Winners from this past weekend’s Martin J. Whitman School of Management annual Panasci Business Plan Competition included LaunchPad Rubin Family Innovation Mentors David Fox ’19, Kelsey Davis ’19 G’20, and Sam Hollander ’22 as well as LaunchPad Global Fellow Nick Barba ’20. Fox and Barba, co-founders of Smarta, won the $20,000 first prize; Sam Hollander, founder of FSCL, won the $7,500 second prize and $5,000 Gilded Social Award; and Davis, co-founder of CLLCTVE, won the $2,500 third prize with co-founder Brendan O’Keeffe ’20.
Bruno Gonzalez Hauger, president of the Syracuse E-Club and co-founder of Ambassadoor Technologies, was honorable mention and a top finalist, along with Han Mo, a Whitman M.S. in EEE graduate student who is working on FAIR with a multidisciplinary team.
The Panasci Business Plan Competition is a prestigious campus event that showcases well-crafted innovative business proposals to distinguished entrepreneurs, investors and industry professionals. It is open to graduate and undergraduate students from every academic program across campus.
The winners of this year’s top prize, Fox and Barba, were also winners of last fall’s Orange Tank competition sponsored by Whitman and recently completed a Blackstone LaunchPad Techstars Summer Fellowship. Fox is a ’19 graduate of the School of Information Studies (iSchool) and Barba is a ’20 Whitman graduate. Barba is also the new project manager at the Syracuse LaunchPad.
With a slogan, “There’s a Smarta way to rent off-campus,” their venture is creating the world’s best marketplace to search for student off-campus housing. Unlike traditional property listing platforms, Smarta is focusing on a niche market that struggles with finding quality rental properties.
“Property listing marketplaces today do a great job of helping people nationwide rent and buy new properties,” says Fox. “However, for students in University areas, the leasing process is brand new and these marketplaces don’t educate them on the legalities and risks of renting. Furthermore, both students and property managers complain about an inefficient communication system in the current leasing process, leading to students misunderstanding terms and potential financial consequences.”
Through features like searching for roommates, online payments, and one-click applications, Smarta simplifies the vast information that real estate listings contain and organize it in an easily digestible and fun mobile app to walk the student through the process of renting property.
“Smarta is honored to have won first place,” says Fox. “We want to thank the Whitman School of Management for the opportunity they’ve provided this team. Keep your eyes peeled because with this money Smarta is funded to launch in September 2021, and maybe at a school near you.”
“We are excited to not just win this competition, but to be able to fully build out our app with the funds we have won,” added Barba.
Samuel Hollander ’22, a dual Whitman and Newhouse major, won second place for FSCL. He also won the Gilded Social Rising Entrepreneur Award, a $5,000 cash award sponsored by Scott Friedberg. He will be using the funds to build out a beta technology platform for his venture. Hollander also recently completed the Blackstone LaunchPad Techstars Summer Fellowship program. He was a LaunchPad Global Fellow at Syracuse and was recently named a new Rubin Family Innovation Mentor.
“We are in a great American Crisis,” says Hollander. “According to the Federal Reserve, America owes more than $1.6 trillion in student debt between federal and privatized loans across more than 45 million borrowers. Students and their families are currently financing education with debt, but it’s proven that this system doesn’t work.” Hollander is working on an Income Share Agreement (ISA) solution as a new alternative finance tool to help make education affordable and predictable.
“Each day, students across America go deeper into debt, trying to achieve a higher level of education and a better life. As a result, economists believe we are creating a bubble that, when burst, could be catastrophic. FSCL is creating a viable alternate way to finance or refinance student loans. Our goal is to be as transparent as possible, with no hidden tricks, catches, or gimmicks.” He has done extensive research and built an impressive advisory team to help take his idea from concept to commercialization.
Third prize of $2,500 went to Kelsey Davis and Brendan O’Keeffe ’20 for a digital platform that connects brands and Gen Z creatives. Last fall CLLCTVE won the grand prize of $25,000 in Whitman’s Orange Tank competition, and the $10,000 second prize in last fall’s Blackstone LaunchPad Techstars Propel competition. CLLCTVE particpated in the spring 2020 LaunchPad Lift program and after incubating at the LaunchPad for the past two years was accepted into the highly competitive Techstars Los Angeles accelerator this summer. The team is now headquartered in LA, has rapidly scaled, raised equity capital, expanded its network of creatives, and is forging exciting new partnerships with brands.