$32K awarded to 4 University at Buffalo students for startup funding

From left, the Entrepreneurship Lab winners for 2015 are Mahmoud Kamal Ahmadi, Rohan Shah, Jorge Cueto and Joseph Peacock. (Photos by Douglas Levere)

Release date: January 28, 2015

Arjang Assad, dean of the UB School of Management, speaks before the announcement of the eLab winners Jan. 23.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Software to help companies retrieve files. A deployable wall to protect waterfront properties from flooding. A software platform that makes e-books more interactive. And a device to recover and refine precious metals.

These are the business startup ideas that earned four enterprising University at Buffalo students $8,000 each in seed funding, as well as mentorship and shared space in the UB Technology Incubator.

Fourteen UB students pitched their startups to a panel of local business leaders and investors on Jan. 23 as part of UB’s Entrepreneurship Lab (eLab), a business boot-camp-style course offered in partnership by the UB School of Management and the Office of Science, Technology Transfer and Economic Outreach (STOR), with funding provided through an anonymous donation to the School of Management.

The four winners are:

  • Mahmoud Kamal Ahmadi, a PhD student in chemical and biological engineering from Torbat-e Jam, Iran, who founded PreMeR X, a company developing a precious metal retrieval process.
  • Jorge Cueto, a doctoral student in civil engineering from Bogota, Colombia, for Smart Walls, a startup developing deployable precast concrete walls used to protect buildings or entire neighborhoods from flooding.
  • Joseph Peacock, an undergraduate computer engineering major from Tonawanda, for Igloo, a company devising an intuitive search engine that can quickly comb through and locate files on company servers, an individual’s computer and cloud applications simultaneously.
  • Rohan Shah, an undergraduate from Buffalo studying computer science and business. Shah founded InteractiveX, an application that creates fully interactive e-books that users can use to run simulations, take notes and ask a professor questions.

All students in the eLab received a $500 scholarship in the form of tuition reduction, three course credits and space in tenX, a new co-working space operated by STOR in the UB Technology Incubator.

“The eLab encouraged me to dream big and taught me what it takes to start a company,” says Ahmadi. “Being an entrepreneur is not a job you choose, but rather a lifestyle to adopt. The eLab was the first step of my journey as an entrepreneur.”

Now in its second year, eLab is held over UB’s three-week winter session and offers a crash course in developing a business, from engaging potential customers and partners to pitching to investors. Far from a typical class, the eLab accelerates the startup process for participants who already have promising ideas, brings in guest speakers from the local business community and invites students to watch pitches for capital in action at a Western New York Venture Association forum.

All participants are encouraged to enter the Henry A. Panasci Jr. Technology Entrepreneurship Competition, an annual competition created by the School of Management and STOR that awards seed funding and business services to UB student startups.

“Through initiatives like the eLab and the Panasci Technology Entrepreneurship Competition, the School of Management is deeply committed to helping entrepreneurs hone their skills and transform exciting ideas like those presented today into successful businesses,” says Arjang A. Assad, dean of the School of Management.

The eLab course is designed and taught by Yong Li, PhD, associate professor of operations management and strategy in the School of Management; Martin Casstevens, business formation and commercialization manager for STOR, is co-instructor.

Judges for the pitch competition were Scott Cassety, a local investor and entrepreneur; Jack McGowan, MBA ’88, project manager at Insyte Consulting and director for the Western New York Venture Association; and John Seman, CEO of Zoetic Pharmaceuticals.

The UB School of Management is recognized for its emphasis on real-world learning, community and economic impact, and the global perspective of its faculty, students and alumni. The school also has been ranked by Bloomberg Businessweek, the Financial Times, Forbes and U.S. News & World Report for the quality of its programs and the return on investment it provides its 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, the largest and most comprehensive campus in the State University of New York. UB’s nearly 30,000 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.

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mrbiddle@buffalo.edu