Best laid plans: Seven head to Albany for $100K shot

Face time: Competitors and judges square up during the regional round of the 2017 New York Business Plan Competition.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

Hofstra University showed off its innovation chops in this week’s regional round of the 2017 New York State Business Plan Competition.

Four of the seven teams selected to represent Long Island in the state finals, scheduled for April 28 in Albany, hail from Hofstra University, two from Farmingdale State College and one from Stony Brook University. The regional semifinal round was held April 4 at Farmingdale State in conjunction with Dare to Risk Entrepreneurship (DARE) Long Island, the state contest’s regional affiliate.

Offering more than $500,000 in total prize money – including a $100,000 first prize – the eighth-annual contest, ranked among the country’s largest student business-plan competitions, encourages collegians to tap their inner entrepreneurs and come up with fresh business ideas, then has the best square off in a series of “Shark Tank”-like pitch competitions.

Open to students in all fields of study, the goal is to encourage creativity, while supplying would-be entrepreneurs with tools and resources to develop actual businesses.

Tuesday’s regional round was judged by five men and one woman with long entrepreneurial experience. The review panel – chaired by Steve Winick, managing director of Syosset private equity firm Topspin Partners – included Mitch Maiman, CEO of Hauppauge product-design consultancy Intelligent Product Solutions; Barbara Roberts, an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at both Hofstra University and the Columbia Business School; Paul Trapani, owner of Plainview-based PJT Consulting and vice president of the Long Island Software & Technology Network; venture capitalist Michael Wu of the Long Island Angel Network; and SBU graduate Ryan McGann, founder of 2013 Virginia-based software startup InLoop Ltd.

The seven teams selected to head to the Albany finals included Farmingdale State entries StackHouse – a “coding toy” aiming to spur young girls’ interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics by helping them design their own dollhouses and castles – and Lifted Roots Vertical Farms, an ambitious hydroponic agricultural system designed to promote sustainable growth.

Jing Betty Feng, a Farmingdale State assistant professor of global business management who helped a total of six FSC teams prepare for the regional semifinal, said the college was pleased to send two finalists to Albany – and thrilled with the quality of all regional-round competitors.

“A lot of great technology products and a lot of great ideas,” Feng told Innovate LI. “I organized workshops and other events to get [the Farmingdale State teams] engaged in the ‘Shark Tank’ style and to improve their business plans, and we are happy with the results, especially for our school.”

The New York Institute of Technology sent five teams to the regional round, pitching mostly IT-related ideas, but none were selected to move on.

Lest ye be judged: Panelists (left to right) Michael Wu, Paul Trapani, Mitch Maiman and Ryan McGann pass judgment during the regional round.

Stony Brook University also fielded five teams in this year’s regional competition, and while it’s only sending one to Albany – pitching Caper, a campus-based social media app – the DARE Long Island round is always a regional win-win, according to Ann-Marie Scheidt, the university’s director of economic development.

“We have many incubation programs for grown-ups, but not as many ways of encouraging students to follow their entrepreneurial desires,” Scheidt noted. “So, this contest is a benefit not only to the winners, but to every kid who competes, with every idea.

“We see supporting entrepreneurship on this level as part of the creation of a regional innovation economy.”

The biggest regional-round winner may have been Hofstra University, with four of the six teams it sent to Farmingdale State deemed worthy of a trip upstate.

“Our students really prepared diligently for the competition,” noted Mark Lesko, executive dean of the Hofstra University Center for Entrepreneurship. “We’re very happy to have four finalists heading to Albany.”

The winning Hofstra ideas included CountryBox, an e-commerce site designed to bring “care packages” from the old country to international expats; Dr. Multi-Tech, a student-run smartphone- and tablet-repair service targeting college students; Energym, a system designed to convert bicycle-generated energy into electrical power; and LegalSoft Inc., a startup developing cloud-based software for elder-law attorneys.

All four of Hofstra’s entries will have a chance to tune up before the April 28 state finals: The teams behind them are slated to compete in the final round of the Hofstra-Digital Remedy Venture Challenge Series, a $40,000 biz-plan competition – including a $20,000 top prize – slated for April 18 at the Hempstead university.

The fact that all four of Hofstra’s winning entries in the regional round of the statewide competition are also in the running for the Venture Challenge crown not only highlights the quality of Hofstra’s indigenous competition, according to Lesko, but “more importantly, the interest in entrepreneurship amongst Hofstra’s students.”

“It’s proof-positive of something that we always suspected but could never prove: that Hofstra was always a sleeping giant on Long Island when it came to entrepreneurship,” the executive dean said Thursday. “All we needed to do was release that potential.”


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