The first-ever Launch It start-up business competition at SUNY Oswego featured student teams, bold ideas, alumni and executive mentoring, and more. SUNY Oswego students, representing a variety of academic disciplines and majors, pitched their business ideas to a capacity crowd on Sept. 8; worked with business leaders and alumni on Sept. 12 to strengthen and fine-tune their pitches; and competed in the final round of the competition on Sept. 15 in front of a panel of judges. Each business was evaluated on the innovativeness of the idea, proof of market, analysis of competitive forces, budget projections and persuasiveness of their pitch.

Launch It, co-sponsored by Enactus (Entrepreneurial Action by University Students), the School of Business, and the Office of Business and Community Relations, presented $1,000, $500 and $250 prizes for first, second, and third place teams. The first place team will also be sponsored to compete in Oswego County's upcoming business plan competition and be eligible to compete for the $50,000 prize. 

The winners of the inaugural Launch It competition were Samantha Boyle and Madison St. Gelais with their proposed app, Bunk, which would allow students looking for off-campus housing to safely connect with potential roommates and verified and rated landlords, as well as view video tours of the properties. 

"So, what Launch It is all about is we wanted to see if there was interest in entrepreneurship on the campus with the students," said senior marketing major Eli VanOrman, president of student organization Enactus.

"We really wanted to make a competition because we believe competition brings out the best in people," said Jordan Shutts, an Oswego accounting graduate, current MBA graduate student and past Enactus president.

"Trying to harness the ideas and the energy and the enthusiasm of the students in a multidisciplinary environment," said Richard Skolnik, dean of the School of Business. "So, business, technology, engineering, communications, the sciences, bringing students together."

"The goal of Track Os is to prevent students from entering an agreement with a blind eye," said a student presenter.

"Today is the first day," VanOrman said. "What they will be able to do is come, give a little 60 second pitch about their business."

"And I looked online to see if there were any canvassing apps, and there wasn't any, so I developed Footsteps, which is ..." another student presenter explained.

"After that, hopefully, pair up with teams and then, they'll also receive mentorship," VanOrman said.

Kevin Stickles, a 1990 alumnus and senior vice president of human resources at Wegmans, was among the business experts who met with students to help them refine their ideas. "Those are physical locations, but in this day and age, how do you communicate?" he told one team.

"So, on Tuesday, we have a bunch of executives coming down to spend time with the teams," VanOrman said.

"They want to know that you've thought through this whole process," Stickles suggested.

"To answer any questions that they have and to help them fine tune their pitch," VanOrman noted. "They'll come ready to go in front of the judges, give their pitch, and we'll select a winner."

"So, it's like a 'Shark Tank,' but with a live audience," Shutts said.

"We have prize money for first, second, and third place," VanOrman said.

"The idea for Launch It came together because we want to prove to the school that students want to start businesses, they want to get together, they want a space to do it," Shutts explained.

"Well, my role is to talk about the legal aspects of the pitch, how we're gonna deal with insurance, what might be the barriers of entry," said sophomore wellness management major Joe Devona, a member of the Rent-a-Pet team.

"We talk about anything from making sure they have a detailed plan on their strategy of going to market," Stickles said. "So, we've talked about anything from marketing to figuring out their entire labor cost structure."

"That's an extremely unique opportunity that I think be at SUNY Oswego offers for just being a student and having people from Wegmans or wherever coming back to give us just a little bit of their insight, is huge," Devona noted.

"Well, it was awesome to hear the way the kids were thinking and some of the ideas they have and not only the business side of it," Stickles said. "What I liked a lot about what they did was more of the community piece and doing the right thing."

"Just gives us that reassurance that everything will be okay, you know, and that we have SUNY Oswego and as a campus, supporting us and knowing that it's creating these kind of alums coming out of SUNY Oswego," said Ahmed Albajari, a junior economics/finance major and a member of the Laker Hackers team. "It just brings hope and allows us to keep striving and push for greater things."

"But the foundation that you get at schools like Oswego prepares you to do anything," Stickles said.

"If we come in second, third, fourth, that's great, but the experience that I'm getting out of this, and it's awesome that something is happening here on campus," Albajari said. "It's the experience I'm just excited about it, to be honest. I can't stress that enough."

"And, hopefully, what comes of this is everybody can bring their business to life and everybody becomes familiar with people who are also entrepreneurs and we can all just continue to build relationships and build fantastic businesses," VanOrman said.