Category

Innovation

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

Spring 2020 Events Calendar

By Ain Center Staff

Welcome back, innovators! We hope winter break was restful, but we are ready for some exiting opportunities this spring! Our events calendar (below) is now coded by audience, so you can find exactly what programs you need and want to attend.

If you have any questions about the Ain Center’s fall programming (or if you’d like to get a preview of spring 2020), don’t hesitate to reach out! You can find us in 1-211 Carol Simon Hall or via email at AinCFE@rochester.edu.

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

Patent Law: Protecting Your Ideas & Inventions

By Alec Tapia

On November 9, 2019, Mock Trial and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers co-hosted an event called Patent Law: Protecting your ideas and inventions, which was co-sponsored by the Ain Center for Entrepreneurship. 

The purpose of this event was to educate students on the patenting process and the journey to become a patent attorney. The event included a 30-minute networking session between students and the guest speakers, 45 minutes of discussion led by a student host, 15 minutes of open Q&A from the audience and concluded with an hour of one-on-one conversation.

The main discussion covered several topics such as each speaker’s experience in law school, tips for applying and going through law school, how they knew if law was the route they wanted to take, what a patent is, the immediate and long term effects of filing for a patent, the different types of patents, how to file for a patent, whether or not one should hire an attorney, the average price range for hiring an attorney, and need to know terms such as strict novelty, non-publication, duty of disclosure, and the one year bar.

Following the main discussion, the audience was allowed to pose questions to the panelists in an open Q&A session and also in a post networking session where hors d’oeuvres were served. This allowed for students to maximize their opportunity to learn about patent law and find opportunities in the field.

Promotional poster for Patent Law event
Panelists during the patent law event

Overall, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and Mock Trial believe that the event was a great success and will consider hosting this event in the upcoming years with the newly founded Pre-Law Society.

Organizers predicted that fifty people would attend the event and approximately this number of people did end up attending. The range of majors in the audience was the biggest success. Undergraduates in engineering, social science, and humanities along with a handful MBA students, Warner students, and Professor Shanahan attended the event.

Nearly a dozen students waited outside the Hawkins-Carlson room about fifteen minutes before the event began, showing the anticipation for the event. Many students expressed gratitude for hosting the event since this was one of their only chances to learn about and network within the legal world. The legal professionals who spoke were also greatly impressed with the University and the attending students. All three expressed interest in participating again in the future.

Organizers and panelists for the 2019 patent law event

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers and Mock Trial express our gratitude to the Ain Center for Entrepreneurship for their support in both financing and marketing the event. The sponsored catering provided a great supplement to the networking sessions before and after the main discourse. They also provided a lunch for the speakers as a professional courtesy. In addition, the Ain Center’s reach within its own followers and the Simon School of Business helped attract many business students and entrepreneurs to the event. Both organizations hope to continue working with the Ain Center in the future.

Alec Tapia ’21 is a junior studying Mechanical Engineering and Business. He is predominantly the Business Manager for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the VP of Finance for Beta Theta Pi, and a captain and mentor for Mock Trial. He is proud to have hosted the Patent Law event and bring the disciplines of science/engineering, law, and business/entrepreneurship together to educate attendees, build the University’s interdisciplinary culture, and promote the spirit of Meliora. 

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

Africa Oil & Power Conference

By Frederico Hama

The week of October 6th, I got an opportunity to attend the Africa Oil and Power Conference in Cape town, South Africa. Africa Oil & Power is Africa’s premier platform for energy investment and policy. During their conference and other events, AOP brings together high-level individuals from private sector companies with interests including engineering, construction, services, consulting, power generation, and finance.

During AOP, I had the privilege to meet different leaders across the African continent and pitch about my business, KBH Consultancy. KBH Consultancy aims to provide access to higher education to prospective students within the African continent.

Frederico Hama during the 2019 Africa Oil & Power conference
Frederico Hama being interviewed during the 2019 AOP Conference

In this conference I was able to make several partnerships to support my organization in various ways. One which includes, the Executive Chairman of African Energy Chamber, NJ Ayuk. He says, “If you are able to find young woman who are willing to study Engineering or sciences, I will give or help your company raise more than $120,000.”

It’s amazing how our dreams can turn into reality once we find individuals that seriously believe in what we do. Keep chasing after your dreams and keep pursuing that idea.

I want to say a big thank you to the University of Rochester for supporting me throughout the trip, not only financially but also allowing me to take a week off classes to go pursue my idea. I also want to extend my gratitude to all KBH Consultancy members for helping me prepare for this trip. Lastly, I want to say thank you to all my friends who have always supported and believed that this idea is worth fighting for.

Federico Hama ’20 is a fourth-year student at the University of Rochester, studying Mechanical Engineering. Originally from Luanda, Angola, he is an alumnus of African Leadership Academy and a 2018 Xerox Research Scholar. Frederico was part of the men’s track and field at the University of Rochester in his first two years of college.

He aspires to greatly impact the lives of people through emerging technologies, by being part of a workforce that creates affordable, clean and reliable energy. At the same time, he is an ardent supporter of education. Upon completing his first year of college, together with two other students, they founded a company called KBH Consultancy with the aim of providing African students with access to higher education.

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

Entrepreneurial Beginnings

By Michael Giardino

I turn off my computer and step away. That moment, push notifications start flooding my iPhone screen. 300 monthly subscriptions within the first hour. 800 in the first week.

Let’s rewind to me in 10th grade. Those stories in your Facebook News Feed about limited edition shoes selling out so fast that you have to pay five times retail on eBay? That was probably me — or, rather, bots that I taught myself to program, fetching some of the world’s most exclusive sneakers before human hands could click “buy.” I was turning thousands of dollars of profit selling sneakers on the secondary market every month, money that would get rolled into purchasing more sneakers.

One night, I purchased 100 out of 120 available pairs of limited edition sneakers from an Italian online boutique, at an average margin of $150 per pair above retail. The retailer caught on to my bots and cancelled all of my transactions, losing me $15,000 in potential profits overnight.

After that incident, my obsession with competitively optimizing my bots for the KPI of “exclusive sneaker purchasing share” began to become joyless. I was a faceless mercenary, coding increasingly sophisticated algorithms and bots to detect and crack websites so I could turn one dollar into two. While I was scrolling through the usual underground sneaker community sites, though, I noticed another trend emerging: Funko Pops. Funko Pops are small, licensed plastic figurines that are oftentimes limited edition collectibles. Their collectors also aren’t as hardened as sneaker collectors, and many of them expressed their disappointment at missing out on limited releases on Instagram.

Michael Giardino's Funko Dojo stickers

“I had it in my cart, but it sold out while I was checking out! I hate these flippers [slang term for resellers]. I wish I had a bot or a way to get it on my own,” one comment read.

And then it struck me: What if I used my botting prowess to help build up a community of devoted fans, instead of turning it into another vehicle for simple profit?

So I spent the summer of my junior year building Funko Dojo, a subscription-based community aimed at collectors looking to discuss and acquire the most coveted Funko Pops on the market. Instead of a KPI or traditional growth metrics, I became obsessed with creating the perfect brand presence and online community for Funko Pop fans. I crafted messaging to customers to avoid attracting resellers and to cater it strictly toward the collector community. I planned philanthropic campaigns for my users, including a partnership with Pops! For Patients, a charity dedicated to delivering Funko Pops to a nationwide network of children’s hospitals.

One problem: I had no users. The service hadn’t yet been pushed live. This thing I had spent my entire summer working on and hyping up never felt “ready” to be released to the public. At every step there seemed another forked path of potential optimizations.

Funko Dojo promo image
Preview of Funko Dojo mobile application

As another cold New Jersey winter brewed, doubt set in, the light from my laptop screaming at me in a dark room. What if “my baby” was rejected by people? What if no one wanted to pay $20 per month for access to purchase plastic figurines at retail price? And my greatest fear: Would all my hard work go to waste?

Then disaster struck — a competing service launched, co-opting my idea. The wind out of my sails, I talked to Juan Bizoso, a friend I met in my sneaker-flipping days and a Program Manager at Microsoft. He set me straight. “This is the kind of thing that’s always a work-in-progress,” he said. “You shouldn’t be sitting here losing money when you have a great product, and you’re just being too hard on yourself.”

So on September 15th, 2018, I activate the Shopify account for Funko Dojo and post the announcement on Twitter. Funko Dojo was officially live. I turn off my computer and step away.

Michael Giardino ’23 is currently pursuing a Computer Science degree at the University of Rochester. Michael comes from New Jersey where he founded his current venture, Funko Dojo. He aspires to use his entrepreneurial mindset and leadership skills to spearhead the solutions to the problems faced by his generation.

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

A Time for Thanks

By Ain Center Staff

In the spirit of gratitude, join the Ain Center for Entrepreneurship as we recognize and thank those who support us.

We would like to acknowledge those who give to the Ain Center in order to help maintain and expand upon the entrepreneurship opportunities and education for the University of Rochester community. These gifts include a recent endowment from Peter Mann ’88, founder and CEO of Oransi, to encourage student entrepreneurs by providing them the funds necessary to pursue their ventures.

2019 Swarm Starter winners and judges

We further extend our gratitude to the many individuals who helped make our first-ever Swarm Starter Competition a success. Brennan Mulcahey ’09, ’11S (MBA), of Brook Venture Partners, LLC, and Chairman of the Ain Center Advisory Council, played a large role in helping us put this event in motion. His generosity – along with the financial support from fellow judges Quincy Allen ’93S (MBA) of IBM; Theresa Mazzullo of Excell Partners, Inc.; and Alyssa Carrizales ’20S (MBA) of the Simon School Venture Fund who was sponsored by Daniel Lazarek ’91S (MBA) of Access Insurance Holdings, Inc. – allowed us to celebrate some of the top student entrepreneurs on campus. We’d also like to thank the many attendees, including a number of alumni who have charted their own innovative path since their years at the University.

Finally, we would like to thank Mark Ain ’67S (MBA) and Carolyn Ain for their continued, generous support of entrepreneurship education at the University of Rochester. At the time of their original gift, former UR President Joel Seligman noted that, “This generous gift will allow us to continue our momentum in building a cutting-edge entrepreneurial program.” Since the Ain Center was dedicated in 2015, our programming has grown to serve the many needs of the entrepreneurial students and community at the U of R.

Participants and judges for the 2019 Creative Collision Challenge

As a direct result of your support, we are able strengthen the entrepreneurship ecosystem through collaborations across the University, and by enhancing relationships with the Rochester community and beyond. We strive to provide the structure and resources for innovators who express interest in starting an enterprise, and to teach them the skills to be successful. On behalf of the innovative community at the University of Rochester, aspiring to be Ever Better, we thank you.

Would you like to contribute to the Ain Center at the University of Rochester? We welcome you to make a gift to support student entrepreneurship during this season of giving.

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

Startup Trekking in Boston

By Vasisht “Guru” Prasad

I had the pleasure of visiting various startups and incubators during my startup trek to Boston, as a part of the Ain Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Rochester.

It was wonderful to see that Global Silicon Valley (GSV) Labs had set its office there in Boston. It was a privilege to meet Seth Hauben, who is the Managing Director there. He mentioned a very important factor which is why Boston is the place chosen for the GSV labs: it’s the closeness to the customers that makes a difference.

Guru Prasad in front of GSVlabs sign

Vasisht “Guru” Prasad at GSVlabs. 

Having a personal interaction with Eric Wisch, a partner with ADL Ventures, was invaluable, as he gave us a picture of how much of a risk being an entrepreneur takes; not only in terms of money, but also in terms of other resources, such as time. We understood how they managed to “weather the storm” by working with different venture capitalists, understanding the “fear of missing out,” playing the right cards, and showing commitment.

We then heard from Gemma Sole, the Co-founder of Nineteenth Amendment who along with Amanda Curtis, developed a platform that helps brands sell without inventory and produce quick-turn, sustainably.

Rooftop view of Boston skyline

View of Boston sunset from Beacon Hill.

A discussion with Jen Riedel and a session with Christopher Wolfel from TechStars opened us to a new set of industry jargon. They have the concept of “Mentor Whiplash,” in which the teams interact with all these mentors on a continuous basis, getting constant feedback, and developing their product and company. They work differently from a normal venture capital firm, as they do not pick startups that are in the beginning stages of their life. Instead, they work with reasonably established companies and then further help them accelerate to a much bigger scale. They have worked with close to 175+ companies, out of which more than 30 are now well-established.

We also had the chance to meet David Borrelli, who is a serial entrepreneur and a U of R alum with a set of interesting series of startups. His current venture is a platform for PhD students in the Engineering domain who have no knowledge of Data Science. This platform helps the students get the required knowledge and skills, and further helps them find jobs in the Data Science field as well.

Guru and three friends on the Startup Trek
Startup Trek group in Boston

Left: Duncan, Akram, Max, and Guru at Spyce (world’s first restaurant featuring a robotic kitchen, located in Boston). Right: Startup Trek group at GSVlabs.

I think it was a privilege to be a part of such an amazing experience, and to have interacted and gained a lot of experience firsthand with these connections in the industry.

Vasisht “Guru” Prasad ’20 (MS) is a first-year masters student studying Technical Entrepreneurship & Management (TEAM) at the U of R. Having worked for a couple of years in the Sales and Marketing teams in the Test and Measurement Sector, he is now working more closely with Computer Science and software fields, with areas of concentration in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning.

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

It’s Dangerous to Go Alone!

By Linnie Schell

It’s a tale as old as time – a Rochester student comes in devoted to STEM, and somehow gets sidetracked by the arts. While I did end up keeping my Computer Science major, I knew by the end of my junior year that it was not all I wanted to do. However, I knew that I would to learn more about the art world if I was going to be successful. Because I already had several specific projects planned, the e5 program was the perfect fit.

My project is immersive installation, a type of site-specific installation that uses many elements of traditional theater to tell a story while inviting audiences to interact with and become part of that story. I also collaborate with artists at the U of R and the wider community. I wanted to share some thoughts I had after a year and a half in the e5 program, and how my thoughts on entrepreneurship have changed in general.

My first project was an installation located in both Hartnett Gallery in Wilson Commons and Drama House (co-directed by Elise McCarthy). It told the story of a missing girl that drew on mythology and Lovecraftian horror. And honestly, I was hooked. When I applied to the e5 program I hoped to get access to more resources and advice, but I did have some trepidation about the “entrepreneurial” part of the program. Before I started, my overwhelming perception of entrepreneurship was the stereotype of the solitary entrepreneur, working long, lonely hours, with little support. To be honest, I found it a little off-putting.

It wasn’t the hard work – and to be honest I already resembled that stereotype in many ways. I wear many hats, and am ultimately responsible for every part of the project. When someone is interviewed about the project, it’s me. Budget proposals, emails, collaboration requests, comments and complaints, all come to and from me. When a review of the most recent project appeared in the campus, it was Homeworld, “by” Linnie Schell. But for me, the distinction was that I owe most of my success to the incredible people who have been on my teams for each project. They are the reason that I list myself as “director” of the project, rather than “creator.” My perception was that this “entrepreneurial way” was the antithesis of the collaborative spirit that I so valued in my projects.

Photos from my most recent project, Homeworld. We had over 30 people help in some way, including Micheal Wizonerak (lighting), Brenn Whiting and Dana Bulger (sound), Gabby Novak and Mekayla Sullivan (set), and Neal Kumar and Ryan Chui (photos), with other contributors.

While I have been working through the project, I have been cheered to see that my initial impressions were entirely inaccurate, and that the problem might have been more about presentation. We like to glorify the leadings entrepreneurs as the sole arbiter of their successes, but it really seems a case of ignoring the people that worked behind the scenes.

And sure, the companies and products created by these visionary entrepreneurs couldn’t have existed without them, and they did at one point start with just themselves. There’s a reason I’m listed as “director” not “random-person-who-does-some-stuff,” but at some point, a person with drive and a great idea will stall out without other people.

Without my team, Homeworld would never have happened. In addition, the network of people and organizations here, including the Ain Center, were absolutely crucial for our success. So celebrate the visionaries and their big ideas. But don’t lose sight of the people behind them.

Saralinda “Linnie” Schell ’19 (’20 e5) majored in Computer Science, Political Science, and Turkish Studies. Her e5 project is focused on immersive art and theater, and using these installations to promote collaboration with artists at the U of R and the greater Rochester Community. She has an upcoming installation at the Rochester Maker Faire in November 2019.

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

2019 Swarm Starter Recap

By Ain Center Staff

Each year, the University of Rochester hosts Meliora Weekend, a four-day celebration that includes reunions, workshops, concerts, lectures, and other events to showcase the best that UR has to offer. In recent years, the Ain Center has been stepping up its Mel Weekend game by hosting open houses and, in 2018, a panel session and reception to commemorate 40 years of entrepreneurship at the University. This year, though, we debuted a brand new competition – one with the biggest top prize we’ve awarded to date.

We created a Shark Tank-style challenge to showcase some of the top student startups at UR, inspired by the excitement of the our Ain Center Advisory Council. After an intense selection process, four teams were chosen to give a four-minute pitch in front of a panel of judges, a crowd of 200 people in Hoyt Auditorium, and an audience watching at home via a Facebook live-stream.

  • EZ Water supplies access to clean drinking water by providing cheap, reliable and quality drinking water to Pakistanis through a hyperlocal network of micropreneurs who leverage the power of modern Hollow Fiber Membrane technology to filter, bottle, and distribute water from under one roof. Presenters: Kareem Abdelmaqsoud ’22, Afnan Ahmed ’21, Sara Anis ’20, and Claude Mulindi ’22
  • Humans for Education develops affordable, rapid diagnostic tools easy enough for anyone to use. Presenters: Daphne Pariser ’20M (PhD) and Jeff Beard ’23 (PhD)
  • WetWare Biosystems utilizes novel biotechnology to preemptively mitigate neurotrauma resulting from athletic, civilian, and defense-related traumatic brain injuries. Presenters: Andrew Kaseman ’21, Scott McKinney ’21, and Bradley Smith ’20
  • Prosthesis for a New Syria provides amputees with low cost, customizable 3D printed prosthesis that can help them gain their independence. Presenters: Ibrahim Mohammad ’17, ’24 (PhD) and Omar Soufan ’17, ’18 (MS)

Teams also had to field 10 minutes of Q&A with the judges, who then decided whether or not they would invest and made recommendations to the crowd. That was the catch – for the first time ever, the audience was given the responsibility of choosing a winner.

Using a text-vote platform, 646 people (both in-person and at-home audience members) sent in their choice during a five-minute voting period. After tabulating the results, the $20,000 cash prize was awarded to WetWare Biosystems, a team of undergraduates who have been working on their venture since fall 2018. WetWare presented a solid showing in the Ain Center’s competitions in spring 2019 and then participated in RIT’s Summer Accelerator (made possible via a new partnership with UR). They continue to seek grant funding, new collaboration opportunities, and industry contacts to help move their venture forward.

Congratulations to WetWare Biosystems, winner of the $20,000 prize. Here team members Brad Smith, Andrew Kaseman, and Scott McKinney are presented the giant check by emcee John Moran.

The Ain Center would like to thank our fantastic emcee, John Moran ’89, who kept the competition running smoothly. We would also like to applaud our panel of judges – Quincy Allen ’93S (MBA), Alyssa Carrizales ’20S (MBA), Theresa Mazzullo, and Brennan Mulcahey ’09, ’11S (MBA) – for their insightful questions, enthusiastic support of student entrepreneurs, and, of course, their entertaining remarks. Another round of cheers goes to those who watched the pitches and sent in their votes. Our final thank you goes to all of the participants: the innovative, capable, and passionate students at the University of Rochester encourage us to pursue entrepreneurship ever better.

If you would like to learn more about the Swarm Starter Competition, please contact Heidi Mergenthaler or Natalie Antal. Interested in participating next year? Take advantage of our workshops, training programs, and upcoming competitions to get your team ready!

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

Hidden Talent: Underground Stone’s Industry Mixer

By Lakeya Callaway

On Saturday May 4, 2019, the Founder and Designer of Underground Stone (a clothing brand), Lakeya Callaway, held an event called Hidden Talent: Underground Stone’s Industry Mixer.

The goal for the event was to allow entrepreneurs to be seen and to raise awareness about their business, network with likeminded individuals, and receive great advice from David Mammano, an adjunct professor at the University of Rochester and serial entrepreneur who has started seven businesses.

Six businesses were represented at this event: Underground Stone (Lakeya Callaway), DC Premium & Don Carvajal Cafe (Hector Castillo Carvajal), Rochester Artist Collaborative (Adam Eaton & Walta Leake), Una Business Cards (Shelley Chen), and Southside Studios (Eugene Nichols). In addition to that, there were over 30 people in attendance that were interested in learning about the businesses listed above. The feedback given about this event ensures that the goals were met. Here’s what a few of the entrepreneurs had to say:

Eugene Nichols, founder of Southside Studios, was one of the featured entrepreneurs. Southside Studios aims to enhance community through artistic expression in the South Side of Chicago. Following the event, Eugene said, “Lakeya’s event was extremely inspiring! She managed to provide an opportunity for other entrepreneurs to build their brands, all while providing us with the opportunity to connect with David Mammano. The event flow was extremely smooth and I’m looking forward to seeing this event continue!”

“I like the crowd. People are genuinely interested in learning more about startups and business – this was a great event that allows students to learn about startups on campus,” noted Shelley Chen. Shelley is the founder of Una Business Cards, a graphic design company that helps university students and business owners create personalized business card designs and logos.

Hector Castillo Carvajal utilized the showcase to feature Don Carvajal Cafe, his specialty coffee brand with a social entrepreneurship focus. He said, “the Hidden Talent event was successful. It was very helpful for my small business to gain exposure, and bringing the right form of exposure that student businesses and startups need.”

Overall, Lakeya was extremely satisfied knowing that Hidden Talent: Underground Stone’s Industry Mixer created a space where entrepreneurs could talk to students about their businesses, network and have a good time. Moving forward, she is considering making Hidden Talent an annual event.

Lakeya Callaway ’21 is a rising Junior from Washington DC. She had an entrepreneurial spirit since she can remember. She started her entrepreneurial journey as a middle school student selling handmade Waist Beads, Headbands and Snacks & Beverages. From that, she learned valuable skills that she still uses today! Her passion for entrepreneurship is something that she takes pride in.

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

2019 Swarm Starter Competition

By Ain Center Staff

Are you ready to celebrate Meliora Weekend with the Ain Center? We’re hosting our first-ever Swarm Starter Competition on Saturday, October 5! This challenge will have the setup of ABC’s Shark Tank, with quick pitches and Q&A with our panel of distinguished judges.

The best part, though? The audience gets to decide who takes home the $20,000 cash prize! We’ll be sharing the voting info in real-time during the event, which you’ll also be able to watch via livestream video on our Facebook page.

Interested in learning more about the competition? Visit our Swarm Starter webpage – we’ll post the winner following the event!