SUNY Oswego students Paul Wehr and Harshit Gupta recently won second prize at the New York State Business Competition with their startup GameOn, which creates modifications for gaming controllers to make them more accessible for those with motor function disabilities. 

The pair placed second in the category Learn, Work and Play at the competition on April 27 at the OnCenter in Syracuse.

GameOn’s pitch journey included also placing as one of the top two teams in their category at the CNY Regional Business Plan competition, hosted by SUNY Oswego in March, after taking second overall at SUNY Oswego’s LaunchIt student entrepreneurship competition last fall.

At April’s statewide competition, their pitch was selected to move on to round two, where they made their pitch to four entrepreneur and venture capital judges from around New York state. Their statewide second place earned a $2,000 award.

Wehr says he came up with the idea after his sister was diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease, a condition that leads to problems with movement, coordination and cognition over time.

“Basically, you don’t know you have it until you start to lose control over your physical capabilities and your speech,” said Wehr. “She slowly started to lose her ability to use controllers and do a lot of everyday things.”

Wehr and Gupta began their entrepreneurship journey together the semester before the competition. Wehr, who earned his degree in business administration at the recent May Commencement, approached Gupta to work with him on a class project.

“I liked his work ethic and I liked how he worked as a person. I felt like he was the best person to work with,” Wehr said.

Unexplored area

The pair says assistive technology for gaming is a largely unexplored area, saying current technology does not effectively meet the needs of many individuals with disabilities.

“We wanted to keep it universal to all the standard controllers because there are companies already who are making these beefy, really complex controllers which are just not working for people with motor function disabilities,” who have to configure the controllers themselves, Gupta explained.

"So we said let’s create something that they are already used to,” Gupta added. “Most controllers used for gaming are the standard controllers which are provided by Xbox and PlayStation, and we were like ‘Why not use those types of standard controllers, and customize them in a way where they don’t have to learn something new.’”

In addition to the award from the statewide competition, Wehr and Gupta also received $1,500 from the LaunchIt competition. Wehr also received a $1,000 award from an unrelated credit analysis class, which he plans to put towards GameOn. The pair says they would like to use the money to purchase a 3D printer for production, as well as further research and, eventually, patenting their design.

Taking inspiration from skincare brands that have customers submit a questionnaire to create the best formula for them, Wehr and Gupta hope to include a similar process for their customers, to meet their unique needs.

Growing from the experience

Both Wehr and Gupta say they’ve grown academically and personally from this experience. Among learning entrepreneurial skills, Gupta says this competition forced him to step outside of his comfort zone.

“I learned how to be confident within myself. I sometimes hesitate to come out with something,” said Gupta. “Sometimes you just need a push, so I appreciate Paul for making me work through everything and to keep pushing me… and believing that I can do these things.”

Wehr says he realized how strong their communication skills were as a team, pointing out the strong competition they were up against.

“We were able to do this business competition still in the concept stage essentially, against people who are making money, and we beat a lot of people. Most of that is because of our communication skills and how thorough we were in explaining this product that isn’t always the easiest thing to understand,” Wehr explained. “The person that beat us in the track has $500,000 in funding, they’re already in schools, so this is a big competition.”

Gupta says he is grateful to his professors, and SUNY Oswego for making this experience possible for them.

“I feel like the School of Business is doing a great job sending students these opportunities via professors,” Gupta said. “One of my finance professors emailed us, the whole class… so it’s great that our school is providing multiple opportunities to get into.”

And when asked if the duo would ever make an appearance on the hit series “Shark Tank,” where people pitch their business ideas to try to attract a large investment, they responded confidently, with a yes.

“Give us a year or two, we’ll be there,” said Wehr.