SEAS student takes second place at UB’s Henry A. Panasci Jr. Technology Entrepreneurship Competition

Two students standing in front of a colorful backround.

Dominic LaVigne, a mechanical engineering student (right) and his partner Daniel Chan (left). 

Adapted from UBNow

Published May 2, 2024

The Henry A. Panasci Jr. Technology Entrepreneurship Competition (Panasci TEC), hosted by UB’s Startup and Innovation Collaboratory powered by Blackstone LaunchPad, brought together UB students from science, technology, business and other disciplines to maximize their potential and create viable businesses in Western New York.


Dominic LaVigne, a mechanical engineering student in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), and Daniel Chan, a business student in the School of Management, came in second for their company, Exergi.

The team will collect $10,000 for Exergi, which develops and deploys a solar energy generator for residential and small commercial buildings. Their device is powered by a novel, patent pending, micro steam turbine that allows the system to be produced at a lower cost than solar panels.

LaVinge was included on Buffalo Business First's 2023 5 under 25 list, featuring young entrepreneurs who are growing startup companies, for his work with Exergi. 

The winning team, first-year MBA students Matthew Mullens and Neharika Korati, will receive $25,000 in startup capital and in-kind services valued at $40,000 for their company, Empasta, which produces what the team calls “cheeze” sauce — a healthier, tasty cheese alternative.

Four of the teams of finalists included students from SEAS.  Ava Fetzner, an environmental engineering student, and Joseph Cortez, a mechanical engineering student, represented Team DUCCS, developing new technology to decrease greenhouse gas emmisions, biochar wattles. Setareh Kazemi Kheiri, an industrial and systems engineering student, and Ester Jose, working towards his PhD in industrial and systems engineering, represented Team Connext, working towards technology that could help to provide individualized mentorship to help high school students in their career exploration process. Elenora Undurus, studying computer science and mathematics, was a part of Team Hive, creating a platform designed to connect students, clubs and universities.

Panasci TEC provided coaching and mentoring to participants to prepare them for their pitches.

Selected from 31 first-round pitches and 12 semifinalists, six teams of finalists delivered long-form presentations to judges and spectators on April 17. At the final event on April 18, they delivered five-minute pitches, 43North style, to a panel of judges and other viewers, and were evaluated on how well they described the feasibility and marketability of their venture, proved the need for their product or service, and presented potential sources of capital.

In addition to the competition, guests were immersed in a demonstration of Buffalo’s “fashionpreneurs” and “foodpreneurs” and an exclusive runway presentation by Western New York Fashionpreneurs.