 New Venture Championship hosted in Portland by the University of Oregon. Seiji’s Bridge won third place in the undergraduate division.
Learn more about Seiji’s Bridge: http://seijisbridge.com/
Learn more about InventOR: https://www.inventoregon.org/
Learn more about PSU Center for Entrepreneurship: https://www.pdx.edu/entrepreneurship/
Learn more about Impact Entrepreneurs at PSU: https://www.pdx.edu/impactentrepreneurs/
Learn more about e-Fest: https://eiexchange.com/e-fest