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UB students getting notice for innovative musical device

It’s one thing to make a lot of noise in Buffalo’s startup community. It’s quite another when you can do it while helping to make music.

Shane Nolan and Ryan Jaquin, both MBA and electrical engineering students at the University at Buffalo, made news this spring with their company Bitcrusher, as they notched impressive top finishes at the Henry A. Panasci Jr. Technology Entrepreneurship Competition and the New York Business Plan Competition, and second place at the Bright Buffalo Niagara Entrepreneur Expo.

The pitch competition performances earned the Bitcrusher co-founders over $50,000 in startup money. Their product is a device that enables digital sound effects on a guitar while eliminating the need for additional bulky equipment.

Friends since their freshman year of college, both Nolan and Jaquin have a passion for music and are avid guitar players. Just a week away from graduating UB, the co-founders are balancing exams with managing a company that has a bright future in Western New York and an investment from a community that is showing it believes in them.

“It’s what we want to do. It’s what we do anyway. We’re kind of taking our natural interests and applying them to something that can take us into a career,” Nolan, a Westchester, N.Y., native, told Upstart NY during a recent interview at the Jacobs School of Management.

Like playing in a band, their pitches are confident riffs at this point, with Nolan and Jaquin playing off each other, both knowing what note to hit and when. They attribute some of their pitch success to practicing it in a performing arts class at UB. And they’ve been on the same page when it comes to difficult recent business decisions as well.

“It’s a really good partnership as far as our product beliefs go. Ryan and I are kind of at a point where something will come up and we kind of already know without saying it whose realm that falls into,” Nolan said.

One year ago, Nolan, 22, and Jaquin, 23, were finishing a senior design course at UB, where they had the opportunity to develop a prototype for the product while earning course credit. The following summer, the Bitcrusher co-founders began to explore the product’s market value and ask what the next steps are.

Their first pitch competition was the Bulls Launch Elevator 90-second event that earned them $1,500.

“I knew it was a great idea and I was really excited about it,” said Jaquin, a Long Island native. “But at the end of the senior design course we really just had a product. We didn’t know how we would make a business quite at that time or what it would look like. We really just leveraged our business knowledge and entrepreneurial knowledge from the MBA program to construct that aspect of it.”

Both the UB and Western New York entrepreneurial communities were beginning to take notice of the product. And as Nolan and Jaquin prepared for the prestigious Panasci competition, they were assigned Jack McGowan as a mentor, a project manager at Insyte Consulting and director of the Western New York Venture Association and Buffalo Angels.

“They take suggestions and they act on it. They continue to move their company forward and the results are demonstrated by the multiple competitions they’ve won over the last several weeks,” McGowan said.

Unlike the previous competitions, Bitcrusher was the only student-led company at Bright Buffalo.

“They’re very good presenters. They show the work that they put in. Their hard work comes out,” said McGowan.

Nolan and Jaquin said McGowan has been there for them every step of the way. And he introduced the Bitcrusher co-founders to representatives at So Park in Buffalo, an electronics contract manufacturer.

Having an agreement with So Park, Nolan and Jaquin said, has made a huge difference in their recent success.

Jaquin, a classic and alt rock enthusiast, still finds time to play locally with his band Remotely, while Nolan considers himself more of a technical guitarist, with formal training and an ear for the virtuosos. After exams, Jaquin and Nolan will be exploring a location in or around Buffalo to locate the company. The co-founders said they’ll be needing help soon to handle marketing, sales, and development.

“We’re hoping for it to be out there and in people’s hands in a year. Who really knows?” Nolan said. “Things can happen so quickly or with technical stuff things can take longer. But we’re really looking to get something that is true to our value proposition and get it out there and start seeing the market, taking on our technology.”


Youth Entrepreneur Marketplace empowers Buffalo’s young people to launch businesses

Too frequently, people of color living in Buffalo’s East Side communities aren’t seeing someone who looks like them on the other side of the counter at local businesses.

By teaching entrepreneurial skills to young people in those neighborhoods, local organizations and business owners are hoping to change that. Which is how the Youth Entrepreneur Marketplace and workshops started this spring.

Through the Community Action Organization of Western New York and in partnership with the MLK Business District Association, Masjid NuMan, Inc. and J&W Planning Group, LLC, young people under the age of 18, predominantly from Buffalo’s East Side, will learn skills to sell products designed and made by them and their families.

“Our motto is, we want people of Africa descent behind that counter because 20, 30 years earlier, businesses up and down Genessee, Bailey, Fillmore, they were (owned by) African people and we want that again,” Pamela James, program coordinator at the Community Action Organization, said.

Participants will go through a five-week training workshop program at the Community Action Organization on Fillmore Avenue, culminating in a Juneteenth marketplace at MLK Park on June 16 where their goods will be sold. There are six other marketplace dates scheduled throughout the summer at Fillmore and East Utica Street.

After a prior orientation meeting, about 25 kids between the ages of 6 and 17 and their families gathered May 8 for the first workshop. They heard from local business owners, including Royce Woods of Local Initiatives Support Corporation, who brought Monopoly to teach young people about exchanging money and the cost of doing business. In subsequent sessions, families will learn how to pitch a business and make a business plan. For those interested in serving food at the marketplace, the workshop will go over necessary permits and inspections. But beyond foundational business skills, the workshop will also teach young people that they can reach their goals through hard work and a passion for what they do.

MarQes, a 9-year-old East Side resident who sells collectibles and inspirational items and is also a motivational speaker, was one of the youth in attendance Tuesday.

“I just want him to know that he can do anything he desires,” said his mother, Lekya. “It doesn’t have to take him to be an adult to be an entrepreneur. He doesn’t have to wait until he graduates from school. He can dream big, he can inspire others, and he can also be inspired by what other people are doing.”

James said that those interested in participating in the workshop are welcome to come to the next event Wednesday, May 16, at the Community Action Organization, 1423 Fillmore Ave. in Buffalo from 5 to 7 p.m.

With entrepreneurship, James explained, families learn to be self-sufficient. That means they hire within their communities, generate capital, increase the tax base, and bring prosperity back to districts that were once booming decades ago.

“Our mission is to put businesses back on Fillmore, Genessee, and also East Ferry and East Utica,” James said.

For more information, contact Pamela James at the Community Action Organization of Western New York, 716-332-3773, pamelajames654@gmail.com.


Good Neighbor app wins top prize in Civic Innovation Challenge

Clark Dever and Jordan Walbesser, the creators of Good Neighbor, a mobile phone-based app that gives Buffalo residents easy access to key data on services provided by the City of Buffalo, Erie County and New York state, as well as local non-profit organizations, were awarded the top prize in Mayor Byron W. Brown’s inaugural Civic Innovation Challenge – Powered by AT&T.

“This app embodies what I had hoped would come out of this competition. Good Neighbor equalizes access to city information for all of our residents. It also offers translation for those who do not speak English,” Mayor Brown said. “Anyone with a cell phone and this app can find the nearest police station or firehouse, get details on city services in their neighborhood, and much more. This is what the City of Good Neighbors is all about.”


"The quality of the innovative solutions developed for this challenge is extremely impressive and serves as an example of the vibrancy and creativity of Western New York's technology community," said Marissa Shorenstein, president, Northeast Region, AT&T. "AT&T is proud to have collaborated with Mayor Brown to host this visionary innovation challenge."

One hundred developers signed up to participate in the challenge, and 16 complete app entries were reviewed by a five-member panel of judges, which included Mayor Brown, Shorenstein, and Ulla Bak, president of Bak USA.


The journey to funding: Buffalo Automation’s story

Thiru Vikram learned a lot about artificial intelligence in self-navigating vehicles while studying engineering at the University at Buffalo – in 2015 it was still an evolving technology with applications that had yet to be fully explored.

But Vikram’s colleagues were focused on applying AI to motor vehicles. No one, Vikram said, was exploring AI uses for self-driving boats, both recreational and for commercial shipping.

Three years later, the company Vikram co-founded, Buffalo Automation, has reached several milestones in fundraising through venture capital investors, its most recent a $900,000 seed investment led by the Jacobs family, with a $100,000 follow-on investment from Z80 Labs.

“I’m very surprised,” Jon Spitz, managing director of Z80 said. “That’s a lot of money for Buffalo.”

Vikram’s business and engineering expertise may come naturally – he gained experience running a company through his family while growing up – but to grow a tech startup from the ground didn’t come easily.

The momentum for Buffalo Automation began in 2016, when Vikram and his team, including co-founders Emilie Reynolds and Alex Zhitelzeyf, all UB graduates or current students, began to win pitch competitions, including the locally prestigious Henry A. Panasci Jr. Technology Entrepreneurship Competition through the UB School of Management. The Buffalo Automation team earned first place in the 2015 Buffalo Student Sandbox competition and the 2016 New York State Business Plan Competition, among others.

That level of achievement, Spitz said, caught people’s attention.

“We got to the point where we were raising a significant amount of capital,” Vikram said. Z80 worked with the Buffalo Automation team to refine its pitch and introduced the young engineers to investors both locally and nationally.

For now, the team of eight is focused on growing revenue. Vikram said Buffalo is the logical location for Buffalo Automation. The eastern tip of Lake Erie is still a major shipping hub, and when commercial boats are dormant near the frozen mouth of the Niagara River, Vikram’s team can test AI applications for the self-driving ship.

In the last round of seed funds, Buffalo Automation surpassed its $700,000 goal. Other investors include Gerald Lippes of Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman, investment manager Ted Pierce, and John Somers, owner of Harmac Medical Products.

The funding will go toward developing Buffalo Automation’s AutoMate system, which uses analytical data through sensors to pilot a boat, detecting debris and water depth and using an algorithm to find the most efficient routes. The technology can optimize fuel efficiency and improve safety, according to the company.

“He made a lot out of a little in terms of financing,” Spitz said about Buffalo Automation’s rapid growth. “He wasn’t going to be stopped no matter what. It’s still obviously very early, but with this financing he’s going to have an opportunity to continue to validate this idea and scale up.

“It’s the first step in a series of steps,” Spitz added.

Vikram said another added benefit to Buffalo is its proximity to Canada, where many major shipping companies are based. There’s no shortage of local talent, but Buffalo Automation can recruit from virtually anywhere with developers’ ability to work for the Amherst-based company remotely if they can’t relocate here.

Fleet management and autopilot applications are the company’s focus, but most recently Vikram said Buffalo Automation is exploring self-driving devices for yachts, speed boats and within recreational markets.

That means the UB engineers get to spend days on boats that can travel over 50 knots. And that part, Vikram said, can be a lot of fun.

Vikram credits the UB Technology Incubator’s tenX co-working space for supporting the company in its early stages. “We were always fortunate to have other people with experience lead the way,” Vikram said.

Currently, Buffalo Automation is also still developing customer testing, and constantly in the stages of responding to feedback from its products.

“As long as we can help him out, we’re going to do our best. We have an incentive to do that,” Spitz said.


Buffalo’s CDFIs reach out to the community

It’s a sunny Saturday morning in late March, and Yanush Sanmugaraja is standing before fewer than a dozen curious entrepreneurs on Buffalo’s East Side, explaining the importance of cash flow.

Sanmugaraja is an economic development director for the Westminster Economic Development Initiative, Inc. on Grant Street. Events like this make up the bulk of WEDI’s week-to-week community outreach programs.

For alternative lending and community development financial institutions in Buffalo, programs like the recently completed “Filling the Finance Gap” two-part series are an enormously important part of how they find potential small business entrepreneurs who may have a strong work ethic and solid business plan, but no way to secure financing.

These events, Sanmugaraja said, may not have an attendance of more than three to five entrepreneurs. But establishing relationships, he said, particularly in underserved populations on Buffalo’s East and West sides, is fundamental to developing a healthy small business ecosystem in those neighborhoods.

For local CDFIs and alternative lending agencies, the “Filling the Finance Gap” series was an opportunity to pool resources and work together in reaching potential clients. The series included participation from WEDI, PathStone Enterprise Center, Erie County IDA, and Excelsior Growth Fund.

“We want to show how financing can help you turn around your business,” Sanmugaraja said. “So that's really the job of our outreach. To be out in the community, show people that we’re here to meet their needs, learn what their goals are, and learn how they're doing and find ways to help them.”

Sanmugaraja said that just from the two events, the first held in February at the Beverly Gray Business Center and the second in March at the Community Action Organization, WEDI met five clients with whom it is now working. One client from the second workshop, Sanmugaraja said, was just approved for their first loan.

But not all loan agencies are the same. From Erie County IDA to traditional banks, the size and scope of loans differ. A large part of the “Filling the Finance Gap” series was to lay out what each agency does specifically, and who might be the best candidate for that organization.

“Right now, we’re trying to support small businesses and support our partners,” said Beth O’Keefe, a business development officer at Erie County IDA. “All these different organizations are doing different kinds of outreach on their own. The whole goal was to put efforts into collaboration, lower costs and time by working together, and hopefully, build on something there.”

Erie County IDA primarily specializes in maximizing tax incentives and providing larger loans within targeted industries, as well as smaller microloans to qualified businesses. O’Keefe said that at one time, there were limited microloan and CDFI agencies in Buffalo, and it primarily came from the City of Buffalo and the IDA. Today, the microloan community locally is not only more prevalent, but also working together in collaboration.

“I think, the people that I spoke to, they didn’t know what a CDFI was,” Sherri Falck of Excelsior Growth Fund said. “People I talked to at the event and leading up to the event were eager to have that information, and that was the whole purpose, to share information and raise visibility of who we are and what we do.”

Excelsior Growth Fund also does webinars and small business seminar series throughout the year. EGF’s next event is a webinar on how to apply for a small business loan, hosted by the Women’s Business Center at Canisius College May 31 from 2 to 2:45 p.m. More information can be found at https://pages.excelsiorgrowthfund.org/access-capital-part2/?utm_source=EventsPage&utm_medium=EGFWebsite&utm_campaign=Buffalo2

On Thursday, May 3, WEDI is hosting its own workshop on the importance of record keeping at West Side Community Services. Visit http://www.wedibuffalo.org/ or call 716-393-4088 for more information.

As the weather grows nicer, bringing the community together from outside grows more difficult and attendance tends to drop. But Buffalo’s CDFIs are considering what’s next for another collaborative lending series in the fall.

“A lot of business owners, especially in Buffalo’s refugee communities, won’t explore the possibility of financing, in part because of the assumption that they won’t get financing from traditional sources,” Sanmugaraja said. “They won’t even reach out. And that interpretation is obviously completely incorrect. (As) alternative lenders, our goal really is to help people increase sales and revenue. We want to see how financing can help you turn around your business. So that’s really the job of our outreach."


Grant awarded to Excelsior Growth Fund and Westminster Economic Development Initiative

The KeyBank Business Boost & Build Program, powered by JumpStart, is celebrating the start of National Small Business Week by awarding $100,000 to Excelsior Growth Fund and the Buffalo-based Westminster Economic Development Initiative.

 

EGF promotes economic development and job creation by providing streamlined access to small business loans and business advisory services. WEDI works to empower Buffalo’s economically disadvantaged through economic development, community development and education.

 

"We are excited about our collaboration with Excelsior Growth Fund and JumpStart through KeyBank Business Boost & Build's financial support,” said Ben Bissel, Executive Director of WEDI. “Through this assistance, our organizations will be able to provide a full continuum of service, starting with training and capitalizing minority- and women-led microenterprises with microloans. Then Excelsior Growth Fund will help them and other businesses to scale up to be viable, sustaining and successful companies through small business loans and advisory services. The funding will lead the organizations to serve hundreds of additional entrepreneurs, who will start and expand companies that create local jobs. Buffalo's business ecosystem continues to grow through this investment in its future."

 

With this new funding, the two collaborators will deepen their existing partnership and together will offer a full range of loan options, from $500 to $500,000, to minority and women owned business enterprises (MWBEs) in the City of Buffalo.

 

Startup assistance and smaller loans will be handled by WEDI. EGF will focus on larger loans and associated advisory services. Both partners will also hold a series of collaborative educational workshops for minority and women owned businesses and entrepreneurs.

 

“Supporting small businesses and helping them thrive is central to KeyBank’s mission,” added Buford Sears, KeyBank Western New York Market President. “We are proud to be assisting two great organizations, WEDI and EGF, as they expand their efforts to help more women and minority business owners capitalize on the economic renaissance that is underway in Buffalo.”

 

Funded by a grant from the KeyBank Foundation in 2017, the KeyBank Business Boost & Build program is designed to stimulate economic growth in Ohio and Upstate New York by helping startups and small businesses grow and prepare the workforce for the needs of those companies.

 

Small businesses and entrepreneurs interested in learning more about the KeyBank Business Boost & Build program can visit http://boostandbuild.org/.


Entrepreneurs learn about cash flow and loan resources from local alternative business lenders

Representatives from local small business lending agencies explained the importance of cash flow and the resources available when seeking a loan in the second of a three-part Filling the Finance Gap series.

Entrepreneurs listened to a presentation March 24 from Buffalo-based community development financial institutions, including representatives from Westminster Economic Development Initiative, Inc., Excelsior Growth Fund, Erie County IDA, and PathStone Enterprise Center.

Attendees learned about the dos and don’ts of cash flow budgeting, presented by Raisa Dibble and Joshua Brenner, economic development specialists at WEDI, located on Grant Street on Buffalo’s West Side.

There are three types of cash flow, Brenner and Dibble explained. Operational, which accounts for money received and spent from business-related activities and payroll; investment, which involves the buying and selling of assets; and financing, which is cash received or spent through debt.

Brenner and Dibble also advised those seeking to start a business to list assumptions in their cash flow plan, understand the costs of goods sold, estimate taxes, and use data and research before making any assumptions.

Audience members attending the talk at the Community Action Organization Center on Fillmore Avenue were given a sample spreadsheet to track business expenses and revenue. Entrepreneurs in the audience had business interests ranging from construction and vending to real estate, kids entertainment, and a beauty salon.

“Break everything down because people looking at your cash flow don’t know your business,” WEDI representatives advised in the presentation. They also recommended that entrepreneurs do a thorough scenario analysis to make sure there are margins to build on as variables change, and that they leave themselves "wiggle room."

“You want to be able to catch yourself,” Brenner said.

Audience members also learned that resources to manage business accounting are available through the Small Business Administration at SBA.gov, as well as through Buffalo’s SCORE chapter, and that there are community organizations that can assist them in developing a business plan or building an accurate account of expenses.

Representatives from the participating lending agencies explained their loan products, for whom they are best suited, and how they differ from each other and from a loan one might receive at a bank.

“We’re really looking at cash flow to see what the bottom line is,” PathStone business development officer Jonathon Ling said. “We don’t lend to people who don’t have sufficient cash flow in their business plan.”

The third and final presentation in the series will take place April 23 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the West Side Bazaar, 25 Grant St. Its subject will be “Scaling Up Your Business,” with an opportunity to meet and network with community business lenders. Interested participants can register for the free event at wedibuffalo.org/lendingoptions or by calling 716-436-2977.

Civic Innovation Challenge expected to be a catalyst for Buffalo entrepreneurship

Six weeks since the launch of Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown’s Civic Innovation Challenge, participation numbers and social media buzz have city officials feeling encouraged by the enthusiasm being generated for the competition.

The Civic Innovation Challenge, which runs through April 22, seeks the creation of an app, algorithm, or tech-based solution that addresses a need in Buffalo, based on data available through the new Open Data Buffalo portal, which went live Feb. 22. Teams will have the chance to win prizes totaling $8,000.

With about 70 entrants currently registered for the competition and an expansion of the data sets available in the city’s open source portal, Brown said he is optimistic about the ways in which the information will be used. The data, which ranges from police crime reports and locations to recycling rates broken down by neighborhood, can be viewed at https://data.buffalony.gov/

The competition is also part of Brown’s larger vision for Buffalo, he said, one where innovation and job growth benefits neighborhoods and families across the city. With recent investments in job training programs and business pitch competitions through grants, state, and local funds, the Civic Innovation Challenge is just another example of prioritizing entrepreneurship and innovation as the catalyst for the city’s latest growth.

“We want people to feel like they are very much a part of what’s going on in the City of Buffalo,” Brown told Upstart NY in early April, about three weeks before the Civic Innovation Challenge’s deadline. “They can help drive change for themselves and their neighbors.”

Brown has been clear about where his administration’s priorities lie when it comes to leading Buffalo at a time when the city, thanks to state and private investment, has made huge leaps but still has a long distance to go.

The Northland Redevelopment Project, for example, which partners the Buffalo Urban Development Corp., Empire State Development, New York Power Authority, and the City of Buffalo with funding from the Buffalo Billion Initiative to redevelop an East Side corridor, includes a major investment in a job-training center for high-growth manufacturing and energy sector positions.

From job training for Buffalo’s underemployed to investment in incubator space for high-growth tech entrepreneurs, Brown says for Buffalo’s growth to be sustainable, it needs to benefit everyone.

“Something I’ve focused on during my tenure is to create more training opportunities and create more employment opportunities. This open data portal presents the opportunity to spur economic development, spur entrepreneurship opportunities … we want entrepreneurs to have access to this data so that they can use that information to build their businesses,” Brown said.

Less than two months into the launch of the Open Data Buffalo portal, officials say it’s too early to tell how effective the available dashboard of applications will be to luring new startups to actually use them. Kirk McLean, special assistant to the deputy mayor and Open Data Buffalo program manager, says page views and word of mouth show it’s generating excitement. Consultants from Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities initiative and Johns Hopkins have helped structure the program effectively, and the program has been in the process of development since 2013, initiated when Buffalo was involved in the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge.

“We have heard from the civic tech community, city free data is everything they’ve always wanted. It’s a really great start. We’re really hoping to build on that,” McLean said.

Open data and government transparency can invite criticism, of course, but Brown said that after 13 years as Buffalo city mayor, he’s not afraid of what might be hidden in the available information.

“I think it’s important to be transparent, to be able to hear from residents, and we always are interested in receiving constructive criticism,” Brown said. “As a public figure, feedback is important to me.”

The Innovation Challenge, Brown said, is intended to be a springboard to greater applications of the available data. It’s just the tip, hopefully, of a recently formed iceberg.

“We want to really be very aggressive with this and we want to be very creative with it. We want to be sure it is used to the maximum benefit for residents of the community. We want to solve issues that people are having with the delivery of city services and to make it easier for residents to participate in civic life of the community,” Brown said. “With this challenge, they can participate in that process and help to drive change in ways we as city employees would not contemplate.”

Visit http://www.buffaloinnovates.com/ for more information about the Civic Innovation Challenge.


UB entrepreneurs tackle issues affecting the elderly

With a growing elderly population in the United States, the market for technological products that can assist them is rapidly expanding.

Recently, a group of University at Buffalo entrepreneurs, just hours away from their spring break, gathered to present innovative solutions to address the needs of the elderly at UB’s Innovation Sprint for the New York State Dept. of Health Aging Innovation Challenge. The winners of the pitch competition have the chance to present their prototypes in a statewide contest later this year.

Hosted by the UB Blackstone Launchpad chapter and the Center for Successful Aging, six teams with diverse backgrounds and skill sets--from computer science and engineering to business, management and medicine--presented their prototypes March 15, with first-, second- and third-place winners announced.

The winning team presented Go Dress Yourself, a mechanical device that assists the elderly and those with disabilities in getting dressed, without relying on batteries, manual strength, or smart technology.

The winning four-person team earned $2,000. Harsha Kosta, a computer science engineering graduate student, said each member of the team was motivated to find solutions for the aging after having had someone to care for in their personal lives.

“Each of us was working for this idea because we felt this idea could bring a major change in the future,” Kosta said in a text message to Upstart NY. “It was [designed] with an intention to be cheap and easy to buy.

“When we pitched the idea, the judges showed real interest in our product, even though our presentation was simple and we didn’t have high-tech designs,” she added.

The next step for Go Dress Yourself, Kosta said, is to develop a cleaner product design and tie up any legal ends to a patent. She said the team gladly will commit to developing the idea further, with the goal of addressing the needs of individuals who want to maintain their integrity and independence, freedoms often lost to age.

The team presenting mRehab, which couples smartphone technology with 3D printing techniques to provide in-home therapies for stroke patients, took home $1,500 for its second-place finish.

Team member Chen Song, a computer science engineer at UB, explained that the technology is both low-cost and highly customizable. There are currently commercialized solutions on the market, but costs can be prohibitive. Emerging 3D printing techniques and built in smartphone sensors can help create customizable rehabilitation programs for stroke patients, who can also receive objective feedback on their progress through data analysis software.

A video monitoring system that uses algorithms to identify changes in daily habits or movements, thus providing an efficient alert system compared to around-the-clock monitoring, called The Guardian, earned $1,000 in third place.

Phil Schneider, team leader for the 12-person crew, said he, too, has been personally affected by a circumstance that involved caring for a sick or elderly family member.

“I thought we have something that’s very doable,” Schneider said. “I really do believe this can be an actual company if we devote more to it.”

Schneider added that when speaking with classmates and colleagues, he realized the technology already existed to develop the product. It just hadn’t been applied yet to addressing concerns associated with the elderly.

Next, teams will begin to develop their prototypes to be presented at the New York State Dept. of Health’s Aging Innovation Challenge, with $50,000 in total prize money available.

According to the Aging Innovation Challenge website, innovators are required to submit a written proposal of their prototype by April 30. Additionally, selected innovators will be asked to submit a final project by Nov. 1, 2018. By Nov. 15, 2018, five finalists will be invited to make a live demonstration of their prototypes during the week of Nov. 28, 2018.


#weareentrepreneurs answers the question: “Why entrepreneurship?”

A social media campaign organized by the University at Buffalo’s Blackstone LaunchPad chapter is hoping to draw attention to the range of diverse backgrounds the school’s entrepreneurs have, from all stages of their careers as innovators.

Through the month of March, entrepreneurs associated with the university, including current and former students, business owners in the community, and friends of the program are encouraged to tag social media posts with #weareentrepreneurs, completing the sentence, “I am an entrepreneur because …”

It’s part of a national campaign in which Blackstone LaunchPad Entrepreneurship Initiative chapters across the country are participating.

Several current or former UB entrepreneurs have already participated, telling their entrepreneurial story through photo and video posts on the chapter’s social media channels, including the founders of Chipdown and ColdSpace Storage.

“It’s really a national campaign, but we’re encouraged to take it and run with it,” said Taylor Speer, a graduate assistant with the chapter. “It’s catching momentum. We’re starting to gain a lot of traction on tweets, retweets, and students appreciate the chance to be featured. It’s been a successful campaign so far.”

Another UB entrepreneur participating in the campaign is Isabel Hall, a UB engineering student whose passion for science, technology, engineering, and math inspired a STEM-focused summer camp for elementary school-aged girls. Supported by the Buffalo Student Sandbox program and the recipient of the Western New York Prosperity Fellowship, her camp has become a hit amongst local kids and parents, Speer said.

“We are trying to get a diverse range of perspectives,” Speer added. “The way we see it, entrepreneurs can be any color, any shape, any size, any gender, and any age. We are trying to pull entrepreneurs from different backgrounds and perspectives.”

Visit @LaunchPad_UB on Twitter and Instagram to see more of these stories through the month of March, or search the hashtag #weareentrepreneurs. Check them out on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LaunchPadUB/ Speer said videos and photos will be posted throughout the month.

“This is a great opportunity to highlight some of the ideas for ventures that might not be advanced in their development, they might not have social media channels yet,” Speer said. “It helps to get their names out there.”


Civic Innovation Challenge launched to benefit Buffalo

A new portal for open source data and resources in the City of Buffalo has prompted a competition from Mayor Byron Brown for developers, engineers, data scientists, entrepreneurs, and students to build an innovative technological product that benefits the city and its citizens.

With $8,000 on the line, the mayor’s Civic Innovation Challenge, which runs through April 22, seeks the creation of an app, algorithm, visualization model, or any solution a developer can dream up, that addresses a need in the city, based on the data available on the new Open Data Buffalo portal, which went live Feb. 22.

“My administration, and our partners, aim to unite developers in the WNY region to build mobile apps or other solutions that address community needs while demonstrating how mobile technologies can lead to next generation job growth and development in the City of Buffalo,” Brown said.

Starting in 2016, Mayor Brown, in collaboration with city departments and agencies, began to implement building the open data portal when it was selected by Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities initiative – a national effort to assist cities in their use of data for more effective civic service and performance management.

The “virtual library” allows city agencies to address concerns, allocate resources, and identify solutions more efficiently.

“Creation of the portal will also give our city departments the ability to tell their everyday stories through interactive tables, charts, graphs, and maps,” Brown said.

In conjunction with AT&T, which contributed the $8,000 award to be split among three finalists, the competition will be judged by Mayor Brown; Marissa Shorenstein, President of AT&T Northeast Region; Ulla Bak, co-founder and President of Bak USA, LLC; Christopher Fagiani, co-creator of open source mobile platform FLOW; and Andrew Nicklin of the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities initiative.

Competitors will be judged on weighted criteria, including benefit to the community, creativity, execution, video component and wow factor. CivicPlus and Socrata provided additional support for the competition.

““The Buffalo Civic Innovation Challenge is propelling Buffalo into a new era,” Bak said. “One where technology plays a significant role in shaping civic policy. One where technology is at the forefront of Buffalo’s resurgence. And one where we use technology to equalize access to information and use that access to benefit every citizen.”

Open Data Buffalo provides a host of datasets ranging from police and fire activity in the city to interactive maps from the Bureau of Forestry and Buffalo Recycles. The website, which lays out the information in dashboard panels, has quick links for developers and coders as well. The information can be found at https://data.buffalony.gov/

Complete information about the Civic Innovation Challenge, along with registration information, can be found at http://www.buffaloinnovates.com/.


Trade show do's for startups

Love them or hate them, trade shows are where you discover new clients. Each show takes time, effort, and money, but if done right, attending one can lead to new business. And while the main focus of these shows is sales, there are also opportunities to build brand awareness, hold customer meetings, gather intelligence, learn, develop strategic partnerships, and meet the press.
 

Consider this: At a trade show, booth staff can have more than 20 conversations per day with decision makers who are looking for solutions that your company can offer. How long would it take each member of your inbound/outside sales team to schedule that many meetings?

There’s no question that your buyer persona is walking around that show; your challenge is to talk to as many of them as possible and to ask great questions so you and your staff can decide which are potential prospects.

Don’t make the mistake of waiting for the perfect prospect to walk into your booth, and don’t give the same canned, overly long pitch to them when they do. Companies spend tens of thousands of dollars annually to participate in trade shows without ever giving thought to training their staff to improve the quality and number of leads generated from those shows. Remember, high-quality leads do not come because you have a tricked-out booth, or because you give attendees lots of swag or raffle off expensive stuff. Instead, roll some of this money into prepping your staff on engaging attendees, because inside and outside sales are a different animal from the trade show floor. And be sure that they follow up on the leads they’ve developed.


Avoiding the common trade show mistakes that drive up costs and don’t improve your outcomes allows you to make the most of your trade show and ensures a positive ROI.

 


New E-Network program seeks to connect entrepreneurs from diverse environments

Entrepreneurs in Niagara County have their own individual needs and challenges, and a new program through the Women’s Business Center at Canisius College seeks to provide support for female business owners in that area.

Twice per month, beginning March 14, the WBC program “E-Network - Niagara” will provide training, networking opportunities, and support, led by entrepreneur and Niagara County native Lisa Churakos.

“Small businesses can grow faster and farther if they learn to find synergistic relationships,” WBC executive director Sara Vescio said. Because of Niagara County’s diverse entrepreneurial environment–from downtown Niagara Falls to small-town Lewiston and rural Sanborn–sometimes business owners aren’t connecting with one another as frequently as they should, she added.

Supported by Yahoo!, Vescio first reached out to local business development institutions in Niagara County, like the Greater Lockport Development Corp., the Niagara Chamber of Commerce, and the Small Business Development Center at Niagara County Community College, to identify the need for the E-Network program there.

Churakos, a Niagara County entrepreneur and consultant who ran a restaurant at age 19, led a rebranding for local Goodwill stores, and spent time as a vice president of sales for a global software company, will teach the course, which will be offered at participants’ businesses in Lockport, Lewiston, Niagara Falls, and North Tonawanda, initially.

“The whole program is in the framework of accountability,” Churakos said. “We set goals on what (the entrepreneurs) want to achieve, then look at referrals and networking. When you understand who is in the room, you begin to realize how we can help each other.”

That networking element, Churakos said, is an important part of the program for women business owners in Niagara County, because it can lead to cross-marketing or referral opportunities down the road. Churakos, herself, is a WBC member and a vendor liaison for several food festivals in Niagara County.

The E-Network program in Erie County, Vescio said, has evolved over its approximately seven years of existence, but it has proven to be an asset for women business owners. She added she’s confident the Niagara E-Network course will also meet the participants’ needs.

Women with businesses in every stage of development and scale are welcome, Vescio said. And the values of the course are aligned with Canisius College’s lifelong learning mission.

Interested women entrepreneurs and business owners can find out more information about the course at http://thewomensbusinesscenter.com/program/e-network-niagara/2018-03-14/, or by calling 716-888-8280. The course, which runs from March to July for 10 meetings, costs $150.


Founder and CEO of Suncayr shares entrepreneurial journey

Andrew Martinko, the founder and CEO of Suncayr, spoke Wednesday evening at Daemen College about his entrepreneurial journey in front of about 100 students and faculty in the Wick Campus Center Alumni Lounge, part of the Nancy Haberman Gacioch Entrepreneurship Lecture Series through the school’s entrepreneurship program.

Martinko was a senior at the University of Waterloo when he started his company in 2014 with a friend in the basement of a university building. The product initially was a skin-safe marker that children could use to draw on themselves--the ink would change color if the sunscreen covering it had lost its effectiveness. However, mothers participating in product testing and focus groups noted that encouraging children to draw on themselves with these markers would raise the potential for a Sharpie disaster.

So SPOT, a UV-responsive sticker, was born. To appeal to young children, the stickers are decorated with fun colors and animal images, similar to a Band-Aid from a pediatrician’s office.

Martinko praised Velocity Science at the University of Waterloo, a small incubator lab that was created to provide a space for product testing and science innovation. Suncayr quickly outgrew the space, and the university expanded in nearby Kitchener, Ontario, to accommodate more entrepreneurs looking for room to create prototypes.

“Don’t let anything get in the way of what you’re trying to do,” Martinko said. “If they tell you there’s no place to do this, don’t let that get in your way.”

By 2016, Suncayr had filed its first patents and began to form a parent board of advisors. He credited the Johnson & Johnson JLab incubator space for helping move the product’s clinical trials forward. In 2017, Suncayr realized that there were opportunities to expand product growth in Australia, which has some of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. Martinko has spent months there, product testing and building relationships in that market.

In October 2017, Martinko moved to Buffalo. Now a resident of Allentown, he said that Buffalo’s close proximity to manufacturing and key partners has made its location a valuable asset. Today, the company has a staff of 10, and the product will launch in North America this summer.


Spring 2018 Startup School Series starts soon

Attention entrepreneurs and startup business teams! The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus is offering a series of seminars and workshops designed to provide you with the education and guidance you need to successfully design, launch, and grow your new companies. Topics covered will include: Hiring Your First Employees, Developing Your Brand, Empowerment for Women Entrepreneurs, Perfecting Your Pitch, Lifting Off with Analytics, Introduction to Blockchain, Podcasting for Business, Crowdsourcing for Business, SEO for Startups, and Protecting Your Intellectual Property. The sessions, which are free and open to the community, will be held Wednesdays from 12-1:30 p.m. at LEARN at the Innovation Center, 640 Ellicott St., Buffalo. For more information and to register, click here.

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