Startup Spotlights

Erin Miller ’16 on creative inspiration and evolution

Erin Miller is a native of the Bay Area who graduated with a degree in advertising from the  S.I. Newhouse School Of Public Communications in 2016. As a member of the Blackstone LaunchPad, Erin developed her entrepreneurial spirit and assisted others in growing their projects from the ground up.  To Erin, being an entrepreneur in any industry is “always about building something.”

Erin was the co-founder of Out There Productions in 2016 which was a vital experience in allowing her to further her entrepreneurial pursuits. The goal of the project was to curate promotional videos and advertise for small businesses and startups. Although this was her own venture, Erin also says that “You don’t necessarily have to have your own venture to be an entrepreneur.”

Leveraging Out There Productions to feed her desire to travel and visit startup communities, Erin and her co-founders took the summer after graduation to tour the company in a former school bus outfitted as a mobile recording studio, meeting startups along the way in interesting places. That led her to her deeper interest in connecting communities through venture creation and an eventual role at the Capital Factory, “the center of gravity” for entrepreneurs in Texas, with operations in Austin, Dallas, and Houston. She was actively engaged with building that ecosystem until she decided to relocate back to her home San Francisco Bay Area.

She is exploring her own innate creativity by writing and illustrating children’s books and expanding her freelance skills in visual and performing arts and filmmaking. She is also director of community at a company called  3 Day Startup which provides entrepreneurship education to underrepresented communities around the world, organize accelerators for women founders and put together fellowships for young people who have finished college and are struggling to get a job. The primary goal is to serve communities that do not have access to tools that build their business that other cities have. For Erin, her motive at 3 Day Startup is to make entrepreneurship education accessible. 

In addition, she remains an active mentor through the LaunchPad, and is a frequent judge for SU student startup competitions. Her connections to the LaunchPad run deep. She was the keynote speaker and cut the ribbon to the LaunchPad when it opened in April 2016 and won $10,000 in the first ever LaunchPad student venture competition, the iPrize, in partnership with the iSchool.

Erin Miller winning the iPrize at LaunchPad opening day in 2016

Erin has an innate desire to frequent those who are “obsessed with things” as she would say. Her interest in passionate people stems from her older brother who was an artist and writer. She was fascinated with how deeply he dove into things he loved, whether it be hobbies or in his studies. He always tested things out before her thus allowing her to follow in her brother’s footsteps in any facet of her life. She recalls a time where he became obsessed with the rapper Eminem and took the initiative to become a rapper. He prospered in rap, winning plenty of competitions and battles. Erin had first-hand experience watching someone close to her grow an obsession and have tangible success from it. For a young Erin Miller, this was a turning point for her to become the passionate and inspirational person that she witnessed her older brother become.

Like her brother, Erin’s obsession was about how people connect with one another. Going from in-person events to virtual events during the pandemic Erin understood the importance of connection amongst people. She then took the initiative to be involved in virtual environments and adapted to virtual community-building.

Erin slowly began to find her niche in the entrepreneurial world which became the ability to build communities. As she said before, being an entrepreneur is “always about building something.” Her enthusiastic and curious personality inevitably helps her to build collective spaces and foster connections amongst people anywhere she is, whether it is a virtual or in-person. 

Her advice for an aspiring entrepreneur is that “You should volunteer for a cause that you’re interested in just to get your foot in the door.” Erin’s philanthropic approach to life has allowed her to prosper in the entrepreneurship industry and beyond. If we can expect anything from Erin in the future, it is that her sympathy coupled with her passion to build will bring people from all walks of life together to create.

Story by Samba Soumare ’24; photo supplied

Julia Haber ’18 is making a difference with her business Home From College

In a world that’s ever-changing with new obstacles arising, Julia Haber has become a powerful and successful female founder. Julia graduated in 2018 with a major in advertising and media in Newhouse an minor in psychology, but she started her journey and ambition at a young age. Her eagerness to solve problems started her hometown in Westchester, NY and flourished when she joined the LaunchPad at Syracuse University.

Throughout her time in college, she used her opportunity to explore and try new activities that provided her with great resources and support. One of those organizations was LaunchPad. A unique fact about Julia was she was one of the first founding members of LaunchPad at Syracuse because of her passion for entrepreneurship. She described her relationship and connection with LaunchPad to be a match made in heaven. She started her first company during her time in LaunchPad in her junior year of college with her dream to continue building it after college. Little did she know, that was just the beginning to a great success story.

Her first business, WAYV, was designed to allow pop-up experiences on college campuses for students to engage with companies. Julia, with her business, visited eight different campuses on a tour for Shopify. WAYV was created in 2017 and by 2018 it had taken off and won a grand prize from a LaunchPad competition. This milestone led her to pursue her business straight out of college.

After graduating, Julia continued to work countless hours on building WAYV, but little did she know the pandemic was about to change her progress for the better. All the puzzle pieces fell straight into her lap. Seeing how impactful COVID-19 had on college students finding internships or jobs after college, allowed her to envision a new idea for WAYV. Julia saw Gen-Z struggling with these issues and made it a goal to ameliorate the issue the best she could. Thus, she created Home From College.  Home From College is a platform that allows students to start their career and take control of their opportunities. Similar to LinkedIn, they can connect with companies in unique ways in which students reach out to businesses.

This idea didn’t just originate from other students’ struggles, but from Julia’s own experience.   She discovered that the lack of internships in college did not produce a sufficient connections or portfolio work for students. Julia realized that internships meant more than what is recognized in a student’s experience on campus. With the couple internships she did pursue, Spotify and Snapchat for marketing, opened her eyes to what others were not fortunate enough to experience. So she built Home From College to connect, build, and maintain relationships. It was built as a space and place for those seeking internships to make connections out of college.

Home From College is wonderful because it is operated by a group of ten individuals dedicated to the success of your future. Furthermore, it is completely separated from colleges that allows for a more personal experience for all ages and no background needed. Users can explore others with the same interests and a space that could truly make a difference.

Julia and her co-founder have both had impactful experiences that led to their dedication to helping others achieve success. Her creative, ambitious, and ideal of not taking no for an answer has led her to wonderful success.

Julia says, “You have to keep on going, it’s the only way to success. There has to be a solution.” Her mentality to push through any hardship and continue working hard has made her into the amazing woman she is today. Just like she always has, her future entails helping as many students as possible and that’s exactly what she’ll do.

Story by Sydney Grosso ’23; photo supplied

Ben Olender ’22 is a multi-talented inventor

Ben Olender ’22 was born and raised in South Orange, New Jersey. He’s a senior undergraduate at the Whitman School of Management, double majoring in marketing and management. Ben believes that success derives from persistence. He says that “Any entrepreneur’s biggest asset is problem solving. There is always a way around the wall or block in the road. I enjoy those challenges.”

Ben tells the story of how he created a unique multiplier tool. He knew an electrician who had to buy new pliers every time a set broke. Ben thought of a solution almost immediately, a detachable plier head that could easily be replaced. He then collaborated with an engineer to make a prototype. Ben had so much belief in the potential for the idea that he based his entire Whitman Capstone project on it and won the fall 2021 Capstone Competition.

Ben continued work on the idea, filed an LLC and won a LaunchPad Innovation Grant. Ben says it has been incredible to see the progress he made this semester, as he continues to see his idea come to life. He is currently refining the concept through the EEE453 LaunchPad class this semester, which he describes as exciting to be working in a cohort of other like-minded inventors and innovators.

“Shrink your toolkit and multiply your capabilities,” says Ben about his invention that connects the gap between traditional pliers and a simplistic, multi-use alternative. “We aim to alleviate the stress of too many choices, expensive nature of acquiring an array of pliers, and the inconvenience of frequent maintenance and replacements.”

Ben has received a great response to his concept. “People do not have a pair of pliers that can adapt to the needs of their project. Owning multiple pairs of pliers weighs down toolkits and is not cost effective. Pliers require maintenance and replacements which can be costly and inconvenient. First-time tool owners are overwhelmed with options and unsure of which type of plier they will need.”

“Our primary target market is the group we have coined the ‘DIY Lover.’ This group of individuals falls within the home improvement market, whose steady growth has been accelerated by the pandemic. Currently, total home improvement sales are projected to reach $510 billion by 2024. Secondly, we have identified the ‘First Time Mover’ market which consists of millennials who, as the largest group of homeowners, make up 37% of the overall share in 2021. Finally, the “Handyman’ group includes electricians, plumbers, contractors, and other tradesmen with extensive knowledge and utilization of tools.”

Ben is working on a utility patent to safeguard his unique and proprietary design. From there he will build out his business-to-consumer business model, expanding from online sales into hardware retail locations through proof of sales.

There is no doubt that he is a multi-talented inventor who has created just the right multi-tool at the right time for the right market.

Story by Zaccai Foundation Fellow Samba Soumare

Aidan Mickleburgh ’22 G’23 is a natural problem solver who wants to make life easier

Aidan Mickleburgh ’22 G’23 is concurrently earning an undergraduate degree in the College of Engineering and Computer Science and an MBA from the Whitman School of Management. Along the way, he realized that entrepreneurship isn’t as complicated as he thought. An entrepreneur solves problems with viable solutions. That’s what Aidan does naturally.

With this realization, Aidan began to leverage his academic skills sets and apply them to entrepreneurial endeavors. He has an ability to think forward, taking control of a room and commanding a space. Coupled with his surrealist nature, consideration of possible outcomes and openness to challenges, and tenacity, Aidan realized he has the building blocks to succeed in the field of innovation.

In his own words, “It takes a lot for me to back down from doing something.”

Aidan’s innovative drive stems from his belief that at the core of all innovation is a desire to make life easier. He says, “The core concept of efficiency is something with which I’ve been obsessed. To me, the driving factor of successful innovations is that they make our lives easier.”

At the end of last semester Aidan and his friend Noah Mechnig-Giordano went to the LaunchPad to pitch an idea. The idea was personal to him because he was especially busy. His idea was a digital platform to organize and prioritize messages, with a goal of building a platform to monitor, organize and prioritize personal communications from across many different channels.

Throughout the innovation process, Aidan’s biggest finding through research was realizing nothing like it exists. There was no cross platform technology that connects messages to actions and planning systems.

Aidan worked on the idea for his venture, Abridgd, and competed in several business plan competitions. He is also presenting the concept in the Intelligence ++ Showcase. He has been working this semester on the idea through EEE453, a course taught in the LaunchPad that is structured much like an accelerator, focusing on customer discovery, and developing product and business model roadmaps.

“I want to change how we deal with virtual messages using Abridgd,” says Aidan. “Since the start of the Covid pandemic, many of us have started to feel overwhelmed. We have low energy, low motivation, and at times struggle to complete even simple tasks. These feelings, for many of us, are new and uncomfortable. But for others, these feelings are familiar.”

Between Aidan and his cofounder Noah, they have strong technical and business skills. Aidan has a background in biomedical devices and Noah is a cybersecurity analyst. Additionally, they have built a team of excellent advisors, both experts in clinical application and research, with additional expertise in ADHD, anxiety, depression, and OCD.

“Our mission is to allow you to worry less, achieve more, and gain confidence. Abridgd is a cross-platform, AI-powered task list that connects to your messaging platforms, from Slack to Gmail to iMessage, that can help extract tasks and events from those messages. These tasks are then prioritized by urgency and displayed to you one at a time. To ensure functionality for as many users as possible, Abridgd will host many popular apps, so you can stay on top of your world, no matter where it is hosted.”

Aidan is raising $10,000 to get a web-based prototype in the hands of beta testers by this summer. “This funding will give us the ability to get our design and interfaces ready for a live product and covering the cost of contract developers and cloud fees. Together, we can change lives for the better, and we can make the world better.”

Story by Zaccai Foundation Fellow Samba Soumare

Emma Rothman ’21 writes about managing health amidst the “messiness of life”

photo of a woman in a graduation gown

When meeting Emma Rothman you immediately notice her kindness and quiet charm. She is sincere in conversation and incredibly open about the struggles that shaped her to be the person she is today. Rothman, a 2021 graduate of Syracuse University, wasn’t always that way. As a recipient of a heart transplant at age 12, Rothman said she bottled up a lot of the emotions and anxieties involved in that traumatic experience.

She says “Sometimes it takes getting your life flipped upside down for you to figure out what actually matters and what you should prioritize. I used to not be confident talking about my transplant, but I knew I wanted to give back and help others.”

In 2013, a year after her transplant, and after receiving so much support from families and friends, she wanted to reciprocate, so she started her non-profit, Hearts for Emma with the mission to provide assistance to families of children with heart disease and support educational initiatives relating to heart transplantation and organ and tissue donation.

Since the organization’s launch, more than 60,000 high school students have been educated on heart, organ, and tissue donation. Hearts for Emma also funds two college scholarships to promote organ, tissue, and cornea donation on college campuses across the United States.

Despite the organization’s widespread impact, she spent most of her middle school years in the hospital and felt isolated from her peers and scared to talk about her transplant as she worried it would become too much a part of her identity.

In her new book “Things my Therapist Doesn’t Want Me to Say: 10 Years Post Heart Transplant”, Rothman finally feels comfortable enough to open up about the struggles associated with her transplant.

Rothman says, “I’ve been in therapy for most of my life, but I had a major emotional setback after a surgery during the summer of my sophomore year and I found journaling to really help.”

When senior year rolled around and COVID-19 hit, she felt scared of post-grad life and what she wanted to do with her life. Coupled with the ten-year anniversary of her heart transplant, she felt that writing was the only outlet where she could truly express her thoughts and feelings.

She says, “I wasn’t telling my friends or my partner what I was going through, and I felt that writing really helped. It turned into a book because I felt like it was a great way to seek closure on my last ten years post-surgery.”

When asked about what she hopes others can get from the book, Rothman says “I’m hoping that people will be able to relate to the chronic messiness of life and even if you might not be able to relate to it now, we can all come to an understanding that your twenties are really hard and it’s just a chaotic time in college. It’s not a time where most people are building healthy habits.”

She hopes this book helps normalize conversations around mental health and builds the healthiest and happiest versions.

You can pre-order the book here. Listen to the newest episode of the Commute to Class where we sit down with Emma to discuss the therapeutic nature of writing, starting her non-profit Hearts for Emma, and the scariness of post-grad life.

Story by Jack Lyons ‘22, LaunchPad Global Fellow; photo supplied

Zebedayo Masongo L ’23 and Grnwood

headshot of a man in a blue dress shirt

The story of creating an oasis in a society with racism engrained into its foundations begins in a small district Tulsa, Oklahoma, at the turn of the 19th century. It is the story of the Greenwood district, a legacy that lives on in the modern rebirth Grnwood, founded by Zebedayo Masongo L’23.

After emancipation, Black communities struggled to find a place for themselves in a society that did not welcome them. After discovering no such spaces in American communities, they decided to create one. Developers bought up property in a district in Tulsa called Greenwood and envisioned it as a budding city for Black Americans. As Black communities flocked to this district, it became a vibrant community of professionals, dreamers, artists – a dazzling assortment of Black people from all socioeconomic statuses.

This rich community was not viewed positively by all. In 1921 roots of deep racisms in the surrounding community took hold as white city residents mobbed the Greenwood district: destroying homes, businesses, and even attacking Black individuals. The district and the rich community named ‘the Black Wall Street’ was then forever lost.

Zebedayo Masongo ’23, a second-year law student at the Syracuse University College of Law, wishes for a modern reinvention of the black community so tragically destroyed. In his personal life, his desires for a Black professional community began as he searched for mentors but could not find any that looked like him. He envisioned an online platform featuring interviews of black professionals, and after conducting a few interviews hatched his idea of an online Black community, called Grnwood in honor of the Tulsa community.

Grnwood, run solely by Masongo featuring various interviews of professionals from a diverse array of fields, has grown to include profile pieces on people from all walks of life. It has expanded to include a team of contributors. From sections of music, style, design, and much more, Grnwood expands and illustrates on the brilliance of Black professional life. A personal focus is at its core: the website is comprised of thoughtful, detailed conversations with black professionals to inspire a sense of personal connection and admiration.

Masongo’s vision of Grnwood is one that not merely comments on current Black culture but acts as a directing force for the growth of art and thought. “I want to be a platform that directs culture – this is a new black renaissance,” said Masongo in reference to Grnwood’s cultural influence.

“Everyone takes their culture very seriously, so the way that we’re dealing with Black culture we address with a certain level of care,” said Masongo. His phrase ‘black renaissance,’ is rooted in the flourishing community of Tulsa, and a hope to recreate that shared inspiration and passion in a digital format.

Masongo’s hopes for Grnwood extend beyond merely a small blog, but he’s working to see it grow into a multinational media platform. He plans to apply his law degree towards a career in growing and managing Grnwood, shaping it into an expansion across continents and diverse forms of media, whether that be film content, podcasts, or editorials.

Much of Masongo’s personal inspiration for Grnwood stems not only from his desire for mentorship, but also lack of cultural role models displayed in his own childhood. In films, books, professional articles, tv series, the prevalence of Black individuals was few and far between- creating a hole where impressionable kids search for inspiration and empowerment.

“When I build the platform, I think about me and my younger self reading magazines and seeing an article about a black professional once every so often, but it’s not really centered around us,” said Masongo. “I think about how cool it would be if there was a magazine to show off all of our elegance and glory.”

For Masongo, that is precisely Grnwood’s role – to show off the elegance and glory of modern black professionals through its intimately interview based media. He hopes that Grnwood will provide a space for Black kids to recognize themselves and their potential through the stories of others.

The inspiration for Grnwood has its roots in a terrible American sin. The destruction of a vibrant community overflowing with thought, creation, and excellence can never be replaced or rebuilt. But its legacy as an oasis for black success and perseverance in the middle of a hostile society lives on through the media platform. “Grnwood is a beautiful example how if we’re not going to be given a seat at the table, we’re going to create our own,” said Masongo.

Story by Claire Howard ’23, Global Fellow; photo supplied

Elizabeth Gruskin ’22 is a forensic scientist focused on mental health

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The year is 2020 and the world has spun to a halt in the face of a global pandemic. People are locked indoors, isolation is a pervasive reality, and loved ones are falling ill. As a result of it all, mental health around the world is at an all-time low. Yet at the same time, mental health awareness has grown in priority, and resources for help are more available than ever before.The question is, will it stay that way?

Elizabeth Gruskin, a forensic science and psychology major in the College of Arts and Sciences, is glad that the pandemic brought discussion about mental health to the forefront of public conversation and hopes that this discourse doesn’t end when the pandemic does.

Elizabeth’s passion for mental health led her to develop an idea for a dispensary café and lounge with an emphasis on community and mental wellbeing. The cannabis industry has been developing rapidly over the past 5-10 years, and Elizabeth wants to use this as an opportunity to redefine the way cannabis is used socially. With café Green Leaf, Elizabeth hopes to emulate an environment similar to bars, where people can meet and converse freely.

This would also allow her to incorporate her love for baking since she will have to develop recipes for infused foods and beverages at the café.

However, Green Leaf would be much more than a place where the cannabis community can gather. It would also be a place of education and safety. Elizabeth wants to educate people about mental health, cannabis, and the intersection of the two. In her hiring process, she would recruit employees who are compassionate, understanding, inclusive, and respectful of people’s boundaries. Employees would be trained on how to create a safe and supportive environment for customers and how to communicate to customers that they can turn to the employees if they need help.

Elizabeth envisions Green Leaf as also having a separate “safe room,” where people can go if they begin feeling anxious in the lounge environment and want to escape to a quieter place.

This semester, Elizabeth is taking IDS 302, a class that has equipped her with a stronger background in business, allowing her to write a business plan and begin developing a minimum viable product (in this case, the recipes she will use).

When reflecting on the value of the collaborative classroom environment, Elizabeth finds that it helped transform Green Leaf from just an idea floating around in her head to something more tangible — an idea that would be ready to take to market.

Elizabeth found the process of learning to build a business to be challenging but equally rewarding.

“I’ve learned the full extent of what it actually takes to start a business,” she said. “I’ve already done so much work, but it’s just the beginning, and there’s still so much to go.”

She also emphasized the importance of asking questions in the startup process: “There is a very high likelihood you don’t know what’s going on, so seek out the people who do, and get their mentorship!”

Elizabeth is looking to get more involved with Syracuse University’s Blackstone LaunchPad before she graduates to learn from the LaunchPad’s myriad of resources. She is currently focused on identifying post-graduation job opportunities and hopes to launch Green Leaf into action in the years to come.

Story by Sasha Temerte ’23, LaunchPad Global Fellow; photo supplied

Rabia Razzaq G ’22 is designing solutions to global challenges

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From Pakistan, Razzaq’s interest in design began after several years working in the fashion industry. As she lived and worked in Pakistan, she noticed the disturbing air quality as pollutants grew worse and worse, and watched her community suffer from breathing issues. “People couldn’t go out because the air quality was bad, and it affected pregnant women as well. It was getting worse every year,” said Razzaq of the reality she observed in Pakistan.

Razzaq was shocked to learn that a major contributor to the pollutants in Pakistan was the textiles industry. “I was really depressed and devastated to know of what we have done,” said Razzaq. This revelation of the industry she built her career in motivated her to turn her career towards one that built a positive society – not one that worsened her community’s living conditions.

With this goal in mind to design a better world, Razzaq began searching for universities in the United States to apply to a master’s design program. After applying to several American universities, Razzaq was offered a 50% scholarship for a master’s design program in VPA through a connection she created with a faculty member. She had to be honest. “I supported myself, I’m working on multiple jobs. A 50% scholarship makes it impossible for me to come to another country and study.”

For the first time in the history of the design program, the faculty decided to create a fellowship for Razzaq to allow her to pursue her passions at Syracuse University and apply the critical thinking and design skills learned there to create solutions in her home country.

Beyond her career in the fashion industry, Razzaq had spent her free time in Pakistan working for an NGO tutoring homeless children. During this time, she conducted research and created her thesis on the need for family’s to be more involved in their children’s upbringing. This goal – to pour herself into the future generations and communities of Pakistan, designing a better society – was exactly the reason she hoped to study at Syracuse and obtain her masters.

Through her current studies, she’s researching sustainable bioplastics to recreate toxic production processes within the textiles industries and designing sustainable packaging for industrial use. Razzaq has already used her fellowship to design a sustainable future.

Razzaq is enrolled in the Intelligence++ class in partnership with VPA, InclusiveU and the Blackstone LaunchPad at Syracuse University, which focused on inclusive design and entrepreneurship. The class asks students to shadow individuals with various disabilities and then design technology for their wellness. In this class, Razzaq is currently created a sensory playground as a calming outlet for an individual with excessive energy.

Razzaq’s first year at Syracuse University has been packed with designing solutions to societal problems from engineering inclusivity to creating more sustainable production cycles. Reflecting on her challenging work and success, Razzaq has one thing to share with those in her home country: to include women in design and higher education. In Pakistan, medicine and engineering are considered two prestigious fields; and if women don’t have a degree in one of those, they usually settle for a life at home.

“Encourage your daughters, and the females in your family to go to graduate school, there is so much to explore and learn from the world. I have been wanting to study abroad, earn a master’s in design, and see these [solutions] implemented for the past five years… if you really want to do something, strive for it, there are endless opportunities out there!” says Razzaq to the girls of Pakistan.

Story by Claire Howard ’23, Global Fellow; photo supplied

Matt Castagnozzi ’23 creates Psych-Tek, a service to help normalize psychedelic treatments

headshot of a student in a suit

When you think of magic mushrooms, what immediately comes to mind? For most, mushrooms and other psychedelics invoke images of colorful hallucinations and recreational trips with friends. Indeed, mushrooms and their hallucinogenic chemical, psilocybin, continue to be a taboo subject for most people. But for Matt Castagnozzi, a native of Millbrook, N.Y. and a junior pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Economics from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and a minor in Information Technology, Design, and Startups (IDS) from the School of Information Studies, psilocybin, in conjunction with the use of advanced technologies, represents a promising form of treatment for anxiety and depression and a chance to revolutionize the pharmaceutical industry.

Castagnozzi’s discovery of psilocybin was accidental and unexpected. Diagnosed with depression and social anxiety as a teenager, he was prescribed a laundry list of standard treatment options by his doctor, specifically different selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), the most common antidote to anxiety and depression in western medicine. Frustrated with the medication’s ineffectiveness and his overall lack of treatment progress, he began to research alternative forms of treatment. After perusing the depths of Google and consulting others with similar situations, Castagnozzi recognized a commonality: psychedelics, specifically in the form of psilocybin, were surprisingly successful in treating symptoms and were beginning to build momentum as a viable option for medical care.

“I did more of my own research into the effects of mushrooms,” said Castagnozzi. “I found that there are actually a lot of treatments being developed using psilocybin mushrooms to treat depression and anxiety. I thought that if this could potentially help me, then I’d love to help as many people as I can.”

With this newfound knowledge and passion for psychedelic treatments, Castagnozzi began brainstorming ways he could aid in making these forms of medicine a viable and common option. Through the Student Sandbox, a part of his IDS minor, he decided to take a leap of faith and launch Psych-Tek, a startup leveraging the power of data and technology to gauge interest levels in alternative forms of treatment and educate people on how these medication forms can work for their specific issues.

“Psych-Tek is essentially a data brokerage,” explained Castagnozzi. “We put out mental health evaluation forms to see what types of problems you are facing, what your medication is, and if you are open to alternative treatments.”

From there, Psych-Tek plans to take the data they receive and sell it to medical professionals so they can better inform their research on psychedelic treatments. Castagnozzi also envisions Psych-Tek collecting survey respondents’ contact information to connect them with companies conducting relevant clinical trials with psychedelics.

Though psychedelic legalization is in its early stages (Denver, Colo. became the first city to legalize psilocybin in May of 2019), Castagnozzi is confident in its progress and long-term viability, which will greatly aid Psych-Tek’s reach and impact.

“I would say there is going to be a lot of mainstream traction in the next 10 years,” said Castagnozzi. “One of the biggest reasons is because (major sports leagues) are looking into treatments for players with brain injuries. There are also a lot of companies that are very far along into their development stages.”

Though there has been an abundance of obstacles with the formation of Psych-Tek, such as reaching out to established researchers and finding potential survey respondents, working on a self-proclaimed passion project has fueled him to continue to grow the project.

“For me, the whole practice of building a business is really exciting,” said Castagnozzi. “I really like trying to figure out how to make an idea viable. I truly do believe these treatments can help people in ways that traditional medications can’t.”

Looking long term, Castagnozzi would love to build Psych-Tek into a regular data provider to medical professionals and researchers. For now, however, he is looking to gain exposure and brand recognition in the psychedelic treatment space and improve the functionality of Psych-Tek’s survey capability. Castagnozzi recognizes that growth and expansion won’t be an easy task but doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon.

“If there’s a will, there’s a way,” said Castagnozzi. “Just because things get hard doesn’t mean you should give up.

Story by Blackstone LaunchPad Global Fellow Matt Keenan ’22; photo supplied

Adya Parida ’25 has a curiosity, courage and attitude that we can all learn from

headshot of a student in a blue blouse

To be a freshman at a university is intimidating – especially on a big campus like Syracuse University. Whether you’re a freshman or a senior, all of us can recall the feelings of being excited, overwhelmed, nervous and maybe even scared at times.

Adya Parida ’25 feels all these emotions. However, she doesn’t let these feelings stop her from creating a great experience for herself at Syracuse with curiosity, courage, and enthusiastic attitude.

Parida applied to Syracuse University through a scholarship program from her high school back in India. The Next Genius Scholarship program was partnered with Syracuse University for Indian students who wanted to study abroad. After a series of interviews, Parida came to Syracuse University with a full tuition scholarship to study Computer Science at the College of Engineering and Computer Science.

Parida has an elder brother who is a computer engineer. One day, Parida’s brother showed her a video game that he was making – instantly Parida was awe. Who wouldn’t be? Watching her brother apply the knowledge he got from school in a computer program to create his own projects fascinated Parida. The computer science bug was infectious. Since Parida’s brother got her interested in coding and programming, she started learning about it on her own and has been working on her own projects. Of course, all this is extremely challenging but is also extremely fun for Parida.

Recently, Parida participated in Cuse Hacks – a coding competition and hackathon, that was organized by Innovate Orange. She and her team created their own Syracuse Safe Zone Project and competed against other teams. The competitors include coders of all expertise – from freshmen to graduate students. The competition was a valuable experience for her. Within a day of the competition, Parida learnt how to use API to integrate into webpages and how to use different python library packages.

Parida has heard about the Blackstone LaunchPad at the Syracuse University Libraries, in the Bird Library, through the newsletters. When she saw the Blackstone LaunchPad space in person, she wasn’t quite sure if she could just go in. There were meetings going on in there and it felt exclusive. Regardless of feeling nervous, her curiosity prompted her to just ask! Parida was connected to the Blackstone LaunchPad, simply by walking through the doors of the LaunchPad and asking about the space! This admirable attitude is something a lot of people wished they had.

Although Parida loves computer science, she is also interested in business. She is excited to get involved, learn, hangout in the space to hear the exciting things people are working on as well as bounce off her own ideas.

Parida is loving Syracuse University – her courses, her friends, the activities on campus and more. She also loves that she gets to live on the same floor of the dorm with her classmates as a part of the living learning community.

“Syracuse has totally exceeded my expectations!” says Parida.

Story by LaunchPad Global Fellow Natalie Lui ‘22; photo supplied