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Syracuse iSchool students present entrepreneurial endeavors at Tech Garden event
On Aug. 12 at the Syracuse Technology Garden, a crowd of 75 people watched eagerly as a gauntlet was thrown and the competitors drew. Syracuse University School of Information Studies (iSchool) senior Dave Chenell ’10 sketched a high-tech looking robot and challenged Visual and Performing Arts senior Eric Cleckner’s hand-drawn oversized bear to a fight.
They uploaded the images into their new online game, Grafight, and based on some algorithms generated by “Cornelius”-their proprietary game engine-the two hand-drawn characters began to fight. In the end, the bear’s upper body strength and low center of gravity prevailed as he sent the robot flying into a computer screen within the desktop scene of the game.
This fight led the students to win the “People’s Choice Award” and $1,000 during the Tech Garden’s Student Sandbox Demo Day. Grafight was one of four student companies that presented their business ideas to a room full of angel investors- Central New York business people, Tech Garden companies and staff members, and representatives from Syracuse University during the two-hour event downtown.
“This project is extremely important to the Tech Garden and to our community,” says Nasir Ali, president of the Tech Garden. “One thing that distinguishes our region is our access to a renewable resource-the brains that flock to our region continually, get trained by the best minds here, and all too often leave without making much of a mark on our community. So this is an opportunity for us to tie the community to the students, welcome them, and give them that first step into the real world after college.”
The Student Sandbox is part of the Student Start-Up Accelerator, an SU initiative headed up by iSchool Assistant Professor Michael D’Eredita. The project includes a fall semester course, “What’s the Big Idea,” that assists students in identifying feasible business ideas; a spring semester course, “Idea 2 Startup,” that coaches students on turning those ideas into viable businesses; and the Student Sandbox, a 12-week culmination of an entrepreneurial learning experience at the Tech Garden.
“The funnel for the Sandbox program was the new course taught by Nasir Ali and Mike D’Eredita last fall,” says John Liddy, serial entrepreneur and head coach of the student teams. “So how’s the course going to do this year? Well, 100 students have signed up for the course this fall. That’s a real success.”
Among the four student businesses was Brand-Yourself.com, one of five finalists vying for the national title of Entrepreneur magazine’s “College Entrepreneur of the Year.” Brand-Yourself.com is the first online reputation management platform for job applicants to establish a professional web presence that gets them hired, rather than cut from the applicant pool.
The company is headed up by iSchool senior Pete Kistler, who serves as CEO; SU alumnus, 2009 SU Engagement Fellow, and iSchool graduate student Robert Sherman ’09, who serves as chief technology officer; Whitman School of Management senior Trace Cohen ’10, who is in charge of marketing; and Whitman and College of Arts and Sciences student Evan Watson ’11, the self-proclaimed chief evangelist for the company. Even before its official launch of Aug. 15, the company attracted a lot of attention, taking home a $10,000 second place at SU’s Panasci Business Plan Competition, being among the top five finalists of New York’s Creative Core Emerging Business Competition, and being named one of the nation’s “100 Most Innovative Student Startups” by the Kairos Society.
Syracuse iSchool alumnus and graduate student Justin Breese ’08, G’10 introduced his new company, Congruser, a pay-for service that allows users to have a consistent username across sites and allows for a portal of presence of user activity. He explained how the company will target publicist firms that represent branded personalities to build legitimacy as a service.
Recent Newhouse alumnus and current iSchool graduate student Jack Wright ’09, G’11 presented his company, OpenQuad, a one-stop shop for college students to learn about student organizations, buy textbooks, order their food and lease their apartments. His phased roll-out begins with the textbook functionality at three universities this fall.
OpenQuad will allow students to search for their textbooks based on the course title before class starts, rather than waiting for the syllabus on the first day of classes. This will allow students to order or rent their books online to avoid the higher priced textbooks available at university and campus area bookstores. Eventually, OpenQuad will have a listing of all campus organizations, student events, campus and area restaurants and apartment listings.
Most of the companies plan to do initial or partial launches of their businesses this fall, and plan a larger roll-out by next spring or summer. Hopes are high that these businesses will thrive in the market.
“The ideas the students come up with are things their peers are interested in that solve the problems they come across and that identify the needs and interests they have,” Ali says. “And that makes for a very good business case. You understand your customer and give them something they value.”
To learn more and to support the students and their entrepreneurial ideas, visit http://accelerate.syr.edu.
About the Syracuse Student Startup Accelerator
The collaborative project aims to leverage Syracuse University and regional business resources for training a new generation of entrepreneurial students and seed a high-tech economy for Syracuse. It has received support from the Kauffman Foundation through Enitiative, and from a Syracuse University Chancellor’s Leadership grant.
About the Syracuse Technology Garden
The Tech Garden fosters entrepreneurial activity in Syracuse and the Central New York region by stimulating technological creativity through the incubation of technology start-up businesses. A network of partnerships delivers streamlined access to leading business and technical service providers. Special partnering arrangements with universities and colleges enable companies to reach out for the best and brightest talent in the area and connect to technical expertis