VOLUME 32, NUMBER 15 THURSDAY, December 7, 2000
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Students show entrepreneurial stuff
Market-research group wins first annual Henry A. Panasci Jr. Entrepreneurship Award

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Twenty-four-year-olds Eric Reich and Michael Weisman were ecstatic when a little more than a year ago, on a lark, they hatched what they considered to be the "perfect" business idea. And then they came up with another idea-one that ultimately may serve as insurance against the first going, as they say in the biz world, belly up.

"There's been this notion the last couple of years, that when (students) get a good idea for business, they just drop out and go for it," said Reich, who-along with teammates and fellow MBA students Weisman, Karen Woodman and Matthew Worden-clinched the top prize of $25,000 in the first Henry A. Panasci Jr. Entrepreneurship Awards Competition at UB on Monday night.

"We have a different philosophy," said Reich, who also is pursuing a law degree at UB. "We call it 'dropping in.'"

  Karen Woodman (left) and Eric Reich celebrate their team winning the first Panasci entrepreneurial competition.
Rather than eschew university life in order join the ranks of the "real world," Reich said they decided to tap into resources at their immediate disposal while still mapping out their idea.

"We've gone around to every department at school," said Reich, explaining that they consulted professors in various departments-from computer science, to engineering, to marketing and law-for everything from technical minutiae to a review of their comprehensive business plan. "We've utilized what the university has to offer, instead of leaving the university.

"Literally, we would drop into people's offices," Reich said. "So that was the expression-'dropping in.'"

Already showing signs of the savvy businessman, Reich points out: "A professor's advice is free. The minute we drop out, it's $100 an hour."

Lest anyone think the group is trying to exploit the university's resources, Reich explains the aim is to help boost UB's reputation through the fruits of a team effort.

"We want to say, in the end, this is a UB-borne idea," he said. "Does that mean UB gets an equity stake? No," he said laughingly. "But we'll admit that UB was a great place to start."

In part, the thrust of the award is to cultivate Western New York-based business. While Reich and Weisman grew up in the area-pals since they attended nursery school together-and Worden hails from the Rochester area, and Woodman from Boston, the group is committed to making it happen here.

"We all have a vested interest in Buffalo," Reich said. "We're going to be a success story."

A timely-and costly-undertaking, to be sure, the teammates of Triad College Market Research Group agree that their idea-a marketing research company that supplies corporate clients with information about college consumers through the use of hand-held technology, or personal digital assistants-is too good to rush.

"We're the first winners of the award," said a smiling Worden, 24, whose parents drove in from Honeyoye Falls for the competition. "There's a lot of responsibility that comes with it."

Woodman, too, was visibly moved by Monday's announcement.

"We're a little awestruck," she said, noting that despite plans to proceed-money or no money-the group was thrilled to be the recipient of the generous award.

Reich said the group-planning to formally roll out the business in September 2001-is bent on protecting the integrity of the award.

"We're going to act fast to make sure we get the job done," he said, noting plans to begin canvassing campuses for a series of trial-run surveys this spring. "But we're not going to do it in a way that we run out of money in a month.

"We're the pioneer," he said, and by virtue of that fact, "we're going to get judged. We want to make sure we're using (the money) in the most strategic fashion we can."

The idea-the brainchild of Reich and Weisman-already was in development stages when the two enrolled this fall in UB's entrepreneurship course, taught by John Hannon, a visiting associate professor in the School of Management. It was there the group's chemistry blossomed.

"It was love at first sight," Reich said of Woodman's and Worden's enthusiasm for the business plan. "We were so lucky (that) everything fell into place."

Hannon, who was on hand Monday night to share in the celebratory atmosphere, said the team dynamic-the unique characteristics of each member-was what sealed the deal.

"The level of professionalism that these students demonstrate, I would match against any other student group-Harvard University, The Wharton School (at the University of Pennsylvania) and the like," he said. "I'm elated for these students. They really put their minds to something and accomplished the goal they set out for."

The competition, administered by the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership in the School of Management, culminated in presentations made by the final five of 18 original teams, which were judged by a panel of eight local entrepreneurs who previously had reviewed each group's business plan.

A second-place prize of $15,000 was awarded to Vertical Grocer, an on-line service provider for the grocery industry. Kristen Maher, an MBA student and member of the Vertical Grocer managerial team, said the group will continue to move forward with its business plans.

Panasci, who was unable to attend Monday's competition, is a UB alumnus and chairman of Cygnus Management Group. Panasci has said the competition, made possible through his $1 million endowment to the university, is a way to encourage new business growth in upstate New York.

"The future depends on entrepreneurs, and we need to support their efforts," he said in 1999 when the contest was established.

Panasci, a 1948 graduate of UB's chemistry department and a 1952 graduate of the School of Pharmacy, also served as chairman and CEO of Fay's Inc., which he and his father, Henry A. Panasci Sr., also a UB pharmacy graduate, co-founded in 1958.

Other finalists were Applied Ceramics Technologies Inc., specializing in production of ceramic-grinding media, bearings, ballthreads and other machine tool parts; RingUpParts.com LLC, a virtual company looking to boost the auto-parts industry by featuring an online "referral ring" for vendors, and Web Cash, a company striving to eliminate online theft through the use of individual purchasing accounts that prevent release of personal information.

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