OSWEGO — SUNY Oswego held the final phase of its Launch It student business competition Friday evening, awarding a $1,000 prize to the best of 15 teams that pitched their ideas for a startup business to a panel of experts.
First place went to Madison St. Gelais and Samantha Boyle, both design students, for their app-based rental marketplace, Bunk. In addition to the $1,000, the team also won a sponsorship to compete in Oswego County’s business plan competition where they could win $50,000 more in startup funding.
Bunk, according to St. Gelais and Boyle’s sleekly produced video presentation, would let college students looking to live off campus create profiles describing themselves to safely connect with roommates and verified and rated landlords, along with other features like video tours of properties.
The idea for Bunk came from St. Gelais and Boyle’s own experiences with a flea-infested apartment and the difficulty of trying to find renters for their apartment mid-semester.
With the money they won Friday, the pair of entrepreneurs plan to invest in a trademark for their company and to hire back-end software developers to complement the front-end programming they already accomplished on their own. In the meantime, they’ll both be graduating in December and looking to start their own careers, but will still work on Bunk when they can.
“We’re currently applying to jobs, but this is our side business, our side hustle,” Boyle said.
In the detailed breakdown of their expected costs and potential revenue for their business, the pair said they’d already invested approximately $50,000 worth of labor. They also credited their design teacher, Cara Thompson, with letting them run with the idea and developing a prototype of the app and video.
The teams were judged on the uniqueness and innovation of their ideas and the persuasiveness of their pitch, in addition to technical aspects of business like proof of market, analysis of competitive forces and budget projections.
Friday’s panel of judges included alumni Paloma Sarkar ’11, Assistant Vice President of Credit Risk at Pathfinder Bank, and Dennis Schuler ’78, Senior Advisor to Sun Capital Partners and Bain Capital Ventures, and local experts Chena Tucker, Director of the College’s Office of Business and Community Relations, and Austin Wheelock, Deputy Director of Operation Oswego County, respectively.
Wheelock said the judges decided on Bunk because of the professionalism and polish of their pitch combined with their familiarity of student housing.
“I think that being a student competition, that’s something they understand very well,” Wheelock said. “I think the students can be passionate about it and bring expertise versus somebody who doesn’t have that have recent experience.”
Second place went to the Laker Hackers team and their project Auditory Visions, a pair of specialized glasses that would use artificial intelligence like IBM’s Watson or Amazon’s Alexa to provide voiced directions to the blind.
Ahmed Albajari, who handled the marketing aspects of the project, was grateful to win the second place prize of $500, but said he most appreciated the opportunity and felt their idea could go far regardless of missing out on the top honor.
“The experience matters most and getting our names out there and showing the world about these gentlemen, the brains behind the idea, and what SUNY Oswego has to offer, what kind of students are coming out of the college,” Albajari said, referencing teammates Shakar Dasgupta, Alex Kouthoofd, Nicholas Michel and Kyle Zeller.
The competition was organized by Enactus, an entrepreneurship-based student club, with the hopes of making it to the Enactus World Cup, an international competition between Enactus clubs.
Oswego Enactus Senior Vice President Briana Roy, who handled the logistics of planning and setting up Friday’s event, said the experience was challenging but rewarding.
“This has definitely been a great experience, especially for me as a junior, to have that management experience,” Roy said.
School of Business Dean Richard Skolnik said it was “gratifying and heartwarming” to see the entrepreneurship of the students and the level of collaboration between students from a wide variety of majors.
“I’ve been so impressed with the resourcefulness and the reliability of the students and it’s been a pleasure working with them,” Skolnik said.
Skolnik said the school has begun discussing how to start a course based around the idea that would include students from all majors and not just business, in addition to holding another competition next year.
Prior to Friday’s event, the teams received individual coaching from business executives with real world experience.
Among others, college alumni Kevin Stickles ’90, senior vice president of human resources at Wegman’s and Sarah Miller ’15, innovation associate with AARP, helped the teams craft their pitches and consider all the different aspects starting a business requires.