Published March 29, 2021
On Feb. 25, members of UB’s Blackstone LaunchPad program looked on remotely as one of program’s student teams, Opollo Technologies, placed third in this year’s Blackstone National Pitch Competition.
It marked the first time a UB team has ever placed in this national competition presented by Blackstone LaunchPad, a program designed to help students develop an entrepreneurial mindset.
“We paused our class, and I shared my screen to the live Zoom,” recalls Hadar Borden, director of UB’s Blackstone LaunchPad program. “We got to celebrate with Ryan and Anders, which was really cool.”
MD/MBA student Ryan Young, founder and CEO of Opollo Technologies, and MBA student Anders Rosén, chief sales and marketing officer, made UB LaunchPad history and received $10,000 for placing third.
The national pitch competition is an annual event in which teams of student entrepreneurs battle for national recognition and a monetary prize. Although held virtually this year, more than 60 teams from across the U.S. and Ireland competed.
In the end, UB saw its team on the leaderboard, an accomplishment that came just 10 days before the fifth anniversary of the introduction of the LaunchPad program to the UB campus.
“Placing was really important, but it’s not just the placement that mattered,” says Rosén. “It’s also about how the community came around us, as well as the amount of support, guidance and advice we got from Hadar Borden, Alex Pelc (the UB LaunchPad’s senior program coordinator) and Dave Thiemecke (startup client manager for UB’s Business and Entrepreneur Partnerships).”
Adds Young: “No one circles the wagons better than the Buffalo startup community.”
Opollo Technologies’ Ecosystem is a cloud-based, artificial intelligence platform that employs a wide range of health care data to optimize scheduling of operating rooms. It also provides a marketplace in which health insurance companies can obtain surgery slots for their customers that become available due to the increased efficiency in scheduling.
Opollo has been working with data from a large health care facility in Western New York. Initial results indicate its platform can save hospitals approximately $300 per surgery — $40 billion in potential savings industry-wide.
“What was coming out of (the facility’s) electronic medical record system was accurate 30% of the time, within plus or minus 10 minutes,” says Young. “That’s really bad. They can’t really plan their day at all. We want to give them a realistic estimate as to how long (surgeries) are going to take to prevent delays or fit in other surgeries.”
While Young has been affiliated with the LaunchPad program since October 2019, he’s been working on Opollo since the previous January.
“People say I’m insane for doing this,” he says. “But I wake up at 4:30 a.m. and start working on Opollo around 5:30 a.m. before class, and then after homework in the evenings. I go to bed around 11 p.m. and repeat that seven days a week.”
A schedule like Young’s is difficult to maintain, especially without help. That’s where Rosén came into the picture. Young had the idea for Opollo and an algorithm built, but was having trouble navigating the marketing side of entrepreneurship.
“I was a bit too technical and it was sometimes hard to understand,” he says. “And my presentation slides looked like garbage.”
Young says Rosén has one of the best presentation styles he has ever seen, which made the decision to bring him on board a no-brainer.
While Rosén had worked in communications and marketing in higher education in Washington, D.C. for four and a half years, he doesn’t attribute his success in marketing solely to his professional experience.
“I’m always proud to talk about my theater background,” he says. “That’s where I gained communication skills. It’s storytelling, and I think that when it comes to starting a new business, telling the right story is one of the key aspects to bringing in your audience.”
Opollo’s accomplishment is something Borden wants to build on within UB’s LaunchPad program.
“This achievement demonstrates the resources and devlopment that we’re offering to our teams, and is allowing them to be competitive at the higher level,” she says. “Students compete against institutions like NYU, UCLA and Texas A&M. Our students are on par with them, which shows we are doing the right things.”
Meanwhile, Opollo Technologies is not the only UB student startup to achieve success in the national Blackstone LaunchPad program. Startups Essential Machine and Limitless Medical Technologies recently were accepted to the Blackstone LaunchPad & Techstars Global Fellowship program after being selected from more than 125 nominations across 30 colleges and universities in the U.S. and Ireland.
Essential Machine, a service that upgrades existing vending machines with smart payment options, location-based features and a touchless interface, was founded by undergraduate business major Richard Crabbe; representing Limitless Technologies, whose product is a leak-sensing film that works with an app to monitor patients who have had intestinal repairs, are MBA/MPH student Andrea Kraft, undergraduate biomedical engineering major Jacob Opalinski, medical student Blake Kruger and former UB student Arnav Matta.
Blackstone’s global fellowship program provides students with resources, support and mentorship to help them advance their startup ideas over the eight-week program. They also receive $5,000 each in grant funding to support their time working on advancing their startup.
The fellowship experience “will help propel their ventures by offering greater exposure to investors and provide additional development support from experts in their industry,” Borden says.
Young and Rosén, who are now in the pilot phase of their company as they try to get Opollo to the next level, urge budding entrepreneurs to get involved in UB’s LaunchPad program, even if they don’t have a potential business idea.
“People can use your skill sets for their idea and bring you on board,” says Young.
Rosén agrees that LaunchPad can bring students many opportunities and connect them with the right people.
“The experience has been absolutely eye-opening,” he says.