By: Julie Molenda | UB Reporter
Some of Western New York’s brightest entrepreneurs took center stage last week, pitching their business ideas to a room full of academics, venture capitalists and local business leaders as part of this year’s Bright Buffalo Niagara Entrepreneur Expo.
At stake were two cash prizes totaling $25,000, as well as a chance to make an impression on potential mentors, collaborators and investors.
The expo, held June 15 at the Hotel @ The Lafayette, was sponsored by the University at Buffalo’s Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics & Life Sciences (CBLS).
The program kicked off with an investor luncheon featuring guest speakers Howard Zemsky, president and CEO of Empire State Development and commissioner of the New York State Department of Economic Development, and Ashok Subramanian, CEO and co-founder of Liazon Corp.
Attendees then heard opening remarks from Norma Nowak, CBLS executive director.
Although previous Bright Buffalo expos have featured pitch competitions, this is the first in which cash prizes have been awarded. Representatives of 26 startups delivered fast-and-furious 90-second live pitches, with six finalists delivering five-minute pitches.
Attendees voted, by smartphone, to award Painless 1099, which allows freelancers to automatically set aside money for their income taxes, the $5,000 People’s Choice Award, sponsored by Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman LLP.
A panel of six renowned investors from Buffalo and Canada awarded the $20,000 grand prize to finalist Abcombi Biosciences, a UB spinoff company founded by UB grad Charles Jones. In addition to the prize money, the company, which is developing a new vaccine for pneumococcal disease, received an automatic pass into the 43North semifinals and a one-on-one mentoring session with expo keynote speaker Bill Rancic.
Rancic, a bestselling author and winner of the first season of “The Apprentice,” shared with attendees everything from his first entrepreneurial experience — running a pancake breakfast out of his grandmother’s kitchen — to his subsequent business activities to address how entrepreneurs can use challenging times to their advantage.
Rancic told his audience that he will never tell an entrepreneur he or she can’t be successful. “If you have enough passion, belief and drive, who am I to tell someone it can’t come true,” he said. “You never want to look back and regret that you didn’t try to make your dream come true.”
In addition to the live pitches, entrepreneurs had the opportunity to network and showcase their companies at an Entrepreneur Tradeshow.
Also during the expo, Jack McGowan, project manager at Insyte Consulting and director of the Western New York Venture Association, received Bright’s first ever “Bright Partner of the Year” Award for his years of dedication supporting entrepreneurism.
In addition to CBLS, expo sponsors included 43North, Buffalo Business First, Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, Colligan Law LLP, FreedMaxick CPAs, InfoTech WNY, Insyte Consulting, Invest Buffalo Niagara, Katz Americas, Key Private Bank, Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman LLP, National Grid, Phillips Lytle LLP, RSM, Road to the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit, Upstate Venture Connect, Western New York Incubator Network, Western New York Venture Association, Superior Group, Launch NY, Immco Diagnostics, Print2Web, Stephen Garvin, Sandhill Investment Management and Upstate Venture Association of New York.