Three takeaways from UB’s Panasci startup contest
“Ready, set, pitch,” the audience called out as each of the University at Buffalo’s best student startups began their two-minute presentations.
Five of UB’s top entrepreneurial teams competed April 20 for a $25,000 grand prize in the Henry A. Panasci Jr. Technology Entrepreneurship Competition.
Team Real Talk, an ed-tech startup that helps organizations pursue diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace, walked away with the giant check while RHM Innovations won the $10,000 second place prize for its shower chair attachment that helps the elderly and disabled bathe independently .
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The annual startup contest is a celebration of innovation and entrepreneurship on UB’s campus and an opportunity for student entrepreneurs to make connections with people in the local tech and startup community who can help them grow their businesses.
Here are three takeaways from this year’s Panasci competition.
Of the five finalist teams, four were tech-based, which are exactly the types of companies the Buffalo-Niagara region is looking to attract.
Once they get off the ground, tech companies have the potential to scale up rapidly, injecting money into the local economy and creating well-paying jobs.
“The Panasci competition helped us solidify how we will contribute to the region’s economic development – providing new jobs and opportunities to upcoming professionals,” said Malkijah Griffiths, one of the founders of Team Real Talk who is currently pursuing master’s degrees in public health and business administration at UB.
In addition to Team Real Talk and NetWorthy, the other tech companies that competed at Panasci were Sentrify and Open Beats.
Sentrify is a platform digital content creators can use to centralize their content so their audience can find their videos, podcasts and blogs all in one place. Open Beats is a cloud-based collaborative music studio that lets artists work on projects remotely in real time.
2. Taking cues from 43North
Organizers changed this year’s Panasci finale to be more similar to the 43North startup competition’s finals.
Each of the final five teams had two minutes to pitch their company to a panel of judges and a room full of spectators, followed by two minutes of questions from the judges. They were evaluated on how well they described the feasibility and marketability of their venture, proved the need for their product or service and presented potential sources of capital.
The day before, the entrepreneurs gave longer presentations to the same judges and got detailed feedback and advice.
This new format was not only more entertaining for the audience, but gave the student entrepreneurs experience giving different kinds of pitches – a skill that will help them as they go on to grow their companies outside of UB.
Panasci organizers added for the first time a people’s choice category, selected by the audience. NetWorthy, a personal finance tool aimed at college students, took home the $1,000 prize.
3. Building a better future for generations
The Panasci contest can be a steppingstone for students to launch their businesses to success beyond UB.
Campus Labs, originally called Student Voice, was the first winner of Panasci in 2001 and is among Western New York’s biggest startup successes. The company sold for more than $90 million in 2015 and later merged with two other companies to form Anthology.
Previous winners and finalists have also gone on to raise millions in funding from investors and other startup contests.
Any of this year’s finalists could go on to see the same success as Campus Labs. Such success could not only change their lives, but the lives of future generations, said LaTanya White, a racial equity entrepreneurship expert and educator. She also served as a judge.
“What UB is doing with Panasci is literally changing the course of generations to come,” she said.
“It’s amazing to see what students are thinking about and the ideas that you were presenting to us,” White said. “So hats off to you for that.”
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