Budding businesses pitch to potential investors

Saunders Summer Start-up Program graduates six teams of students

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Greg Livadas

Six teams of students in the Saunders Summer Start-up Program and their mentors.

Students in the 2013 Saunders Summer Start-up Program pitched their proposed business ideas to prospective investors last week, asking for investment, advice and networking connections to help make their businesses successful.

“This is the culmination of 10 weeks with six teams of RIT’s best ideas to start businesses,” said Richard DeMartino, director of the Simone Center for Student Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Forty teams had applied for the program, which provides continual coaching/mentoring, living stipends and a small investment fund to help them launch their businesses. DeMartino, as well as Richard Notargiacomo and Anthony Testa, both adjunct professors in Saunders College of Business, met with the students twice a week for mentoring to help them mature their business concepts, market their products and pitch their businesses to investors.

Some of the businesses started this summer as mere ideas; others are now well on their way to signing contacts.

The investor panelists were: Rami Katz, COO of Excell Partners; George Daddis, CEO and president of Omni-ID; Don Golini, chairman of the Rochester Angel Network; Christine Whitman, CEO and president of Complemar Partners; and Dennis DeLeo, co-founder of Trillium Group and president of Venture Jobs Foundation.

Many of the teams displayed charts that showed research showing the need for their product, expected growth and income over the next few years, as well as charts showing what they do and their closest competition doesn’t do.

Business concepts included software that managed incentives for parents to become more engaged in their children’s education; a way to protect personal information when going online; a way to submit a single résumé for numerous jobs; technology that enables you to use a single form of technology for presentations regardless of the format; technology that reads sign language and converts it into text; and a computerized flashcard system.

No one really expected the panelists to whip out their checkbooks after the presentations, but they were generous with their advice. Several of the students’ business cards were tucked away in the panelists’ wallets.

“How is this going to make money?” a panelist asked one team. “How are you going to get people to buy it?”

Other teams were told they should ask for more money for their product or service, perhaps even more than their competition if their product is better.

“What you’re doing is terrific,” DeLeo told students from MotionSavvy, a team using new technology to convert sign language into text. “And the need is definitely there. I’m very impressed with what you’re doing.”

But other panelists warned them that voice-to-speech recognition has taken longer than expected, and still is not perfect. They may encounter similar hurdles, they were told.

Human-computer interaction major Erroyl Rolle, of Liberty, N.Y., presented CausBuzz, an incentive program to involve more parents in their children’s education by offering incentives for participation than can be redeemed at businesses. He said he wasn’t looking for cash at this time, but he wanted partners with connections to schools and area foundations. “It’s more important for us to build a network,” he said.

Management information systems major Auston LeRoy, of Union Springs, N.Y, founded Appture LLC and is working on a product to wirelessly connect a TV, smartphone, tablet and PC together.

“Summer Start-up was fantastic,” he says. “Nowhere else can you get financial help and coaching without giving up equity of your company or paying to go into it.”

LeRoy says he already has lunch meetings scheduled with a couple of the panelists to talk more about his business. But even if it doesn’t succeed, LeRoy won’t consider it a failure. He said he’s learned from this experience and his desire to be innovative and a successful businessman has only grown stronger.

“Even if this idea doesn’t take off, we’ve already come up with a lot more ideas in our pipeline,” he says.