BUFFALO, N.Y. – Twelve classmates have joined the ranks of
the University at Buffalo’s first entrepreneurial boot camp
for students, and up to five of them have a chance to win $8,000 in
seed funding when they complete it.
The Entrepreneurship Lab, or eLab, is not your traditional
Forget homework and tests. Students spend three weeks during
UB’s Winter Session fine-tuning their business pitches,
engaging potential customers and sizing up target markets.
At the end of the course, participants present their startup
ideas to a panel of local business leaders and investors. The
students with the most promising projects will win the
university’s new Student Entrepreneur Fellowship, including
$5,000 - $8,000 in startup funds, mentorship and shared space in
the UB Technology Incubator.
“The UB Student Entrepreneur Fellowship Program is
designed to offer UB students the concepts and tools to function as
an entrepreneur,” says Robert Genco, DDS, PhD, SUNY
Distinguished Professor and director of UB’s Office of
Science, Technology Transfer and Economic Outreach (STOR).
“The lab helps them identify problems, develop solutions and
place their products in the market to benefit the
The student entrepreneurs will pitch products and services from
shoes made of recycled taxi tires to a mobile application that
connects students with their peers for tutoring and study sessions.
Only a few classmates will win the fellowship. But they all will
finish with three credits toward graduation and invaluable
“The real product of the class is a better understanding
on how to size up opportunities and present them to others,”
says Martin Casstevens, UB business formation and commercialization
manager for STOR. “We expect them all to establish
businesses. Even if they fail, the skills they learn will enable
them to take their next idea forward.”
The course, which is a joint effort among UB's Entrepreneurship
Academy, School of Management and STOR, is led by Genco and Yong
Li, associate professor of operations management and strategy in
the UB School of Management.
“We called the course a lab because we wanted our students
to learn concepts and tools, and then use them to test whether
their ideas are technically and commercially feasible,” says
Li, also academic director of the Entrepreneurship Academy.
“If their ideas work, we help students accelerate the startup
process with the student entrepreneur fellowship program. If our
student’s ideas are do not work out, they will lean how to
fail quickly and maybe use what they have learned to start up again
in the future.”
Open to both undergraduate and graduate students, eLab
accelerates the startup process for students who already have
entrepreneurial ideas. The course brings in nine guest speakers
from the local business community and includes a trip to a Western
New York Venture Association forum, where students can watch a
pitch for capital in action.
The class focuses on customer engagement, asking participants to
call potential buyers for feedback on products and services. The
process prevents students from building products or services that
people won’t want, and helps them realize that an idea
“When Mr. Casstevens contacted me about my entrepreneurial
idea and how e-Lab could help, it seemed too good to pass
up,” says April LoTempio, a UB MBA student. “This is
exactly the kind of hands-on work and practical knowledge I need to
move my business forward. The fact that our final 'exam' is to make
a presentation in hopes of winning fellowship funding just makes it
Students who win the fellowship are encouraged to enter the
Henry A. Panasci Technology Entrepreneurship Competition, a School
of Management and STOR business plan contest that helps fund UB
student start ups. Recipients receive $25,000 in seed funding,
business services and office space.
Some of the businesses this year’s e-Lab students are
A bright idea
Stickerlight is a customizable and sound-activated light-up
sticker for laptops. The startup placed second in the 2013 Panasci
Competition, earning $10,000 in seed funding. Michael Sparks, the
founder and an MBA student, converted the idea from a previous
business he had: selling light-up T-shirts.
When the shirts lost profitability, Sparks tampered with the
idea of adding circuitry to other objects, including binders. But
when local DJs reached out to him to customize their laptop covers,
he knew he had a business. Stickerlight will soon launch a
Kickstarter campaign to raise funding.
We’re not TOMS
The Atinga Project sells recycled taxi tire footwear made by
artisans in Rwanda. The business promotes the sale of
environmentally friendly sandals, boosts economic opportunities for
African artisans and challenges Americans’ perception of
Africa. The company placed third in the 2013 Buffalo Startup
UB student Chris Way, the founder, met the artisans on a study
abroad program to Rwanda. The Atinga Project was born after Way saw
the effect that the TOMS brand of shoes had on local businesses.
When TOMS sells a pair of shoes, the company donates a pair to an
impoverished community. However, by giving shoes away for free,
many artisans’ businesses suffer. Way and his partner, Alex
Burgos, a senior business administration major, are developing a
partnership and collaboration with cooperatives in Rwanda and the
West Side Bazaar in Buffalo. The collaboration allows Way and
Burgos to sell the Rwandan artisans shoe without harming their
market They plan to launch their website in February.
The Classroom Market
B2Y Education bridges the gap between businesses and youth.
Putting together engaging marketing programs for youth can be
intimidating for some organizations.
LoTempio, the founder of B2Y Education and a UB MBA student,
uses her experience as a classroom teacher and curriculum writer to
develop programs for her clients. Her services include everything
from planning field trips and curriculums to providing web
Preparing for Disaster
Earth Risk Systems assesses the risks associated with natural
disasters, such as snowstorms, landslides and volcano eruptions.
Elena Ramona Stefanescu, founder and mechanical engineering
doctoral candidate, is developing software that estimates the cost
of damages to property and the areas of people affected by
disaster. With these estimates, engineers, governments, and clients
in the insurance and construction industries can better prepare for
Study Group Expansion
WeStudy is a mobile application that connects college students
with their peers for academic purposes. Vitchel Toussaint, the
founder and a senior psychology major, decided to pursue the
venture when he realized he was never short of friends for social
activities, but had a hard time meeting fellow students who could
collaborate on schoolwork.
The app, which will launch on iOS and Android mobile operating
systems on Jan. 20, categorizes students based on school, major,
class level, strengths and weaknesses. Students can add
“buddies,” find tutors and form study groups.
Emviss, or Electromagnetic Vibration Isolation and Stabilization
System, is a manufacturer of electromagnetic devices that provide
vibration isolation for machines that require high resolution and
precision. These technologies are mainly used in research centers
Hosein Kerdar, the founder of Emviss and a civil engineering
doctoral candidate, is developing a prototype and is raising funds
for further development. The company’s partners include the
Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and Nikon.
Overlays is a software that allows users to take their
location-based data and view it over Google Maps. The software
takes advantage of the public’s familiarity with Google Maps,
and offers businesses and marketers a dynamic way to visualize,
compare and draw conclusions from data. The company founders are
Vincent Schutt, aUB MBA student, and Surjya Ray, a UB electrical
engineering doctoral candidate. Tobias Scott-Killian, a geography
graduate student, is a partner.
Retaining Local Talent
West Worx is a student employment agency that connects college
students with small businesses and startups. The company offers
professional development services as well. Travis West, the founder
and a UB senior business administration major, watched many of his
friends graduate and struggle to land jobs because of their lack of
West Worx helps students gain the necessary experience before
they graduate. West says he knows there are opportunities for
college graduates in Buffalo, and is working to retain the