Alumni Team Celebrates Zahn Challenge Win

Brett Kehler (’15) and Mario Scade (’02) are both into physical fitness, both entrepreneurs and both Aztec alumni.  As a team, they are also $1,000 richer for capturing first place in the inaugural Alumni Track competition at the Zahn Challenge.

Brett Kehler (’15) and Mario Scade (’02) with Michael Neal
(l-r) Aire Fitness Team Members Brett Kehler and Mario Scade ('02)
accept the top Alumni Track prize from Zahn Innovation Center
Advisory Board Chair Michael Neal (’84, ’96) at the Fourth Annual
Zahn Challenge.

SDSU’s Zahn Innovation Center, which helps students, faculty and staff launch startups from early-stage concepts, holds its yearly challenge to identify and reward the most promising ideas for new businesses.  The Fourth Annual Zahn Challenge was held December 2 at the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center and for the first time alumni were invited to participate in their own category.

Eight alumni teams signed up, representing entrepreneurial ideas ranging from a mobile app to join and start pick-up games to a clothing company for thrill-seeking adventurers.  Each group pitched its idea to a panel of judges and Kehler’s and Scade’s Aire Fitness team came out on top.

"It's amazing,” said the 42-year-old Kehler, who works as programs coordinator for the Aztec Recreation Center. “I think it's going to really help us get the concept out there and, hopefully, get some backers that believe in it.”


Aire Fitness pitch
Mario Scade presents his 45-second final pitch to judges at the
Fourth Annual Zahn Challenge at the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni

The concept he and Scade are refining is turning storage containers into mobile fitness centers “promoting health and fitness (and) creating sustainable, innovative and outstanding outdoor fitness environments,” as stated on the Aire Fitness website. In addition to sustainability as a social component, the company’s goal is to donate ten percent of its profits to build studios to be donated to schools and non-profit organizations that promote fitness and healthy eating habits to combat childhood obesity.

Kehler and Scade say they hope to find investors who share their social vision. “That's what we're really looking for,” Kehler said, “not just the money, but people who really believe in what we're doing for the planet and the communities that we’re going to affect positively."

Scade, 38, has a background in public relations and has worked in the fitness industry for several years.  It was he who pitched the Aire Fitness concept to the judging panel.

 “It was an amazing opportunity to show the judges what I have been working on for two years,” he said. “As an entrepreneur, you feel lonely sometimes; you have an idea then you have to get investors and it's a tough road to get to where we are right now, so being able to showcase our work and get an award is amazing."


Michael Neal (’84, ’96), chairman of the Zahn Innovation Center Advisory Board and  president and chief executive officer San Diego’s H.G. Fenton Company, served as a judge for the competition.  He said he liked the idea of including alumni in the Zahn Challenge along with SDSU faculty and students.

Cathy Pucher
Zahn Innovation Center Executive Director Cathy Pucher says she
hopes to see expanded Alumni Track competition at next year's
Zahn Challenge.

“Making the faculty and alumni a part of this whole innovative culture at San Diego State is a terrific opportunity,” he said. “I would like to see more (alumni involvement) in the future because San Diego is full of San Diego State alumni who want to be a part of what's going on here at the university.”

Zahn Innovation Center Executive Director Cathy Pucher agreed. She pushed to add alumni to this year’s challenge and would like to see the Alumni Track expanded in future competitions.

“There’s room to grow,” she said. “It's always good to set the bar higher and it would be great to get even more alumni engaged and back involved with the campus."

To learn more about SDSU’s Zahn Innovation Center and the annual Zahn Challenge, visit