OSWEGO — Five SUNY Oswego students showed off their computer science skills and business savvy in early November in a business-startup competition that brought competitors from 10 Central New York colleges together with business professionals to harness entrepreneurial drive throughout the region.
The Oswego team, which included a member from SUNYIT, finished fourth. It earned space in the Syracuse Tech Garden to further develop the business, a company called SpecialMenu with a built-from-scratch mobile Web app that finds specials at nearby restaurants.
“They did extraordinarily well and precisely what we wanted them to do,” said James Early, associate professor of computer science at SUNY Oswego. “They started thinking how they can take a business idea and translate it into a real product.”
SpecialMenu’s creators were among 17 teams, some with faculty members, from institutions such as Cornell, Syracuse and Colgate universities taking part in Startup Weekend, an intense 54-hour business planning and entrepreneurial training event that took place in Syracuse under the auspices of the regional economic development organization CenterState CEO.
The Oswego team — senior computer science majors Nicholas Poorman, Joe Mirizio and Joshua Primrose, senior software engineering major Steve Pomerville and School of Business graduate student Armando Franco — included SUNYIT student Darren Samson. In all 146 students and faculty worked with 28 scientists, engineers, software developers, designers and other professional mentors to rapidly develop business ideas.
For teams whose ideas and business models attract the interest of business mentors and seed-capital investors, it could go beyond just a competition, according to Robert Simpson, president and CEO of CenterState.
“By all measures the weekend was a great success,” Simpson said in a letter to his organization’s members. “In total, 65 innovative ideas were pitched and developed into 17 companies with the help of 28 mentors and 10 university and college partners. Five winning companies were selected, two of which have already moved into the Tech Garden to further develop their business ideas.”
Mitchell Patterson, Startup Weekend organizer and managing director for the emerging-business portfolio at CenterState, said that at the end of the weekend, the teams presented their final ideas to a panel of judges from Syracuse Research Corp., Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management, Green Seifter Attorneys and others.
It was the first time the event, featuring competitions in cities around the globe, was held in Syracuse.
“I reached out to the computer science professors at all the local universities,” said Patterson, who contacted Oswego and other area colleges and universities that participated, including University of Rochester, Clarkson, Rochester Institute of Technology and SUNY Binghamton.
“I came across a sign for Startup Weekend in Rich (Hall) and recognized the name of a guest speaker who came here,” Franco said. “The seats were filled at first, but I showed up anyway and there was an opening for me. After the pitch, I joined their team right away.”
Poorman delivered the pitch at the competition. “I had to go up in front of hundreds of people and had one minute to pitch the idea. But it only took me 30 seconds — I was nervous,” he said. “It’s a lot to do in 54 hours, to take an idea and show how you can make money off it. We made a business plan, created a presentation and developed a working prototype for our app all in that time.”
Their creation, SpecialMenu, displays local restaurants’ daily specials based on the user’s location. It can factor in price range, directions and other details. “After we presented, a man approached us with his business card and said he’s been trying to do the same thing for six months, and we did it in two days,” Poorman said.
Startup Weekend, a project of the Kauffman Foundation, will hold upcoming events worldwide, the nearest taking place in Rochester in April.