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!

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

Summer 2019 at StartFast

By Akshay Rajput

StartFast is a mentorship-driven startup accelerator. Each year they invest in 5-7 software, mobile, or IoT companies & host a 3-month program. StartFast’s program is a highly selective, accepting just 0.25% of applicants; smaller cohorts allow them to tailor the program to the needs of each individual team. They invest $25,000 upfront, with up-to $100,000 in follow-up funding. Teams are plugged into a network of world-class entrepreneurs, investors, corporate executives, and subject matter experts to help take their company to the next level.

StartFast’s leadership team has founded multiple companies, raised more than $350 MM in capital, had $250 MM exits, & $1 B IPO. StartFast uses their network of over 100+ world-class mentors to help entrepreneurs get in front of the right people to accelerate the growth of the company.

This summer, StartFast mentored and invested in the following early stage companies:

As a StartFast summer associate, I had the opportunity to help develop a promising group of startup companies that moved to Syracuse for the summer from across North America. I not only assisted with the daily operations of the StartFast program but also aided the companies in areas of need. I used my specialized skills in marketing and strategy, expanded my knowledge to help the startups design and develop applications, perform market research, prepare due diligence materials, understand markets, channels and competition, formulate strategy/financial pro-formas and other tasks from time to time. In assisting with the program’s daily operations, I prepared for and organized events, assisted with marketing, and provided content for social media.

For multiple companies at StartFast, I strategized and led the execution of lifecycle-based email marketing programs and lead-generation campaigns. Additionally, I led the development and implementation of multi-touch, multi-channel marketing programs inclusive of inbound and outbound tactics, utilized HubSpot to create, deploy and track campaigns, and update key metrics report to stakeholders.

This summer I was able to substantially grow my personal and professional network by connecting with a wide variety of experienced mentors, entrepreneurs and investors. From participating in mentor meetings to attending many community-wide social events, as a StartFast summer associate, I gained a unique perspective on the entrepreneurial ecosystem and beyond.

I believe that this experience at StartFast complements the formal education provided through the Technical Entrepreneurship and Management (TEAM) program and is a must-have exposure for budding entrepreneurs. I am grateful and appreciate all the efforts taken by the staff at the Ain Center for Entrepreneurship in providing me with this unique internship opportunity.

Akshay Rajput ’19 (MS) has been working with multinational companies since his graduation. He holds expertise in field of business development, marketing, and resource management. Akshay’s latest experience stems from being a digital media & business development manager for a branding firm. He is currently a Masters candidate in the Technical Entrepreneurship and Management program, with a concentration in Energy & the Environment.

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

Leap of Faith

By Pooja Bansal

Pursuing a stable and growing career with a big management consulting firm in Mumbai, India, it was a difficult yet necessary choice to do a Master’s program. I always was very keen on pursuing higher studies and enhancing my skill set. When the learning curve started plateauing at work, I started investing my evenings in GRE preparation and grad school research. Learning of my admission to the University of Rochester was a very memorable day for me; I had received admits from a few other schools as well, but after extensive deliberation, I was convinced that the MS in TEAM Program at UR was the most aligned with my career goals. 

Two months later – with all the visa processing and packing done – I took my first ever international flight to the States, with eyes shining bright with so many dreams. Before joining the school, I completed a summer program in Strategic Management at Stanford, where learned about utilization of Global Strategic Thinking (GST) tools and published an article on the utilization of GST tools in the supply chain industry.

Pooja Bansal and her team placed third in the Fall 2018 UR Next Gen Challenge powered by TEAM. From left: Hanyia Ahmed ’22, Akhilesh Vithal Malge ’19, Cole Sonett ’19, Pooja Bansal ’18, and Dr. Duncan Moore.

I started school at the University of Rochester in the Fall of 2017. On my first day, I met the MS TEAM program advisor, Andrea Barrett, with whom I had been in constant touch during the admission phase. She is, and has been, an extremely supportive and helpful advisor one could ever ask for. I had my first very entertaining plus informative week with an amazingly diverse group of classmates and an illustrious faculty.

At UR, I pursued the 3-semester curriculum with the summer internship track. The overall program was very well structured. With a perfect blend of both entrepreneurial sessions and technical classes, I found the program to be very conducive to my growth objectives. MS in TEAM not only helped me gain knowledge in the entrepreneurship and the technical domain (my technical concentration was Data Science), but it also gave me necessary exposure to the right group of people within industry and academia. I also got a chance to take part and represent the school for multiple business competitions during my course duration of 18 months.

Pooja with her diploma following her graduation ceremony.

Right from the beginning, I got a great deal of support and guidance from the staff throughout my MS journey. Kathy Driscoll, who works with students in the TEAM program on career placement, played a crucial role assisting me in designing my approach to network in the industry.

MS TEAM certainly has been a great conversation starter for me in any out-of-school setting. Even during the interviews, recruiters had always been curious to know more about this program and were left impressed by its offering. In short, this program helped me gain a very unique skill set in a well-designed way.

Today, I’m working in a reputed management consulting company as an Analytics Consultant. I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to pursue the MS TEAM program, and I’ll forever be a happy TEAM alumna!

Pooja Bansal ’18 (MS) is an Analytics Consultant at Mu Sigma based in Atlanta, GA. She works with the Decision Analytics team for the world’s largest home improvement retailer. Just a few of her many responsibilities are to perform data analytics, obtain findings, and present insights to leadership. She graduated with an MS degree from the University of Rochester in Technical Entrepreneurship and Management in December 2018. While maintaining a great academic record, she also represented UR at various business and analytics competitions.

Originally from a town called Chandigarh in India, she completed her undergraduate studies in Electronics and Communications Engineering in 2013 and worked for 4.5 years as a management consultant before coming to the States. Pooja’s enthusiasm and structured approach to things has always helped her find her way. She is a lover of sushi, road trips and theater, and holds causes like climate change and UNICEF close to her heart. You can reach Pooja at and/or connect with her on LinkedIn.

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

Fall 2019 Events Calendar

By Ain Center Staff

Welcome to Fall 2019! The summer was spent refreshing programs and planning new projects for our growing community of innovators. 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

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

Ready to be an Entrepreneurial Leader?

By Ain Center Staff

Being an entrepreneur means being a leader. It requires steering a group of people toward a certain vision while navigating inevitable pitfalls. It entails an understanding of and ability to implement frameworks to transform an idea into reality. It necessitates a rise to challenges, as well as the determination to learn from failure. Being an entrepreneur is more than monitoring profit and loss; the experience is about becoming a better version of the self.

This is why the Ain Center is excited to debut its new partnership with the Office of the Dean of Students’ Medallion Program. The Medallion Program is an initiative that “aims to educate student leaders by providing opportunities for intentional learning, self-reflection, and skill development.” Bolstered by a variety of training sessions, this is a professional development program that focuses on a student’s leadership skills. The Ain Center has collaborated with ODOS to create a new Entrepreneurship Track within the program to offer students a structured, entrepreneurial leadership experience.

The Entrepreneurship Track is designed for innovative-minded students who aim to deepen their leadership skills while assembling their entrepreneurial “toolkit.” The blend of leadership and entrepreneurship workshops – plus the culminating experiential project – will immerse students in what it means to be an entrepreneurial leader.

Fully integrated into the basic requirements of the Medallion Program, the Entrepreneurship Track provides opportunities at each of the program’s three levels. This starts with six entrepreneurship-focused workshops that fold into the required leadership workshops of Levels 1 and 2. These workshops cover some essential topics:

  • Team Building
  • Voice of the Customer
  • Learning from Failure
  • Business Planning
  • Startup Finances
  • Pitching and Storytelling

Ultimately, the Track culminates in a Level 3 entrepreneurship-focused experiential learning opportunity. This is shaped by the student and guided by the Ain Center. A sort of capstone, this is a chance for students to test out the skills they gain through Levels 1 and 2, and to actually create something of their own. This could be a range of things, such as making measurable progress on an entrepreneurial project or venture, or developing and delivering a workshop to support the entrepreneurial activities of the Ain Center. The flexibility of the Level 3 project will let students dive deep into what they’re passionate about. And, once the program is complete, participants will have a solid foundation to build upon as they continue to grow as an innovative leader.

Ready to learn more about the Track and get started on the program? Contact Matthew Spielmann, Senior Program Manager at the Ain Center, to sign up!