Alumni gifts support innovators in SU’s global entrepreneurial ecosystem

students at an event at SU Libraries
LaunchPad students at SU Libraries (taken pre-pandemic), making a global impact

Syracuse University Libraries Advisory Council members played a very special role supporting the Blackstone LaunchPad & Techstars at SU Libraries this academic year.  New LaunchPad programming and student experiential opportunities are being made possible by Library Advisory Council members like Todd B. Rubin ’04, Jeffrey Rich ‘67, Carl ’60 and Marcy Armani, Adam ’96 and Amy Fazackerley, and Josh Aviv ’15 G’17, as well as donors to SU Libraries such as Gianfranco Zaccai ’78 and ’15 (Hon.).

Their gifts directly supported students who are part of Syracuse’s innovation hub at SU Libraries.  The program connects the University’s resource-rich ecosystem with a global network that provides support for aspiring innovators.  The LaunchPad serves faculty, staff, students and alumni across all disciplines who are interested in learning about creativity, innovation and venture creation.  With a focus on inclusion and diversity, the program helps students develop skills for personal and professional career development, as well as to launch ventures they might have started on campus.  The goal of the program is to develop the next generation of trailblazers in a global world and equip them with essential skills to succeed.

Rubin, the President and Minister of Evolution at the Republic of Tea, generously supported 18 student positions this academic year, enabling entrepreneurial students to engage as peer mentors, and to serve as outreach ambassadors and diversity and inclusion scholars.  His generosity was life changing for students who participated in the program.  The students who were supported through Rubin and his family foundation helped build a global village that proudly mirrors the rich diversity of today’s society and is recognized as a place that promotes perspectives and solutions from members who come from different ethnicities, languages, races, religions, abilities and disabilities, gender identities and socioeconomic status.

Jeffrey Rich, a partner at Rich Michaelson Magaliff LLP, provided a leadership gift to launch the SU Libraries Innovation Fund to help move student ventures from concept through research and discovery, to proof of concept and commercialization.  The non-dilutive fund (not taking any equity stake) helps promising student ventures with product development, prototyping, market testing, legal or accounting needs associated with incorporation, patent work, third party testing, certification, or other specialized needs.

Gianfranco Zaccai, the co-founder of Continuum, now EPAM Continuum, a global innovation by design consultancy, provided a leadership gift to launch an innovative, interdisciplinary program focused on inclusive entrepreneurship and design.  The new Intelligence ++ program, housed at SU Libraries, is a partnership between the LaunchPad, the Taishoff Center for Inclusive Higher Education (InclusiveU) and the College of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA).  It is designed to create innovative solutions to assist persons with intellectual disabilities and their families.  His gift was through the Zaccai Foundation for Augmented Intelligence (Intelligence++).

Carl Armani and his wife Marcy Kukul Armani created a Dr. Gay Culverhouse Award as part of the LaunchPad’s annual Impact Prize competition.  (See related article in this issue.)  The event is part of the LaunchPad’s celebration of Global Entrepreneurship Week at Syracuse University.

Josh Aviv created a new cleantech award as part of this year’s Impact Prize competition for a student startup tackling clean energy and climate change solutions.  The founder of SparkCharge, which he incubated as a student in the LaunchPad, he also became of the LaunchPad’s inaugural Alumni Entrepreneurs in Residence, generously donating his time mentoring student startups.  He received national attention this fall when he appeared on the series opener of ABC’s Shark Tank and scored a $1 million deal with the Sharks.

Adam and Amy Fazackerley also led mentoring initiatives at the LaunchPad, from hosting Syracuse students for meetings with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to sponsoring their participation at national trade shows and conferences.  They regularly participate in Fireside Chats, conduct mentoring workshops and engage entrepreneurial students as interns and student employees to work with them at Lay-n-Go, the company they co-founded.

Efforts like these contributed to the LaunchPad’s 2020 success, even in a pandemic.  The program has cumulatively served more than 4,500 participants from every academic unit across campus and from 118 countries around the globe.  Participants have worked on more than 800 venture ideas, legally incorporated more than 100 companies, raised $37 million in external investment and won more than $3.5 million in business plan competitions.

student looking into the camera
Quinn King ’20

A great testimonial to this success is Quinn King ’20, who launched MedUX, a maker of portable medical infusion devices, as a student.  He was a Rubin Family Innovation Mentor, was mentored by Adam and Adam Fazackerley and Josh Aviv, and now serves as a teaching assistant for the Intelligence ++ program funded by Zaccai. He also worked with Lay-n-Go as a designer and digital content creator. 

“Because of the generosity of donors like Todd Rubin and Gianfranco Zaccai, amazing mentors like the Fazackerleys and Aviv, and seed funding programs like Jeff Rich’s Innovation Fund, I was fortunate enough to experience the LaunchPad at SU Libraries as a student, mentor, founder and now as a young alumnus.  Gifts like these have a much wider impact than people realize, doubling the educational impact with an unparalleled student experience,” says King. “Working with programs like Invent@SU and the LaunchPad, and serving as a Rubin Family Innovation Mentor and Intelligence ++ teaching assistant, gave me the chance to pay it forward.  Because of the generosity of LaunchPad donors to SU Libraries, I widened my personal and professional horizons and am bringing these new perspectives on innovation and entrepreneurship to my journey.”

He adds, “There is no better place than the LaunchPad & Techstars in Bird Library to work with creative people solving complex problems and making a difference in the world.”