With the Help of Alumni, Students Pitch Business Ideas for Prize Money

On Sept. 15, enthusiastic business students gathered in front of alumni judges, professors and peers to present their unique start-up business plans for the conclusion of the weeklong Launch It! competition, the first-ever student business competition at SUNY Oswego.

Inaugural Launch It Competition Samantha Boyle ’17

Graphic arts majors Samantha Boyle ’17 and Madison St. Gelais ’17 (holding check, left and right) won the finals of the inaugural Launch It! competition, showcasing student entrepreneurs Sept. 15 in the Marano Campus Center auditorium. Led by past president Jordan Shutts ’16 M’17 (in back, second from left) and current president Eli VanOrman ’18 (right), the college’s chapter of Enactus shared Launch It! sponsorship with the School of Business and the Office of Business and Community Relations. Also shown are judges Dennis Shuler ’78 (far left), consultant at Bain Capital Ventures; and Austin Wheelock (starting fifth from left), deputy director at Operation Oswego County; Chena Tucker, director of OBCR; and Paloma Sarkar M’11, assistant vice president of credit risk at Pathfinder Bank.

Each team of entrepreneurs had four minutes to present their formulated ideas to a panel of established business people and SUNY Oswego alumni judges: Paloma Sarkar M’11 and Dennis Shuler ’78. Sarkar, originally from India, earned an MBA in Management from SUNY Oswego before interning at Pathfinder Bank in Oswego, where she currently works as the assistant vice president of credit risk. Shuler has an extensive background in organizational design and talent development, and works as a consultant at Bain Capital Ventures. During the introductions of the event, Shuler commended students for taking the first step into the world of business. “This is where business starts,” he said. “This is the incubator.”

Kevin Stickles '90

Kevin Stickles ’90, senior vice president of human resources at Wegmans, spoke Sept. 12 in an Enactus mentoring session in Rich Hall prior to the next day’s final round of the inaugural Launch It!, a startup business competition. Other alumni mentors included Kayla Doan ’11, innovation program manager for Constant Contact, and Sarah Miller ’15, innovation associate for AARP.

Chena Tucker, the director of the Office of Business and Community Relations, and Austin Wheelock, the deputy director of Operation Oswego County, were also on the judging panel.

Throughout the week leading up to the grand finale of Launch It!, the teams of students had opportunities to gather advice and crystallize their business plans through Launch It!’s Team Mentoring. Teams met in person, or through virtual sessions, with business professionals to adjust and develop their ideas and create their businesses. Mentors included Kevin Stickles ’90, senior vice president of human resources, and Duane Hutt, human resource manager, both of Wegmans Food Markets; Robert Colangelo, president at Colangelo Innovation Group; Kayla Doan ’11, innovation program manager for Constant Contact; and Sarah Miller ’15, innovation associate for AARP.

Participants also attended an opening keynote address the previous Friday, Sept. 8, delivered by Jeff Knauss ’07.

“I never wanted to be an entrepreneur,” Knauss told attendees during the Launch It! opening ceremony. Knauss spent eight years in broadcast television before he met business partner, Jake Tanner ’12, and together they established the Digital Hyve, a full-service digital marketing agency with offices in Syracuse and Rochester. (See related story on
page 24.)

Take big risks in the business industry, because there are great potential rewards, Knauss said.

In the final competition, sitting in the audience felt like attending a live viewing of the popular reality TV series Shark Tank. The panel of judges faced the stage while the teams confidently presented their pitches, all of them utilizing PowerPoint to lay the groundwork for their business models. Many teams had developed catchy slogans and professional catchphrases when they delivered their presentations. A few had also designed and produced apps and prototypes that added to the sense of professionalism within the competition. The students put a lot of time and effort into their projects, including extensive research of competing businesses, and the development of their financial plans.

A total of 15 teams participated in Launch It!, and the top three ideas earned cash prizes and free web hosting for a year, courtesy of Scott Gardner ’03, owner of Agile Marketing Services. The $250 third-place prize was awarded to Gimme, an app that enabled students to buy and sell items like textbooks, furniture and laptops with other students. The $500 second-place winner was Auditory Vision, a group of students who developed a prototype that would “revolutionize the lives of the blind community.”

And the grand prize winner of $1,000 that earned the opportunity to compete in the County of Oswego’s Business Plan Competition with the chance to win a $50,000 prize, was Bunk, an app designed for students looking for safe off-campus housing and to connect with potential roommates and verified landlords. The business enables the user, through the Bunk app, to search houses and apartments in their areas based on their own preferences, read reviews written by previous renters and take virtual tours of housing complexes on their mobile devices.

Lauren Sandford ’18

Leave a Reply