Oscar Pedroso, founder of Thimble.

While working in a college admissions department, Oscar Pedroso noticed that students interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) studies had no effective way to present projects. It got him thinking: why not create an electronic portal capable of showcasing technical work when applying for colleges, internships and jobs? That idea launched GradFly in 2012. As he assembled a team and began product development, Pedroso recognized the need to be “plugged into” the Buffalo scene. The UB School of Management’s High-Tech Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (CEL) – partially funded through an Economic Development Administration grant awarded to a consortium of UB entities and administered by UB TCIE – would serve as his building block. “I don’t think a lot of things would have happened if I didn’t go through the CEL program,” he said, reflecting on the program’s domino effect. Renamed Thimble, the company has grown its product into an interactive online community that attracts students as well as the “hardware maker” community, which dabbles in everything from robotics and drones to 3D printers and circuit boards. Pedroso is working toward increasing the amount of active users, expanding beyond Western New York, adjusting the business plan to entertain marketplace gaps, and emerging as a thought leader.

The Approach

Designed by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs, the 10-week High-Tech CEL program is for innovators of early-stage life science and technology companies. Aimed at creating a strong management team and developing a pathway toward commercialization, it consists of:

  • Interactive education presented by business experts via case studies, roundtables, panel discussions and lectures
  • One-on-one mentoring with a seasoned entrepreneur
  • Networking opportunities

The Impact

  • Gained first university customer after being introduced by his mentor to UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences dean
  • Became exposed to new grant opportunities and received writing assistance that aided in securing funds from the UB Center for Advanced Biomedical and Bioengineering Technology (UB CAT) and First Niagara Financial Group to support product development and a market research study
  • Won infoTech Niagara BETA awards for startup of the year and student in technology after being nominated by a fellow CEL classmate
  • Partnered with iSciWNY to promote STEM careers among high school students while receiving a better perspective of programming and company involvement in the community
  • Company growth has led to being named a START-UP NY company, netting tax savings for both the company and employees, as well as providing an incentive for attracting talent