UCLA Law student Mac Kennedy ’18 had a vision: He wanted to build a company whose devices could filter toxic emissions from car tailpipes. But he lacked the money and connections that he needed to turn that dream into reality. Enter the Lowell Milken Institute Sandler Prize for New Entrepreneurs, the annual competition that awards $50,000 to teams of UCLA students whose business plans propose practical solutions to pressing problems — issues ranging from technology to reverse the decline in the bee population to improvements in dental care to tools for more equitable corporate hiring.
The competition has the largest entrepreneurship prize offered by any law school, and it is part of a business law program that includes a wide range of courses, competitions, symposia, clinics and simulations to prepare students for the challenging realities of corporate legal work.
Kennedy entered the competition during his 3L year. He participated in several rounds of consultations with business experts, scientists and faculty mentors in UCLA Law’s Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment. And he crafted a gripping presentation for the LMI-Sandler Prize’sShark Tank-style final-round showcase that UCLA Law hosts every April. In the end, Kennedy and his teammates took home the first-place award of $70,000 in seed funding. “We feel really lucky to have been a part of the competition,” Kennedy said. “It is such a unique mentoring opportunity and means of jumpstarting our business. It’s hard to come out of the competition without having a deep-dive learning experience.”
The competition’s impact continues to reverberate. A year later, Kennedy had passed the bar exam and was hard at work in the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, where he landed thanks in part to UCLA connections that he fostered in the competition. He had teamed up with a chemical engineer with a background in carbon capture technology, including a project for the International Space Station, and his company, Mote, had produced several prototypes that it would eventually drive to market. “Winning the prize is everything for us,” Kennedy said. “Without the competition, we very likely would not have had the opportunity to start our business.”