UB Entrepreneurship Competition Awards $35,000 in Seed Money

By Jacqueline Ghosen

Release Date: April 29, 2009 This content is archived.


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Clockwise from top, Benjamin Smith, Beili Hahn, Chen Chen, Robert Genco, team leader Weibo Si, Arjang Assad and Lei Shi.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Two teams won more than $35,000 in cash in the University at Buffalo's Henry A. Panasci Jr. Technology Entrepreneurship Competition (Panasci TEC) for their innovative ideas in online English tutoring and chemical detection systems.

Panasci TEC, now in its ninth year, awards seed money and business services to the teams that present the best plan for launch of a viable new business. Nine local ventures have been launched with first-place prize money since the UB competition began, and most are still in business.

Chen Chen of Amherst, Beili Han of Amherst, Benjamin Smith of Syracuse, Lei Shi of North Tonawanda and Weibo Si of Williamsville won the $25,000 first prize for their proposed business, Welanguage, an online service in which native Chinese speakers can learn spoken English.

While written English is often learned at an early age in China, Welanguage will focus on the more difficult task of assisting clients with spoken English through online videoconferencing.

The second-place prize of $10,000 in start-up funding went to Matthew Bell of Buffalo, Andrew Ryan of Manorville and Raju Somani of Buffalo for TeraSpecter, their proposal to manufacture and market portable chemical detection systems for security and screening applications for use in airports, border crossings and government buildings.

"I was delighted with the diversity of the proposals," said Arjang A. Assad, dean of the UB School of Management. "There was variety not only in the technologies, but also in the types of entrepreneurship models used."

Weibo Si of the winning team said that the Panasci TEC process helped them build a strong team. Si credited their team coach, Alan Zdon, president of iCraveit.com and Panasci TEC 2005 winner, with assisting them throughout the process.

"Alan gave us valuable advice, and with his help, we developed a very good business plan," said Si.

The first-prize package includes $25,000 in seed funding and in-kind awards for legal services from Jaeckle Fleischmann and Mugel, accounting services from Bechtel, Kopin & Company and office space from North Forest Office Providers.

The competition is designed to bring students from science and technology disciplines together with students or recent graduates from the School of Management to maximize their business and scientific potential and create viable businesses in Western New York.

Sixteen teams entered this year's competition and five teams of finalists presented their business plans publicly in the competition's final round on April 27 in the Jacobs Executive Development Center.

Other new venture ideas included a branded welcome service, a company that would sell and install geo-source heat pumps and a company that would provide hosted Web sites for student clubs, charities and social organizations.

Serving as judges for the event were Michael Blumensen, president, Digital Surveillance Solutions; Robert H. Fritzinger, CEO, Zenhire; James Hengst, president and CEO, ZeptoMetrix; Marnie LaVigne, director of business development, New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences; Mel Passarelli, vice president, North American operations, Attunity; and Brian Pearson, president, Valuation Advisors.

Panasci TEC was created by the University at Buffalo School of Management and the UB Office of Science, Technology Transfer and Economic Outreach, and is funded with a $1 million endowment from the late Henry A. Panasci Jr., UB alumnus and former CEO of Fay's Inc., to facilitate and promote the commercialization of UB-generated technologies.

The Wall Street Journal has ranked the UB School of Management No. 9 in the nation among schools with strong regional recruiting bases. In addition, BusinessWeek has ranked the school as one of the country's top 5 business schools for the fastest return on MBA investment, and Forbes has cited it as one of the best business schools in the U.S. for the return on investment it provides MBA graduates. For more information about the UB School of Management, visit mgt.buffalo.edu.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system that is its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.