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Welcome Bridget Lawson as Assistant Director of The Source

The LaunchPad welcomes Bridget Lawson as Assistant Director of The SOURCE (Undergraduate Research and Creative Engagement), located on the second floor of Bird Library. Bridget was previously coordinator of academic services with Syracuse University’s CSTEP (Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program) and has supported diverse students in both higher education and K-12 environments. She brings a strong background of implementing academic success initiatives, preparing students for research opportunities, and facilitating diversity, equity, community-based, and social justice activities. Having earned an MSW degree, Bridget is currently working towards a Ph.D. in Cultural Foundations of Education at Syracuse University. We look forward working with SOURCE Director Kate Hanson and Bridget Lawson to support and engage with SOURCE scholars, many of whom are also innovators, inventors, creatives and entrepreneurs.

SU alumni Caleb Obiagwu and Anthony Obas join us Wednesday, July 22 for a talk about NextGen leadership and Afropreneurship

Two side by side headshots

Syracuse University alumni, friends and venture founders Caleb Obiagwu and Anthony Obas headline this week’s Talk Tea, the LaunchPad’s summer series in partnership with The Republic of Tea.  The talks feature conversations by thought leaders on topics related to innovation and entrepreneurship. Join us Wednesday, July 22 at 3 p.m. on Zoom for a conversation about NextGen leadership, empowerment, equity, diverse voices, as well as supporting Black businesses and creative Afropreneurship.   Zoom link here.

Engineering and Computer Science grad Caleb Obiagwu is a serial entrepreneur who created three award-winning ventures as a student at Syracuse University – SYRE Tech LLC, AttendPro, and most recently, SafeLoot. As Obiagwu actively supported the Black Lives Matter movement across the country this spring, he saw an opportunity to support Black-owned businesses in local communities that had already faced hardships from the pandemic. Some were struggling to sustain and re-open, and had been vandalized or damaged through early protests.  He realized many business owners did not have resources to rebuild, and as an entrepreneur, he wanted to do something positive to protect and support them.  Together, with friends Brandon Elliott and John-Paul Besong, they created a tech platform to showcase Black-owned businesses, working first with businesses in Albany, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Manhattan, Queens and Syracuse. Over the past few months, the platform has quickly gained momentum and attention from the media. As it evolves, the larger goal is to expand it as a broader platform to create visibility and support for Black-owned businesses as part of a national movement.

As a senior, Obiagwu created the award-winning venture AttendPro, which won the Impact Prize competition sponsored by the LaunchPad. As a junior he built SYRE Tech LLC to revolutionize the way we receive content by developing looking glass, an innovative window technology that serves as a digital display.  He created SafeLoot after graduation, before heading off to join a top consulting firm as an intrapreneur. Starting three ventures as a student was a realization of a goal he had set for himself before even coming to Syracuse. Born in Lagos, Nigeria and raised in London, England, Obiagwu grew up in an environment he described as “civilized and refined.” Attending a boarding school from an early age, he was encouraged to follow the status quo, work as a part of the system and value comfort over his ambitions. Despite valuable experiences during those years — attending a Harvard leadership program, the Global Young Leaders Conference and serving as class captain for his high school — he yearned for something more.  While he could have attended a prestigious university in England, Obiagwu fell in love with what many call ‘the American dream.’ From nearly 3,500 miles away, he saw America as a land of opportunity, a culture that valued innovation and a home to risk-takers. This vision drove him to convince his parents to enroll him at Syracuse University.

Coming in as an engineering and computer science major, his plan was to get good grades, graduate, get a job and then start a successful company. But as he puts it, “Life happens when you’re busy making other plans.” Sitting in an introductory chemistry class with partner and fellow SU student, Zachariah Reid, the two came face-to-face with a question many young dreamers ask themselves, “Why are we doing this if we’re not passionate about it?” Together, they assembled a team with vision, business savvy, technical and mechanical skills, and knowledge of computer and digital technologies to create SYRE Tech (standing for “something you rarely expect”). From there, Caleb took the concept through business plan competitions, and also developed a second concept for AttendPro, after interning at a large company with a property management and maintenance issues that need ingenuity. He took the prototype to the Impact Prize, where he won a top award. This spring, Obiagwu brought the same approach to creating SafeLoot, assembling a team with strong technical know-how, clarity of vision and work ethic to quickly build execute.

Literally by his side on his Syracuse journey has been his good friend and roommate Anthony Obas, a recent Whitman grad who is an independent artist, brand consultant, and author of the book, “Shifting Your Music Into A Career– A Guide For Independent Artists To Be Full Time Artists.”  The self-published book gives self-releasing artists insights and advice on how to turn their part-time music career into a full time career, taking on various case studies from mainstream artists, to personal observations, and research from other music business writers.  It simplifies these into basic instructions on how to do music full time, and pursue what artists love to do, which is produce creative works.

Anthony Obas seated in a chair

Obas has always aspired to make a difference. Growing up in Harlem, New York, he was deeply invested in his community throughout his childhood. Involved in sports teams and other local involvements. His confidence is a by-product of solid relationships, community involvement and a supportive family. Empowered by his environment, he was admittedly, “a very confident kid.” The positivity of his environment was affirming, encouraging him to keep his ambitions and goals limitless. His transition to the all-boys and Catholic, Xavier High School, was a challenge. Searching for ways to combat these feelings, Obas gravitated towards athletics and other leadership positions, becoming a key player on Xavier’s track and football teams and winning multiple awards for his service and advocacy. As a member of these teams, he found a stable social group that was supportive, reminiscent of how he was brought up. With this sense of community, he began to flourish.

Heading into the college admissions process, Anthony wished to put himself in a place where he could find community, pursue his ambitions and expand his network. He chose Syracuse University, a school which would give him the opportunities, teachings and access he needed.  Developing skills in television and radio, blogging and event planning, Obas began working with the on-campus radio station, WERW as a freshman. Here he excelled, both in his social media coordinator position, as well as within his own radio show. “WERW gave me the space to be creative. It gave me the creative room to work and explore.”

During his sophomore year, he served as the Director of Operations for a label called Voiceless Music. While simultaneously handling company finances, he popularized a blog on the labels’ website. Producing high-quality content on a regular basis, he learned how to connect with an audience through written word and how to use them as tools to achieve his goals.  By hosting events like the Voiceless Music Meetup, This is Upstate, and multiple other events on campus during his student years, Obas created spaces for creatives and entrepreneurs to network with each other and exchange ideas.

His brand has recently gained notoriety throughout upstate New York and New York City, through his exciting events and entertaining #ObasRants. His well-attended events, charming personality and growing social media presence have helped his personal brand continue to grow. As his impact grows, so does he, saying, “I can’t separate my business and my personal because it goes hand in hand.”

While at Syracuse he also became very engaged with Supporting Our Young Leaders (SOYL) Talks, an initiative that originally started in the LaunchPad in the summer of 2016 by Kevin Claiborne, and continued under the leadership of Seth Colton Dollar.  SOYL Talks are sponsored by Children of the Summer in collaboration with the Gifford Foundation, and moderated each month by Obas.  The free monthly lecture series connects students and entrepreneurs ranging from late middle school to college students with young professionals and local/state/international entrepreneurs. Each month presents speak, followed by audience Q&A and networking. In addition, SOYL Talks also include the ever-growing social media video series SOYL in “60” – following the same format of the traditional “talks” but withing a 60-second video.  SOYL Talks events are currently held in the Syracuse area, but are looking to expand.

SOYL Talks

Obas says his biggest lesson is to always remain positive. “One thing my brand is so strong about is making sure I’m positive all the time,” he says.  Post-graduation he is translating his knowledge and momentum into his venture, Guided by Obas, which is an independent consulting agency, looking to “take artists and brands that are good and make them better.” Built on principles of personal and brand growth, Obas predicts this agency will be different, “emphasizing collaboration, and working with others, instead of working for them,” a value he has gravitated towards, his whole life. He launched his book tour earlier this summer in Brooklyn at an event with performances by Meko Sky, Twelve E, and Jesediah, and then again at Syracuse in the LaunchPad where he is an active member.  He has also curated live events such as “This is Upstate,” where artists from the upstate New York area competed for bragging rights for their respective home cities. Now, based in the Harlem area, he is producing events in the metropolitan area but remains engaged with the Syracuse community.

One of the LaunchPad’s favorite social media platforms is Obas’ series of rants, appropriately titled, “#Obasrants,” which help him to communicate his vision with the masses. From the development of local artists to not having hot water in his apartment or unrelenting fireworks during a pandemic, Obas finds a way to keep a smile on his face while ranting about what matters to him, and being a positive role model for creative entrepreneurs and young leaders.

Both Obiagwu and Obas are engaged alumni and members of the LaunchPad’s Founders Circle, helping others build mission-driven ventures with meaningful social impact. Their voices have helped shape the LaunchPad’s perspective on diversity, inclusion, equity and social justice, and they is an impressive thought leader on these topics.  We hope you can join us for an enjoyable and thought-provoking conversation.

This story based on previous spotlight posts by Jalen Nash ’20 , Blackstone LaunchPad Global Media Fellow, as previously published in LaunchPad news.

How To Write A Business Plan From Scratch

This was originally published on The Success Bug website by The Success Bug Team.

Writing a business plan for the first time can be daunting and confusing. Why should I write one? Where do I even start? How will this improve the success of my business?

In this article, we answer all of these questions in a step by step guide on how to write your first business plan from scratch.

Should I Write a Business Plan?

There seems to be a debate on whether or not a business plan is relevant. Many of today’s biggest companies started without one. This leads many people to believe that it isn’t useful, let alone necessary for success.

However, a recent study examined 11,046 small businesses and looked at the correlation between their success and whether or not they had a business plan. The study concluded that companies that used a business plan grew 30% faster than their counterparts. In fact, 71% of fast-growing companies have business plans.

Having a plan also can also assist with organization and consistency. By having a plan written out, it allows an entrepreneur to refer back to the outline and make sure everything in their business is operating efficiently, and as expected.

Business Plan Composition

The first step in writing a successful business plan is deciding its structure. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll stick to a 5-page business plan template. The composition of this 5-section template will be broken down into:

  • Overview
  • Competitive Analysis
  • Product
  • Marketing
  • Goals

Overview

In this section, you’re essentially providing a general breakdown of your business. This can begin with simple details such as the business name, location, legal structure, and a description of what the business does. If you’re creating a plan for an existing company, it will likely have sales, return on investments and all other financial information.

people crowding around a laptop

A mission statement is also usually included in this section. The best mission statements include the company’s values, vision, and mission. Furthermore, the statement should be clear, concise, and easy for the reader to understand.

The company’s structure of responsibility should be mapped out in this section as well. This should outline who’s in charge of the sales, marketing, and finance areas of a company for instance.

While it’s the first thing that people will read, we generally advise that you write the overview last. Why? Because once you know the details of your business inside and out, you will be better prepared to write your overview.

Competitive Analysis

You want to start by describing the industry you’re competing in and the markets you’re targeting. It is crucial for all business owners to be up-to-date with their industry. This can include familiarity with industry trends, innovations, and shifts. Once we know this, we can identify what our competitive advantage is. A competitive advantage is any strategy that puts a company in a favorable business position over its competitors.

In this section, you want to describe as much about your competitors, supplier and buyer powers, and external threats. This can all be scoped through traditional industry analysis.

writing a business plan

If you’d like to learn more about how to perform an industry analysis, check out our guide on how to use Porter’s Five Forces. Porter’s Five Forces is a powerful tool, created by Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter. It was designed to understand the competitiveness of a business environment. This enables us to better identify profitable opportunities. 

Product

This section provides information about the products or services your company provides. A good start would be to explain what problem your product solves, and how it accomplishes this. If you can’t pinpoint a problem that your product solves, then you might not have a viable business concept.

Additionally, this section should include information about the products:

  • manufacturing cost
  • pricing strategy
  • supplier/ source
  • consumer demand
write a business plan

Marketing

To begin, a good business plan will identify the target market segments. This is then followed with data to indicate how fast each segment is growing. When identifying target markets, a classic method is to use the TAM, SAM, and SOM breakdown.

  • TAM: Total Available Market (everyone you wish to reach with your product)
  • SAM: Segment Addressable Market (the section of TAM you will target)
  • SOM: Share Of the Market (the portion of your SAM that you will realistically reach—particularly in the first few years of business)

Once you have identified your key market segments, you should discuss the trends for these markets. Are they growing or shrinking? Identify the market’s evolving needs, tastes, or upcoming changes.

Another important question to address in this section is how you plan to build customer loyalty. A great marketing strategy should aim to build consumer interest and retain customers.

Goals

Finally, the last section when you write a business plan should be the company’s goals. This can be broken into two sections of goals: short term (1-year) and long term (3-5years).

Each section should aim to describe goals in respects to:

  • revenues
  • profits
  • sales
  • company development
  • company impact

It’s important to note that this is solely the minimum of goals a business should set. It’s very likely for a company to have goals not measured by numbers. If they’re significant to the company, they should also be added to this section for a more detailed comparison in the future.

write a business plan

The power of this section lies in manifesting the direction you want your company to head in. A popular study by Psychology professor Dr. Gail Matthews, revealed you’re 42% more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down.

Key Takeaways

Creating a business plan can serve many purposes alongside increasing a company’s likelihood of success. A strong business plan template consists of an Overview, Competitive Analysis, Product Description, Marketing Plan, and List of Company Goals. The more detailed each of the sections of the business plan is the more accurately you can achieve your goals and grow your company. Hopefully, after having read this guide, you now have a more concrete understanding of how to write a strong business plan.

If you would like to learn more about more ways to improve your company, you will definitely like this article on “Why Brand Activism Matters for Your Business.

For you by you

Quandary of being international

protect international students
Photo by SU Globalists

SEVP’s modified exemptions hurt international students’ lives and careers

By: Kaizhao Zero Lin

It was late Monday night, and I decided to look at my WeChat Moment (like Facebook)  for the last time before going to sleep. Surprisingly, my Moment was filled with angry emojis and concerned thoughts from my friends who are international students like me. Students are in a new round of panic after learning that some may be forced to leave the U.S. under the modified immigration policies.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program announced on July 7 that the “U.S. Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall semester nor will U.S. Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the U.S.” Those who are in this situation need to either leave the U.S. right away or transfer to another college offering in-person classes in the fall; otherwise they may face strict immigration consequences, such as deportation.

In fact, this is not a new policy but rather a modification of the temporary exemption that allowed non-immigrant students to take online classes in the spring 2020 semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The SEVP has not yet explained why international students cannot be exempt for at least the fall semester as well.

When universities transitioned online in the mid of spring 2020, many international students abandoned their properties and fled back to their home countries at the beginning of the outbreak. Students were aware of high infection rates while traveling but the sudden online curriculum made them leave for safety of their homes. However, some international students like me chose to stay in the U.S. believing it would be able to control the disease soon.

Unfortunately, the poor disease management under the Trump administration has proven that the government still does not control well. We still see tens of thousands of new cases being reported every day. As the situation got worse, the government established travel bans and limited international travel.  Staying in the U.S. soon became a safer option than risking infection on a long flight back home. Now, foreign students find themselves struggling with the situation that threatens their livelihoods. And this is not the end.

As the policy prescribed, students’ F-1 visas may be revoked if they take online classes in their home country, or if they cannot come back to the U.S. to receive in-person or hybrid-style classes. The potential of losing their student visas took most international students by surprise, as their goal is just to finish higher education here: Most of them have sacrificed a lot to achieve this goal, such as leaving parents and native countries and dealing with complicated college application requirements.

Fortunately, Syracuse University will offer a hybrid-style class module for the following semester. However, international students remain unsure if they will be forced to go back after the Thanksgiving break as the school will not offer any residential classes afterward. This hybrid model does not directly fit into any of the regulations.

Given the situation of growing COVID-19 cases, though it might slow down in the following month, there is still a high possibility of a second wave of outbreak just like the one in Beijing in late June, which makes it more dangerous for international students to spend tens of hours on travel. Moreover, the school still charges students the same for tuition, and some juniors and seniors may have already signed an off-campus house lease. Not everyone can understand how being an international student feels like if they are not in their shoes, and this is the reality that most international students face.

On a similar note, non-immigrant students face a further challenge: finding a job in the U.S. A non-American nationality with no-green-card status prevented the group from getting a paid internship, specifically during this highly unemployed situation. Most of my internship applications ended up with an “under consideration” status and were never updated further. More importantly, international students’ granted CPT/OPT will be affected if they cannot return: Students have to be in full time academic year standing to be eligible for CPT/OPT. If students are forced to leave the country under the regulation, it will cause their academic hours to reset, making it more difficult to find a job.

With all these uncertainties that international students are facing due to SEVP’s modified exemption, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sued the Trump administration in federal court on Wednesday for this modified regulation. It is encouraging to see that universities are taking measures to stand with international students. There is a need to foster connections among international students and alumni because they have been in the same shoes. Fortunately, there may come the opportunity at Syracuse University.

blended logo

Manvi Upadhyay, a recent graduate, and Sonia Wee, a television, radio and film senior, came up with the idea of creating Blended, a platform dedicated to empowering the international community at Syracuse University, enabling foreign students to have an honest and personal understanding of life after graduation.

By connecting students with mentors and alumni in the working world or in higher education, on-boarding student mentees will receive a six-week mentorship program beginning in the fall semester. It will be broken down into three 30-minute bi-weekly virtual meetings between a student and their mentor, whom they will pair according to your fields of interest and/or geography. This is going to be a more than useful opportunity for international students and alumni to collaborate, network and lift up one another, especially under these challenging conditions.

In these times, foreign students need to establish strength in unity — We can overcome this quandary one day.


Kaizhao Zero Lin, an SU rising senior from China studying international relations and newspaper & online journalism, is the editor-in-chief at SU Globalists and network content developer at Blended. You can contact him via Twitter (@kzerolin) or email (klin06@syr.edu).

Revolutionizing The Medical Device Industry- W/ Alec & Quinn

two men in suits holding a large check from Syracuse University for $20,000

This was originally published on The Success Bug website by The Success Bug Team.

WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW ALEC AND QUINN

For our seventh interview, we had on Alec Gillinder and Quinn King, two friends intent on shaking up the medical device industry. In their third year of college at Syracuse University, Alec and Quinn entered Invent @SU, a 6-week summer program at Syracuse, where you can design a product and pitch it to a board of investors for an opportunity to win cash prizes.

Now, most kids who enter business plan competitions like this one do so for the experience. They think it would be cool to compete and the idea of winning is alluring but they don’t break their backs over it. Alec and Quinn are not like most kids though. They had one goal in mind: Win.

So they sat down and studied every winner of previous competitions and saw almost every winner had one thing in common: They were all in the medical device industry.

So they got to work and created their product L-IV (The Liberating Intravenous System). This portable IV system can connect an IV system to the body using two simple straps, allowing the patient to receive treatment while remaining mobile.

Medical Device L-IV (Liberating Intravenous System)

This invention safe to say got them first place in the competition​, awarding them $5,000 along with a $1,000 stipend which helped them develop their first prototype. They not only won this competition but​ also went on to place first in The Impact Prize Competition. Impact Prize is another business plan competition where staff with expertise in civic engagement or social entrepreneurship select teams to pitch their venture and win grant money.

They then placed second in CuseTank, amassing them another cool $2,500, a “Shark-Tank” style competition featuring idea pitches by student innovators to a panel of distinguished entrepreneurs. From there they placed first in the Panasci Business Plan Competition, another campus-wide student business plan competition. This time getting a check for $20,000.

Finally, the two took the big stage and entered the ACC InVenture Prize Competition, the startup competition of the year! They competed against 12 other Atlantic Coast Conference’s best entrepreneurs from schools like Duke, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, and landed second place, amassing them another $10,000.

Just recently, they were accepted by the prestigious MassChallenge Boston accelerator, a nonprofit that has raised over 6 billion dollars for their various startups. These guys are on track to make huge waves within the medical device industry and this interview will let you dive into the minds of these two and see how they think.

IN THIS EPISODE YOU’LL LEARN

How to succeed in business plan competitions, how to think unconventionally, and how to create something that doesn’t aim to just create value but make a difference. You will also learn what Alec and Quinn think is the number 1 key to all of their early success and what other people should be doing if they plan on starting a business of their own.

Be the first to hear about new blog posts and episodes just like this by subscribing to our website or following us and liking our pages on FacebookInstagram, or LinkedIn.

You can listen to this episode on Apple PodcastSpotify, or Google Podcasts.

BOOKS, RESOURCES, NOTABLE QUOTES

MedUX website
MedUX LinkedIn
Alec Gillinder LinkedIn
Quinn King LinkedIn
Kevin Rieck interview: Starting A Business In College

“The key to entrepreneurship in a way is you see all the issues in front of you and you just got to go for it. And you have to not be afraid to put your issues to the side and give 100%.”

“Alec and I were never afraid to break social norms in terms of our age. There were times early on when people would doubt us because of our age and I think having the mindset of keep going really got us through.”

“We had a moment where we were like alright if we are going to do this business plan competition let’s really win this. So the first thing we did was look up all the previous winners of the competition and what we saw is that they were all medical products. So from there we just knocked off everything that wasn’t related to medical for our ideas.”

“One of the most productive things you can do is take your product and put it in front of someone that you think might use the product and say, “Do your best to figure out what I just did. Just play with it.” From this you will be able to see first hand how someone interacts with your product.”

“A common misconception online is that when you’re an entrepreneur you need to be that kind of person who has to destroy relationships just to get this one thing off the ground but you don’t have to do that. Most people don’t work that way that’s just a very small percentage of people who are okay with burning bridges along the way.”

For you by you

The LaunchPad is excited to announce that our community has expanded virtually to Discord

Decorative graphic
Easy to use and navigate new LaunchPad SU Discord chat platform

The LaunchPad team has been busy this summer creating new tools to keep Syracuse University’s innovation community connected in a virtual world.  Led by Nick Barba ’20, Patrick Prioletti G’21 and Emma Rothman ’21, the team created a new platform for campus entrepreneurs to communicate over voice, video, and text, connect with peer mentors, get advice, organize events or just hang out with fellow like-minded innovators using Discord.  It’s Slack meets Zoom with a pinch of Reddit, all in one place, curated on LaunchPad Discord.  This is your invite to join the community.  Start by joining the LaunchPad here and then hop on LaunchPad Discord here.

For those not familiar with Discord, it is a freeware instant messaging, VoIP application and digital software platform that features integrated text, image, video and audio communication that a chat channel that can run on Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, Linux, and in web browsers.  More than 250 million people are currently on the platform.  While it was originally launched in 2011 for the gaming community, it rapidly evolved away from gamers in the pandemic era into a broader community-based platform serving education, businesses and other sectors, while adopting a new brand message, “Your place to talk.”

“LaunchPad Discord will attempt to replicate beloved features of the LaunchPad from your own couch,” says Rothman.  “On LaunchPad Discord, we will be able to virtually sit at the big table together, using the video, voice and text features, passionately chatting about exciting news and innovations in the personalized text discussion rooms and request a mentor all on the same platform.”  

The LaunchPad Discord channel is organized by six categories: ?ONBOARDING, ?JOIN THE LAUNCHPAD, ? ANNOUNCEMENTS, ? COMMUNITY SPACE, ? DISCUSSION ROOMS AND ? MENTOR NETWORK. Under each of these categories, there are voice and text channels. The text channels mirror Slack where you can message and interact with individuals subscribed to that specific channel. The voice and text channels not only allow you interact with the community; but also have a video and screen sharing feature likes Zoom. If you are looking to collaborate with others, using the voice and text channels in one of the seven community spaces is a great way to work with your group or to see what the other members of the LaunchPad are up.

Another notable feature that all members of our community are encouraged to check on the LaunchPad SU Discord server is the, ? Announcements channel. On this channel important information concerning events and important reminders are going to be posted.

Nick Barba ‘20 who is working for the LaunchPad as an independent program manager, is helping spearhead the new Discord platform. “Although there is mounting uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, the LaunchPad wants to ensure to our community that we are still open, and now have a sure way to stay connected no matter where you are.”

Click here to get started on using Discord. Click here to learn how to join our Server.

Story by LaunchPad Rubin Family Innovation Mentor Emma Rothman

Josh Jackson ’17 G’19 is on a mission to make dental care affordable and accessible

Josh Jackson at a 2019 Blackstone LaunchPad – Techstars Propel event in NYC

We live in an age where traditional practices are becoming faster, smoother, and more efficient. Contacting your aunt across the country once required a piece of paper to travel 3,000 miles. Now it takes a tap of a button. Similarly, trading used to require a phone and a broker. But now, on-line trading has never been simpler. Today, seamless connections allow individual investors to react to the market within minutes. However, there are still practices which are slow and inefficient. One of them is the dental insurance industry.  Josh Jackson, co-founder and CEO of Promptous is about to change that.

Jackson graduated from Syracuse University in 2017 with an undergraduate degree in international relations from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. He then completed a master’s degree in information management in 2019 from the School of Information Studies.

“I’ve always had a passion for technology,” he explains.  As a technology enthusiast, pursuing a master’s degree at the famed iSchool was a logical choice.  “I would look at the course catalog and think ‘this is amazing,’ and when I went on the iSchool I felt very much at home with the professors and the classes.”

Jackson was in a blockchain management class during the spring semester of his first year in the graduate program when he conceived of the idea for Promptous.  “It was around March that we formulated the idea at a very high level, and then crystalized it over the May to June time frame.” Jackson, along with a cohort of fellow tech enthusiasts, including co-founder Phil McKnight, banded together to work on creating a company that summer, incubating at the LaunchPad in Bird Library.

“We found that there was a big gap in the dental insurance market,” he recalls.  Jackson had grown up in the dental industry, and had spent seven years working in a practice, and saw first-hand the problems facing patients, providers, employers and insurers.  It was a complicated system.  And, as he learned, that meant that about 74 million Americans have no dental insurance.

“Promptous’ mission is to help create an ecosystem where going to the dentist with benefits is an affordable, frictionless, and outcome-based experience for members,” says Jackson. “Our platform allows employers to easily set up fully customizable and self-insured dental benefit programs with automated claims and reimbursement workflows. This approach combined with our ability to leverage consumer data, allows us to help build dental plans that enhance traditional value for oral health needs while lowering overall group costs.”

Promptous solves major problems and inefficiencies which exist in the current dental insurance industry.  This leads to substantial differences in total dental spending estimates based on “market” versus “actual” fees. Employers that provide dental benefits for their employees through an insurance carrier pay on average 30% a year more than self-funded employers. Additionally, organizations which provide dental benefits through an insurance carrier have difficulty communicating procedure cost and cost breakdown in a timely and easy-to-understand format. This failure to transparently communicate cost in a timely and easy-to-understand manner results in claim denial, unsatisfactory claim payment, delayed payment, and legal disputes for dental providers.

“Promptous has developed Policy Hero as a web and mobile platform that gives employers and their insurance brokers the ability to create customizable, high value, pay-as-you-go, group dental benefit programs,” he says. Once enrolled in a plan, Policy Hero gives employees the ability to get real-time coverage estimates from their elected dental plan, submit claims, and reimburse their dental provider, from a health reimbursement account (HRA), using Promptous’ issued physical and virtual debit cards. The platform is fully integrated with the DenteMax PPO network giving Promptous members access to treatment discounts and a growing network of more than 260,800 dental access points nationwide.

Jackson and the Promptous team did extensive research as they built the platform and learned that patients, providers, employers and insurance brokers loved the solution.  Working with Syracuse-based OneGroup, they continued to build out both their product and their value proposition.

Promptous is now testing its beta with OneGroup and is beginning sales on its B2B software as a service (SaaS) platform. A live HIPAA-compliant beta test is receiving rave reviews. The company recently received seed investments from LaunchNY and CenterState CEO through The Tech Garden. “We’re excited to have Launch NY and CenterState CEO be part of our team and have their support for our mission. For us, they are the perfect regional partners that can help us achieve a true social impact here in CNY.”

Policy Hero is being embraced by insurance brokers across the northeast. “We’re chatting with many brokers who are interested in engaging at the completion of the beta test. They are interested in having a cutting-edge new product offering like this to offer.”

Jackson credits this success, in large part to the resources at Syracuse University and its innovation hub, the Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars.  “I love the LaunchPad and its mentor-driven model. Promptous wanted to build something that can grow and scale very fast, and the LaunchPad helped provide resources, expertise and connections to do just that.  It helps turn student ideas into real companies.”

For Jackson, Promptous is more than just a dental coverage platform. It is a fusion of his passion for technology, social impact, venture development, and a way to make sure that people across the country have access to affordable dental care.  It is a way to make people’s lives better while doing what he loves.  It is what keeps him coming back to it every day, just as excited and driven to make it a success.

Story by Krishna Pamidi, LaunchPad Global Fellow

Promptous receives seed investments from LaunchNY and The Tech Garden

Team members of Promptous
Phil McKnight and Josh Jackson, Promptous co-founders

Launch New York (Launch NY), Upstate’s venture development organization and seed fund, has announced Promptous as its 30th Limited Partner (LP) Fund Portfolio Company, making an investment to help launch the venture which started at Syracuse University in 2018 by iSchool students working with the Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars at SU Libraries.

CenterState CEO and The Tech Garden also announced funding to Promptous this week through its new Fund of Funds program. The Tech Garden created the funding vehicle as a streamlined program sourced from multiple pools of funding managed by CenterState CEO and The Tech Garden. It is designed to assist local startups with initial funding on the path to commercialization and offers an opportunity for follow-on investment with less risk to assist on their journey from concept to commercialization. The funding helps startups accomplish projects such as customer discovery, product development, validation and manufacturing that ultimately supports each startup’s ability to go to market.

Promptous is a Syracuse-based insurtech company that administers Policy Hero, a SaaS mobile and web platform. Currently with over 260,000 dental access points nationwide, the app helps to streamline enrollment, coverage and reimbursement processes for companies providing dental benefits to their employees. According to Promptous, employers can save up to 30 percent on dental benefits by cutting out insurance premiums.

Since graduating from Syracuse University, Promptous has also been an incubation member of The Tech Garden where it also received a seed investment from CenterStateCEO.  It is working closely with OneGroup, a Syracuse-based firm that is one of the largest risk management, insurance brokerage and employee benefits companies in the northeast, led by SU alumnus Pierre Morrisseau who has helped mentor the Promptous team.

“Upstate New York’s startup community is vast, and Launch NY represents such a diverse slice of the innovation and ingenuity that’s helping to shed our ‘Rust Belt’ stigma,” said Dr. Marnie LaVigne, President and CEO of Launch NY. “Promptous is yet another example of what can happen when the can-do spirit meets savvy, yet impact-driven investors who know that you can do good while doing well in a community we love. Promptous adds another promising tech industry player, grown right here, to our new economy.” 

“We are grateful to have been identified by LaunchNY, CenterState CEO and The Tech Garden as a high-impact startup and receive their support,” said Josh Jackson, Co-Founder and CEO at Promptous. “They have helped to buoy us at our earliest stages, and we are proud to be a portfolio company of the program.”

Launch NY’s for-profit Limited Partner (LP) Fund debuted in April 2019 and is designed to co-invest alongside Launch NY’s nonprofit Seed Fund, ultimately doubling the capital available for Launch NY client companies. Promptous is the 30th company in the LP Fund portfolio and the 57th company in the nonprofit Seed Fund portfolio.

These financing programs are offered through Launch NY’s #InvestLocal platform, which also supports deal-by-deal investments from accredited investors into these portfolio companies through its Investor Network, also offering Qualified Opportunity Funds with special tax incentives for investments in eligible businesses in the designated low income Opportunity Zones.

Promptous was among nearly 30 Launch NY portfolio companies exhibiting at the first Launch NY Virtual LP Summit on June 29 featuring Launch NY LPs and Investor Network subscribers.

For more information about Launch NY visit www.launchny.org

Tech Garden members are eligible for funding opportunities that include: Up to $10K Ignition Grants; GENIUS NY; Clean Tech Center grants up to $25K in pre-seed funding; seed funding, which typically takes the form of a convertible debt note between $25K and $100K; and expansion investments through match funding opportunities, which can help incentivize investors by offering a match on their investment in return for equity or convertible debt up to $100K before startups are exclusively seeking follow-on funding opportunities.

To learn more about membership and The Tech Garden’s funding opportunities visit, www.thetechgarden.com.



Ph.D, student Zheng Xiong learning about entrepreneurship while working on grant to develop 3D printing of microfluidic devices

By Alex Dunbarsee original stories in SU News here and here.

Zheng Xiong is part of the SummerStart accelerator program at the LaunchPad, working on a business model for his concept for 3D printing of microfluidic devices. He is a biomedical and chemical engineering Ph.D. student in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, and was also just awarded a 2020 Optics and Photonics Education Scholarship by SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, for his potential contributions to the field of optics, photonics or a related field.

Zheng Xiong

From SU News: Too small to be seen even with standard microscopes, microfluidics research looms large over many aspects of biochemistry, nanotechnology and biotechnology research. Precision microfluidics involve a device that has channels allowing a flow of just 50 microns or less. A device that can process or manipulate fluids on the micron scale can provide crucial data for researchers.

“This can be a fundamental and commonplace research accessory or tool in life sciences, similar to the current use of well-plates or test tubes. Almost any research in life sciences can use microfluidics to learn more about their own cells,” says biomedical and chemical engineering Professor Pranav Soman.

While microfluidic research can provide incredible breakthroughs, a usable device costs thousands of dollars and would take several months to build. Many researchers are simply not able to take on this type of research.

“The cost and time involvement related to any project involving microfluidics was a barrier,” says Soman. “Only those who have access to microfabrication facilities or clean rooms can take on this work—others are left out.”

Soman believes that modern 3D printing technology could offer a way to break down the barriers to microfluidics research and formed a small business to explore the possibilities.

“Current customers tend to limit their use of microfluidic devices, while new customers are reluctant to adopt such devices for their target applications,” says Ph.D. student Zheng Xiong from Soman’s research group. “This project will enable rapid manufacturing of customized microfluidics devices with substantially less cost and turn-around times.”

Soman’s company, 3D Microfluidics LLC, was awarded a Small Business Innovation Research Phase One grant by the National Science Foundation (NSF) for $225,000 to conduct research and development work on fast and scalable 3D printing high-resolution microfluidics devices.

“The business model we have, anybody who needs precision microfluidics, they can talk to someone, upload the specs and we can ship it in two days,” says Soman.

Xiong will serve as the principal investigator for the NSF grant, and the chief technological officer (CTO) of 3D Microfluidics LLC.

“Our technology will open doors to widespread commercialization of precision microfluidics in biological sciences for a range of applications in fundamental cell biology, drug screening, cellular therapy, toxicity testing, and regenerative medicine,” says Xiong.

“This project exemplifies technology transfer, entrepreneurship and high-impact research with immediate industrial relevance,” says College of Engineering and Computer Science Dean J. Cole Smith. “Pranav and Zheng’s work is not only innovative on its own but could open up microfluidic research for researchers around the world.”

Soman and Xiong have been gathering information from other academic researchers and will be talking to scientists and engineers working in industry to see if their idea would benefit them.

“From the industry standpoint, we want to learn more about the interest and needs of using microfluidics and what are the current challenges and pain points,” says Soman. “Developing a prototype is stage one. The grant will help validate several technical issues before commercialization can be commenced. ”

“This is a very exciting news. Dr. Soman’s creative work will help revolutionize the manufacturing of microfluidic devices, which will benefit many researchers with much needed resources,” says Interim Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Programs Dacheng Ren. “It is a great example of engineering innovation and entrepreneurship.”

They also need to work through several logistics and quality control issues. Over the next year they will investigate new materials that are compatible with printing but do not crack and how to safely mail custom printed precision microfluidic chips to their potential customers.

“During phase one, one objective is discovering and developing new material that is not only compatible with our 3D printing platform but also exhibits necessary durability, transparency, biocompatibility, and impermeability to fluids,” says Xiong.

The project has required Soman and Xiong to take on roles as researchers and entrepreneurs. Soman says guidance and advice from fellow researcher turned entrepreneur James A. Monroe made it possible for them to make their goal a reality.

“I really enjoyed working with Pranav. It takes a lot of guts and hard work to tackle the unknowns of a startup and he has the bravery and drive to do it,” says Monroe.

Soman and Xiong’s company will be eligible to apply for a Phase II grant from the NSF if their research shows on-demand 3D printed microfluidics can be successful.

“Pranav has developed an exciting and novel platform that will enable fundamental and applied biomedical research and we are very excited that he has garnered this support to elevate the commercialization of this technology,” says Department of Biomedical and Chemical Engineering Chair Julie Hasenwinkel. “He and Zheng exemplify the entrepreneurial spirit of our discipline and set an example for others in our department.”

Caleb Obiagwu ’19 creates a platform to support Black Lives Matter movement in a positive way that supports Black-owned businesses

Picture of Caleb

Syracuse University Engineering and Computer Science alumnus and LaunchPad entrepreneur Caleb Obiagwu ’19 actively supports the Black Lives Matter movement across the country, but he also noticed something alarming in some cities during the early days of protests. Black-owned businesses were vandalized or harmed. Many of those businesses had already faced hardships from the pandemic, and were struggling to sustain and re-open. The damage during the protests was a double blow, and for many business owners without resources to rebuild, it meant that dreams they spent years building through hard work were extinguished. As an entrepreneur, he empathized with that heartbreak. He knew he wanted to do something positive to both protect and support them.

Together, with friends Brandon Elliott and John-Paul Besong, they created a new tech platform to showcase Black-owned businesses in cities across the U.S. with a goal of signaling protesters to protect them. To date, the team has been working with businesses in Albany, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Manhattan, Queens and Syracuse. Over the past month, the platform has quickly gained momentum and attention from the media. As it has evolved, the larger goal is to expand it as a broader platform to create visibility and support for Black-owned businesses as part of a national movement to support equality and social justice.

See a great recent Daily Orange story here about Obiagwu and his new venture.

Last year, as a senior, he created the award-winning venture AttendPro, which won the Impact Prize competition sponsored by the LaunchPad. He remains an engaged alumnus entrepreneur and mentor for the LaunchPad, very focused on building mission-driven ventures with meaningful social impact. His voice has helped shape the LaunchPad’s perspective on diversity, inclusion, equity and social justice, and he is an impressive thought leader on these topics.