IgniteU NY Accelerator Succeeds in Supporting Student Entrepreneurs
Business Community’s Participation Makes New Capital Region Accelerator a Big Success
The organizers of IGNITEU NY, a new early accelerator aimed at encouraging the Capital Region’s most promising student entrepreneurs to grow their businesses locally, are calling the seven-week program a big success, due largely to the enthusiastic participation of the local business community.
Privately sponsored by NYSTEC and UpVentures Capital, with program-management support from non-profit Upstate Venture Connect, IGNITEU NY is modeled on the Syracuse Student Sandbox, an accelerator that serves student teams at 15 Central New York colleges and universities. Located in Troy’s Frear Building , this summer’s program – which ended July 31 — gave students a firm grounding in such key areas as operations, finance, marketing and branding, sales, and customer discovery. It also enabled them to connect with and get key advice from dozens of key people in the Capital Region’s rapidly expanding startup community.
“We had more volunteers for guest lectures than we had slots to fill,” says program co-founder Bruce Toyama, vice president for product development with Troy-based BESSTECH LLC.
Among the highlights of the program were trips to Syracuse Student Sandbox and Schenectady’s NYBizLab, where the teams had the opportunity to meet with Antonio Civitella, president and CEO of Transfinder, a market leader in bus routing software, and NYBizLab’s founder and president. The teams also met with the leaders of Light the City, a church-based accelerator that’s developing in Schenectady, and Margination, a non-profit that’s building a network of worker-owned businesses in Troy.
“We all want to see more student teams with good ideas start companies in the Capital Region,” says Toyama. “They have choices. They can go to New York City or Boston. But if we can connect them and help them polish their ideas and connect them with the business community, they’re more likely to decide to stay.”
In addition to four “core” student startups, the program supported five “startups in residence,” which served as mentors. All nine companies made pitches at the program’s Demo Day, which drew about 50 investors, mentors, educators, entrepreneurs and others.
Following are the four “core” startups that presented:
- EnerMat Technologies, Inc., which is developing longer-lasting, faster-charging, and lighter-weight batteries for use in electric vehicles and consumer electronics devices. Both awarded doctoral degrees from RPI in 2014, Eklavya Singh and Rahul Mukherjee hold several patents in energy storage and nanomaterial fabrication and have been awarded $250,000 in first-round funding by NYSERDA.
- ChugaChaga, Inc., which aims to become a national brand for bottled tea made with chaga, a super-antioxidant-rich mushroom that grows on birch trees. In their presentation, Luke Evans, Marc Iskander, and Adam Kaiser announced their acceptance into Food-X, a leading accelerator in the food and beverage industry. (They submitted their application based on a lead they received from a member of the Enermat team.)
- helpir (how every little problem is resolved), which is developing an online marketplace that enables people to outsource small jobs and tasks to other capable people locally. Mitchel Wacholder, a 2014 RPI graduate, is taking an approach that’s similar to such well-known web-based services as Uber, Airbnb and Fiverr.
- Troy Shirt Company, which is exploring ways to enhance and simplify the traditional screen-printing process. David Langer, a 2012 RPI graduate who majored in computer systems engineering, also seeks to develop his enterprise into Troy’s premium producer of custom-screen printed apparel.
In his remarks at the Demo Day program, Mike Walsh, NYSTEC’s president and CEO, briefly described the organization’s founding in 1995 by the New York State Technology Foundation and recent projects it has undertaken in such areas as health care and public safety.
“We like to be on the cutting edge, and we like to support other people who are doing great things for the citizens of New York,” he said. “We want to be invested in accelerators in Upstate New York and we want to be here in the Capital District. We want to work with anyone to create the new Silicon Valley.”