Mitchell Zia On How Star Wars Helped Him Win the FuturizeX Student Challenge

By Mitchell Zia, FuturizeX 2015 Student Challenge Winner
Mitchell Zia poses with Deanna Evans, Executive Director for StartUp UCLA and Blackstone Launchpad at the FuturizeX 2015 Student Challenge Awards Ceremony

As a freshman at UCLA, I had yet to master the various techniques of dodging endless streams of flyers and avoiding overly aggressive solicitors on Bruin walk. Hands full of advertisements and earbuds blasting Ariana Grande, I began to position my eyes directly ahead and slightly towards the sky to avoid making eye contact with flyer warriors. As I looked skyward, I noticed dangling blue banners that many of my friends swore they had never seen. Each banner showcased a different futuristic invention or innovation, and all were advertising the same event: The 2015 FuturizeX Student Challenge.

The challenge asked UCLA students to make a short video about solving a major global problem. I had not planned on entering the competition, but over the following months, the FuturizeX banners on Bruinwalk and the dining hall flyers had me constantly thinking of possible solutions for problems in our world. My mind would jump from various ideas I had heard in my adolescence, ranging from floating cities, to flying castles, to Team Magma’s plan to manually erupt a volcano and expand the land in Pokémon Ruby. Over months of raking my brain for any creativity, I finally thought of moisture farms from the planet of Tatooine in Star Wars. Tatooine, a desert planet, reminded me of the water shortage and drought conditions of UCLA’s home, Southern California, and prompted me to come up with my own idea for FuturizeX and enter the challenge.

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Moisture Farm on Tatooine, with characteristic Vaporators

In order to combat the lack of water in our area, I came up with the idea to combine water desalinization plants with ocean turbines, a system that would provide clean water for humans without the burden of energy and maintenance costs. Through months of formulating my idea and crafting my presentation, taking part in the challenge shaped my mindset into a more entrepreneurial state. Being one of the grand-prize winners, I was able to share my idea with other Bruins, receive $4000, a 3D printer, a private tour of SpaceX headquarters, and meet amazing people.

Entering the FuturizeX Student Challenge was truly the highlight of my freshman year. I encourage all Bruins, whether you are north campus or south campus, a freshman, senior or graduate student, to get involved in the FuturizeX 2nd Annual Student Challenge this year. Hopefully hearing my story has inspired you to take a shot at developing your very own idea for an invention or technology to address a problem in Los Angeles. And while your working on your idea, remember, the most important thing to do is, be creative and have fun!


Mitchell Zia, BA ’19 is a Pre-Business Economics major at UCLA, and was a grand prize winner of the FuturizeX 2015 Student Challenge, along with Jonathan Massachi and Sohom Paul.

See Mitchell’s winning idea here. Bruins, now it’s your turn. Are you the next winner? Submit your entry.