Jack Lyons

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

Tom Montfort ’24 on his love of software engineering, cryptocurrency and blockchain

headshot of a man in a suit outdoors

A lot of things clicked early on for Tom Montfort, a sophomore from Morristown, New Jersey. He says, “I always excelled as a student.  Although I’m naturally smart, I definitely have a strong work ethic.” His intelligence, however, did not make him complacent. Montfort, a computer science major, always was a problem solver. Whether it was building LEGOs or learning Python coding language, he has always been intellectually curious and ambitious.

Heading into his senior year of high school, Montfort didn’t really know exactly what he wanted to do post-grad, but after taking a class where he learned JavaScript that eventually led to him building a fitness app in the summer of 2020, he decided that computer science was the ideal route for him. He says, “I knew that I wanted to work for a large tech company doing some kind of software engineering.”

Coming to Syracuse University, he took his first-year computer science classes in stride due to his hard work. He says, “I knew towards the end of my freshman year that I wanted to get a software engineering internship even though they typically were only offered to juniors.” This didn’t faze Montfort though: “I had heard from others that it was hard to get an internship, but I didn’t care.”

He tried to build experience by joining the CuseHacks team at InnovateOrange his second semester freshman year. He explains, “At CuseHacks I learned a ton and I met Caitlin Sanders who was a senior on her way to Twitter and she helped me a lot with how to handle technical interviews.” After a strenuous process, he found himself at small firm ACG Consulting. By the end of the summer, he was essentially a full-time employee involved in important client work. However, Montfort knew this role was a stepping stone to a larger company.

He says, “The fall of my sophomore year I applied to a bunch of internships at big tech companies and banks. I got an interview at JP Morgan and I worked my ass off to nail the technical interview which I gladly did.”

His love of software engineering can only be matched by his passion for cryptocurrency and blockchain, which he taught himself during winter break of his freshman year. Montfort continues, “I love it because it’s a continual learning process, a learning process I want to share with others.” Montfort has been a part of CryptoCuse where he’s helped other undergrads with “basic foundations of blockchain and crypto currencies.” He says, “There’s ideas floating around in the club of new projects we can work on. It’s really exciting.”

In terms of the future, Montfort wants to get involved in a crypto-based startup as a software engineer, a perfect combination of his two passions. He says, “A traditional 9-5 is comfortable and a good start but I want to get involved with high growth companies in the crypto space because I see myself having a ton of impact.”

You can’t help but be excited to see what Montfort accomplishes in the future within the crypto and software industries and beyond.

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

Sajjad Albadri and Sajjad Alhashami create QPuff, a software to help manage e-cig addiction

headshot of a student in an orange jacket
Sajjad Albadri, co-founder of QPuff

Besides having the same name, Sajjad Albadri and Sajjad Alhashami grew up together and have an extremely close relationship. “We have been best friends for a long time,” says Albadri. “We’re both from Iraq, went to the same community college, and now we are both here at Syracuse University majoring in computer science.”

As computer scientists, Albadri says it is imperative to their major and to their anticipated career path that “we create software that solves problems, and we invest in new ideas, it’s an integral part of our work.” Although they didn’t start out as entrepreneurs, they see a lot of overlap in computer science and the goal of entrepreneurship, to make the world a better, convenient, and more connected place for people.

When trying to figure out a problem to solve through software, Albadri considered personal experience between him and his co-founder. Throughout high school Alhashami had trouble with a nicotine addiction caused by excessive use of e-cigarettes which caused extreme health problems for him, causing him to quit. Unfortunately, this is a widespread problem among Gen Z and, as Albadri and Alhashami recognized, it’s an issue that hasn’t really been addressed by the market.

To combat this issue, they created QPuff, a software that is integrated into popular e-cigarette devices that tracks the number of inhales an e-vape user is doing and then creates a health record with the associated app. Because vaping is usually a mindless, impulsive activity, by showing the user how much they are vaping electronically, it can help deter their habit. Alhashami attests that becoming aware that he, in fact, had a problem was the first step to defeating it and hopes others can become aware through QPuff.

QPuff’s true goal is to be recognized as a major health necessity by health organizations regarding e-cigs. The FDA can raise awareness a great deal and protect our young generations by pushing this new technology and allowing major companies to find their way back to their original missions of treating cigarette addictions.

QPuff became involved in the LaunchPad after they realized the importance of pitch competitions and business resources to get their idea up and running. The team is excited to pursue further investment and to help QPuff get approved by regulatory agencies. Albadri says “Our main goal is to get it approved by the FDA or another major health organization to help get our product off the ground.”

QPuff is also looking for someone with marketing expertise to help promote the company and push it out into the market to help bring about awareness from health organizations. If you’re interested, reach out to saalbadr@syr.edu.

Story by Jack Lyons ‘22, LaunchPad Global Fellow; photos and graphics supplied

Paul Franco ’22 is building a team to help commercialize an innovative wearable dehydration monitor

headshot of a student against a white wall

Growing up in New Providence, New Jersey, Paul Franco ‘22 candidly describes himself as being “always a little bit on the weird side.” He says, “I was always quick witted and light on my feet. I tried to figure things out faster than other people.” However, Franco, now a senior at Syracuse University majoring in physics, never saw himself using his quick wit as an entrepreneur. “Overall, I liked the idea of taking ownership of a company or an idea, but I didn’t know how to do that or where to start.” That has all changed, as he now has become an award winner innovator and inventor.

Funny enough, Franco started as an accounting major in Whitman because his father worked in finance. After freshman year, he realized he wasn’t passionate about the field and switched to physics where he has blossomed since.

During the summer of 2020, Franco was looking to apply his science skills in a way that was challenging and exciting. He signed up for the Invent@SU program, a program that helps transform undergraduate students into inventors as they design, prototype and pitch original devices. The program was pushed back to the next year due to COVID-19, but Franco was still excited to get involved. After meeting his co-founders Zach Stahl and Anthony Mazzacane, the team went to work coming up with an invention and prototyping.

Franco says, “We had only 48 hours to come up with an idea, but we felt we found a good idea that has a real impact.”

They came up with HydroHealth, a wearable dehydration monitor. Dehydration stood out as a concern for their team as 80% of NCAA athletes had suffered from dehydration. They wanted to design a wearable device that could monitor an athlete’s hydration level so coaches and trainers would have better information and keep athletes safe. They tried to compile as much data as possible to prove the product’s validity, even having co-founder Zach Stahl go on the treadmill for hours on end to conduct trials.  After winning 1st place at Invent@SU, they felt that their product was validated and there were looking for a way to continue their work and explore commercialization opportunities.

Franco and his team found the Blackstone LaunchPad, which he says has really helped push HydroHealth to what it is today. He says, “What has really pushed us is connecting with LaunchPad mentors and preparing for venture competitions held by the LaunchPad. As a physics student I have presented academic research I’ve conducted but pitching a product and business roadmap is a whole other nerve-wracking yet rewarding experience.”  He also mentions how the business resources in the LaunchPad from branding to finance has really helped HydroHealth solidify themselves as legitimate business.  The group is also the recipient of LaunchPad Innovation Grants which is helping with prototyping and legal incorporation costs.

Franco and HydroHealth are excited to be participating in the upcoming 2022 ACC InVenture Prize competition hosted by the LaunchPad in February and vying for a chance to make it the ACC finals.  He says, “I’m excited to take this company as far as possible. We’ve made a ton of progress and I’m just excited to see where it leads.”

HydroHealth is looking for help with branding, packaging design, graphic design, and other skills, so if you’re interested in helping this dynamic team, reach out to pgfranco@syr.edu

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

Alex Rolinski ’24 on entrepreneurship as a path to independence

headshot of a student in a green sweater

Alexander Rolinski didn’t exactly align with the typical “hustler-esque” image of a young entrepreneur. He says, “I didn’t have a lot of lemonade stands growing up, but I was very independent.  Even my teachers saw that I was challenging how things were being taught and how I would always see a different way of doing things.”

However, despite not selling freshly squeezed lemonade for a nickel, Rolinski always knew that he “disliked the repetition of school which I thought was similar to the 9-5 grind. I always knew I wanted to build something and be financially and personally independent.”

In high school, Rolinski’s intellectual mind noticed an opportunity for innovation. During his senior year, he took a business capstone class where he had to essentially develop a business plan. Rolinski says, “I was seeing a lot of kids at my school who were buying and selling items through inconvenient mediums like Snapchat. I originally saw the exchange of textbooks but then I was seeing kids selling shoes and even cars.”

Rolinski was drawn to attending Syracuse University because of the Blackstone LaunchPad. Now a freshman in the Whitman School of Management, he says, “I wanted to be involved in the LaunchPad and it’s one of the reasons I chose Syracuse. Initially, my aspiration was to graduate with the 3+3 program legal degree. Now I want to graduate early and fast track school.”

Through the LaunchPad and campus competitions, he’s been to develop his company, Sice Me, a mobile application geared for college and high school campuses. Students create an account with their student email and are placed in an insular marketplace with their fellow students. Within the marketplace they are free to post the products and items of their choosing which they wish to buy and sell.

The branding came from slang from his hometown of Potomac, Maryland. He says, “In the DMV area the word ‘sice’ means ‘can you give me something’. “

Rolinski describes the current state of Sice Me as something that’s developing with “feedback from users in the LaunchPad and eventually test users across the Syracuse University campus.”

The company is currently looking for a student intern who’s qualified at mobile app development. If you’re interested, reach out to Alex at aprolins@syr.edu.

You can check out the company website here.

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

Mike Young ’22 applies his entrepreneurial spirit to finance and real estate

Entrepreneurship runs in Mike Young’s blood. The senior, studying real estate and finance with minors in data analytics and economics, grew up in Huntington, NY where he saw his father, a Stanley Steemer franchise owner flex his entrepreneurial muscles.

Young says, “He was a huge influence on me and is actually one of the reasons I initiatly decided to go with a EEE major coming into Syracuse.”

Although Young later changed majors, he possesses a lot of his dad’s entrepreneurial spirit. In high school he started his own t-shirt business with the help of a friend. He says, “I took an intro to business class in high school and wanted to start a clothing business with someone else.”

The business developed rapidly and Young was having fun doing it. After coming to Syracuse University, however, he learned about his passion for finance and real estate.

Currently, Young’s career aspirations involve a path that blends financial modeling, personal finance, and real estate investments.

He enjoys the creativity and problem solving associated with these areas and is something that initially drew him to the Blackstone LaunchPad. He says, “I loved being surrounded by people that are driven to solve the world’s problems. It definitely motivates me.”

Young also has a strong affinity for non-profit work. He says “over the summer I volunteer at an arts center for children with special needs specifically working on their financials and helping with mergers and financing of the building…having a mission behind your work is really motivating and rewarding.”

Young initially found the LaunchPad after being in the same class as current program manager, Sam Hollander and is now helping other LaunchPad members with any financial work. He is happy to be working with such an awesome team.

If you want to learn more about Mike or contact him about how to help with the financials of your business reach out to myoung14@syr.edu

Story by Jack Lyons ‘22, LaunchPad Global Fellow; photos and graphics supplied

Mia Hinz ’23 on creating a Candid form to make better decisions about picking classes

Processed with VSCO with 1 preset

For a lot of students, college scheduling is a battleground. As students are frantically trying to get into the classes required to graduate, they need to evaluate timing, course content, and most importantly, the reputation of the professor teaching the class. Mia Hinz ‘23, studying public relations with a minor in the iSchool, found an issue with this process that could leveraged with an innovative solution..

Hinz is a junior at Syracuse University from New York City, specifically downtown Manhattan. She knew Syracuse was the place for her after she toured with her brother as a freshman in high school. “I fell in love with the campus during my freshman year and always had it in my back pocket when I was applying for schools.” I didn’t even revisit my application process. I just knew it was the place I wanted to be.”

Although Hinz wouldn’t say she had an entrepreneurial spirit growing up, she definitely showed creative flair. Hinz says “I loved building Legos and building creative projects growing up. I used to watch Shark Tank a lot and loved the ideas they would present.”

Coming to Syracuse, Hinz stumbled upon the idea for her company after experiencing the struggles of choosing what courses to take. Hinz says, “When I used websites like Rate my Professor, I wasn’t getting nearly enough information I needed to make the right decisions with picking classes.”

To combat this challenge, Hinz created Candid, an open forum for info on classes and professors. She was seeing these kinds of discussions already happening on campus, so she wanted to create one platform to put all of these conversations regarding class selections together. Hinz says,“With applications like Yik Yak being used as a means of communication for students as well as the Tab talking about what professors and classes are good to take, I think Candid will be popular in that sense.”

Hinz credits her iSchool teacher Elizabeth Ruscitto for pushing her to test her idea at the recent ‘Cuse Tank competition. Hinz says, “She basically told me that I had nothing to lose and that it would be a great experience to learn how to develop my idea and pitch it in front of people.”

Hinz is grateful to the LaunchPad for allowing her to pitch her idea and for others to see the value in it.

“I hope students see Candid as an intelligent tool to inform their academic decisions,” Hinz says. 

She is currently in the process of developing a landing page for Candid. If you are a web developer that is interested in helping, reach out to mehinz@syr.edu.

Story by Jack Lyons ‘22, LaunchPad Global Fellow; photos and graphics supplied

Jack Lyons ’22 hosts Season 2 of The Commute to Class launching this week

decorative graphic

Jack Lyons ’22 (Martin J. Whitman School of Management and S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications), is launching a new podcast season this week.  He has always been a deep thinker. Why did he do that? Why is this widely accepted? How did people become the way that they are? He has always had a strong fascination with people and how they work. It’s no surprise then that he is a senior dual majoring in marketing and advertising, fields that blend psychological concepts with the business world.

“I’ve always tried to be creative and get as many people as involved in the creative process as possible,” Lyons says. “Growing up I was very into creating stories whether comics or short stories, or even a sports podcast.  I’ve always had an imaginative mind.”

Coming into Syracuse in 2018, Lyons knew he wanted to do something combining his love of people and creativity on campus. “I really tried to get involved as much as possible to truly soak up my time here.” He joined a lot of clubs initially, but didn’t find the Blackstone LaunchPad until January of 2020 in a little bit of an unorthodox way.

“I was at a Pulp marketing club meeting and this guy gave a pitch about how his company, FSCL, was looking for someone to help with the marketing side of his organization. I knew from his presentation skills that this was a smart guy that I wanted to get to know.” Lyons eventually befriended the founder of FSCL, Sam Hollander, who was later named Program Manager at the LaunchPad.

Lyons says, “Sam was a great introduction into the wonderful community that is the LaunchPad.”

Lyons is a Global Media Fellow at the LaunchPad, writing weekly profiles for entrepreneurs for the past two semesters. However, he’s now taking on a new project that he feels really passionate about. “Last year I interviewed Patrick Linehan, the original host of the Commute to Class podcast, and was enamored by the hard work he put into it. I just wanted to continue the legacy.”

Lyons is honoring Linehan’s legacy by now hosting Season 2 of the Commute to Class podcast where he sits down with LaunchPad entrepreneurs, both past and present, to discuss some of the overlooked sides of entrepreneurship in an effort to really challenge what it means to be entrepreneurial and successful.

“I feel like a lot of people get intimidated by the LaunchPad and the practice of entrepreneurship in general, “ Lyons says, “ I hope people take out of this that being entrepreneurial and successful all have different definitions for different people, it doesn’t have to be something that holds a lot of pressure.”

This season he is excited to be talking with great and interesting people and learn how they tick.

You can check out the Commute to Class wherever you listen to your podcasts. The first episode featuring Jackson Ensley and Paul Hultgren, co-founders of Patchwork, was released Sunday October 10th and a new episode will drop each Sunday after that.

Story by Jack Lyons ‘22, LaunchPad Global Fellow; graphic supplied by Jackson Siporin ‘22

Justin Monaco ’21 and G’22 brings invention to dental health

headshot of a man in a dental jacket

Dentistry isn’t usually thought of as an entrepreneurial venture. Many fail to recognize the drive, recognition, communication, and service required to build your own private dental practice from the ground up. Justin Monaco ’21, now getting his master’s degree in biotechnology, is demonstrating how entrepreneurship and oral health can go hand in hand. 

“Ever since I was a kid, I knew I wanted to be a dentist,” says Monaco who grew his love for dentistry from personal experience. He says, “When I was a kid, my brother and I used to suck on lemons which would cause cavities.”  Then things changed as he got older and started experiencing the real practice of dentistry.  “I found a passion for it.”

Through shadowing dentists in his hometown of Somers, New York as well as volunteer practices in the Syracuse area, he learned the many facets of entrepreneurship within dentistry. He says, “I’ve been entrepreneurially minded since I was in third grade, so I started realizing how the two fields are tied together.” He continues, “As a dentist you’re constantly thinking of business issues like what is the most convenient and cost-effective way to make a mold.”

After obtaining his undergraduate biology degree this past spring in at Syracuse University,  Monaco was looking for something to do as he worked as a dental assistant in Syracuse. He joined the Invent@SU summer program, which helps transform undergraduate students into inventors as they design, prototype and pitch original devices. 

Monaco and his team of Anh Dao, who is an industrial design major, and Bianca Andrada, who is an engineering major, created a product that they believe will revolutionize how we view oral health. He says, “I was super fortunate to have a strong team around me and we were able to combine our strengths to create a great product.”

That product is Glisten, an all-in-one device that allows you to monitor your oral health from home. The product is a handheld device with an oral strip attached that allows the user to get a 3D x-ray image of their teeth, streamline treatment, participate in an online teleservice with their dentist and so much more.

Monaco was inspired by the startling statistics of Americans who seem to disregard their oral health or are just financially unable to maintain it. He says, “3.6 billion people suffer from oral disease per year, and this is mostly due to inaccessibility of dental care.  We need a more convenient way to check someone’s oral health to see when they have to visit the dentist.” 

Monaco and his team won best understanding of STEM as well as an honorable mention in the final pitch at Invent@SU.

Team Glisten looks to ride this momentum working with the Blackstone LaunchPad as they refine their product and business development roadmpa, and compete for seed funding this academic year.  Their goal is to get this product into the hands of people who need it.

They are currently looking for someone to work to help develop a marketing and branding strategy. If you are interested, reach out to jsmonaco@syr.edu.

Story by Jack Lyons ‘22, LaunchPad Global Fellow; photos and graphics supplied

James Ruhlman ’22 and Noah Johnson ’21 create inclusive public spaces

two students standing under a design structure
James Ruhlman and Noah Johnson in front of the Drum Flower prototype

During COVID, many people across the country realized the importance of a simple walk in the park. Time outside where there is ample space between you and any other person was, to many, the time they would look forward to most in their days. James Ruhlman, a fifth-year student in VPA’s Industrial and Interaction Design program saw a problem.

Ruhlman explains, “Public spaces and parks are pretty bureaucratic without input from people on what the park looks like.  Many who build parks disregard the needs of the public, especially those with disabilities.”

Ruhlman’s venture, Grace Parks, utilizes his industrial design background to create more community-oriented parks that are friendlier to groups that have been marginalized by public works projects. 

Admittedly, Ruhlman says that he did not have any intentions of becoming an entrepreneur before coming to Syracuse University. However, after getting involved in the Intelligence ++ program and being part of the LaunchPad where student entrepreneurs were able to interact with Syracuse’s InclusiveU students, Ruhlman and his Intelligence ++ project partner, Noah Johnson ’21, were inspired to use their skills to help a group that often gets disregarded.

Ruhlman says, “Public spaces don’t have a lot of usability for most people. We want to create interactive public spaces make parks places where people don’t escape to, but rather come to engage with others.” 

Ruhlman wants to help facilitate this human interaction through Drum Flower, a structure he created with Johnson, designed to be the nucleus of a park.  He describes it as a temple of rhythm that allows imagination to blossom.

Drum Flowers are large, dome shaped sculptures that have drum circle instruments underneath it and can be played by six people at once. They are specifically designed to create brief moments of connection, playing upon the most fundamental forms of communication: eye contact, rhythm, and physical touch.

Ruhlman says that, “No matter your ethnicity, race, or age, you can build community and human connection with the Drum Flower.” 

Grace Parks is seeking funding for the concept.  The team has developed a prototype and their next goal is to build a real Drum Flower in a public space.

They are hoping that their company could become involved with a music festival or other such event that would commission them to build a Drum Flower.

Ruhlman and Johnson are excited for where the company is heading and are looking forward to revitalizing communal values in public spaces across the country. 

Story by Jack Lyons ‘22, LaunchPad Global Fellow; photos and graphics supplied