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Funded in 90 seconds: Nine student startups claim $5,000 in prizes during business pitch competition

by jmaloni


Wed, Apr 15th 2015 04:20 pm

An app that allows voters to voice their opinions to politicians. A 3-D metal printer. And a chemotherapy treatment without the unpleasant side effects.

Once the ideas of University at Buffalo students, these startups are now a step closer to reality after taking first place in the annual UB Elevator Pitch Competition.

Their prize: $1,000 in seed funding and the reassurance they have a potential million-dollar idea.

"I think it's exciting to have the opportunity to make up to a $1,000 in 90 seconds but, more than that, it's awesome to pitch your ideas and get your voice out there in front of so many distinguished members of our community," said Minahil Khan, an undergraduate who took first place with her politically themed app, Branches.

The Elevator Pitch Competition returned April 9 for its third year - "Shark Tank"-style. The competition followed the premise of a student obtaining a chance meeting with an investor in an elevator.

Armed with nothing more than their voices, 60 student teams stepped from an eight-foot-tall vintage elevator to pitch their businesses in 90 seconds to a panel of judges from Buffalo's entrepreneurial community.

Judges were not allowed to ask follow-up questions and judged contestants solely on the strength of their pitches.

"This competition gives students a chance to develop the skills that allow them to become good at selling themselves, and making their ideas strong and understood," Provost Charles Zukoski said. "To some extent, the competition is about raising money, but part of it is students sharing their ideas to develop these communication skills."

The first-place prizewinners who took home $1,000 are:

•Branches - led by Khan: Building an app that encourages voters to use their phones in politics.

•Toward Practical 3D Metal Printing - led by Ansh Pandey, an undergraduate mechanical engineering major: Creating an affordable 3-D metal printer.

•Photozyne - led by Michael Bisogno, a medical student: Developing a drug delivery system activated by light that targets cancer.

Second-place winners, who received $500, are:

•interactiveX - led by Shah Rohan, an undergraduate computer science major: Creating the smart textbook from which students can complete assignments, share notes with their class or send questions to their professor.

•3C - led by Akshay Sivadas, an undergraduate mechanical engineering major: Developing a condom that changes colors after intercourse if it contacts a sexually transmitted disease.

The third-place winners, who were awarded $250, are:

•Autonomous Pacemaker - led by M.H. Ansari, a graduate mechanical engineering student: Creating a pacemaker that is powered by the heart's vibrations.

•Pocket Shopper - led by Jeremy Topolski, a graduate computer science student: Developing an app that self-purchases customer groceries and household products when supplies run low.

•The Food Bus - led by Steven Coffed, an undergraduate aerospace engineering major: Building the city's first food bus to join Buffalo's growing food truck scene.

•UPlan - led by Brittany Popovski, an undergraduate accounting major: Developing an app that plans healthy meals for users based on the amount of calories they need to consume.

Winning teams were encouraged to further their ideas through one of several classes at UB; participating in the Henry A. Panasci Jr. Technology Entrepreneurship Competition; or interning with the Buffalo Student Sandbox program, which provides students with a weekly stipend to build their own startup.

"UB is in a unique position to encourage student entrepreneurship, given that we have a great blend of talents in arts, sciences, engineering, management and other disciplines," said Yong Li, Ph.D., associate professor of operations management and strategy in the School of Management and academic director of the Entrepreneurship Academy. "Entrepreneurship stimulates innovation, job creation and economic growth - exactly what Western New York needs."

The event was sponsored by the UB Academies, the School of Management and the Office of Science, Technology Transfer and Economic Outreach (STOR). Students and faculty in the UB School of Architecture and Planning constructed the elevator. The awards were made possible by funding provided through an anonymous donation to the UB School of Management.

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