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.”