Syracuse University student venture captures top prize in international innovation competition

Josh Aviv, co-founder and CEO of SparkCharge, won grand prize at the Blackstone/Techstars global venture pitch competition in New York City on October 18.

The competition came at the conclusion of a two-day Blackstone/Techstars Training Camp, an innovative new program for collegiate entrepreneurs that featured a keynote on October 16 by Stephen A. Schwarzman, chairman, CEO, and co-founder of Blackstone. Schwarzman is an active philanthropist with a history of supporting education and entrepreneurship. This intensive boot camp brought together program staff and the 40 top performing teams from the 20 Blackstone LaunchPads across the U.S. and Ireland for workshops with experts and mentors from Techstars and the Blackstone Group.

Josh Aviv, co-founder and CEO of SparkCharge, and Angelo “AJ” Damiano, founder of PowerSpike, were the two Syracuse University student entrepreneurs selected to attend the two days of workshops and mentoring. David Seaman, dean of libraries, Linda Hartsock (executive director) and Braden Croy (program manager) of the Syracuse University Blackstone LaunchPad were actively involved in the event and were joined by SU alumni based in New York City for the final pitch competition.

Seven finalist companies were selected by Blackstone and Techstars experts to participate in the culminating pitchfest, where each presenter had three minutes to describe their services and business plans, followed by two minutes of questions from the judges.  The winners were selected by audience vote, which included Blackstone LaunchPad teams and staff, Techstar founders and program managers, Blackstone Group mentors and investors, and invited guests from the 20 Blackstone LaunchPad campuses.

Syracuse University’s Aviv won the $15,000 grand prize for SparkCharge’s ultrafast, portable charging stations for electric vehicles that fit in the trunk of a car. He also won an expenses paid trip to Techstars Foundercon in Oakland, CA in October.  Second prize went to ApisProtect of University College Cork, Ireland, and third prize to Zorin OS of Trinity College, Dublin.

“The student entrepreneurs who participated in the Blackstone LaunchPad Techstars Training Camp are inspiring,” said David Cohen, founder and co-CEO of Techstars. “It’s great to see the incredible learning that took place during the two days. These young adults are pursuing entrepreneurship as a life choice – an opportunity that wasn’t available when I was their age. We at Techstars are proud to join forces with Blackstone LaunchPad to support student entrepreneurs from across the globe.”

“Over the course of the Blackstone LaunchPad Techstars Training Camp, I had the opportunity to meet with ventures from over twenty Universities, hear their pitches, and get to know the entrepreneurs.  I was incredibly impressed by these student ventures – the diversity of ideas, the commitment to entrepreneurship, and the potential for scalable impact, was exceptional,” said Amy Stursberg, Executive Director of the Blackstone Charitable Foundation. “A special congratulations to our demo day winner, Spark Charge from Syracuse University. Through the work of Blackstone LaunchPad on campuses, we are proud to be a part of these ventures’ development and continued growth.”

“SparkCharge’s success is testament to the power of the Syracuse University entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem, and it was a delight to watch the professionalism with which Josh presented his company and represented our university, and the enthusiastic reception he received from an audience of peers and experts,” said David Seaman, dean of the Syracuse University Libraries and PI for the Blackstone LaunchPad program.

Josh received early and continued support from the faculty in the iSchool’s minor in Information Technology, Design, and Startups (IDS), and from the professional mentors in the Syracuse Student Sandbox.  He has made full use of the services of the Blackstone LaunchPad in Bird Library since it opened last year, and now serves as Entrepreneur in Residence for the Couri Hatchery in the Falcone Center, Whitman School of Management.  His research and development offices are located at the Syracuse CoE, where he is creating two Syracuse CoE Fellows positions for students who are interested in exploring renewable technologies and energy systems.  Aviv holds two degrees from Syracuse University, a master’s degree in information management from the iSchool (2017), and a bachelor’s degree in economics from the Maxwell School (2015).

“The opportunity to interact with Techstars founders and program managers was priceless, as was connecting with experts who are part of Blackstone’s unparalleled global network,” said Aviv.  “This opened doors that will accelerate our growth trajectory, and winning this competition will help us more rapidly scale.  It builds on the solid startup foundation we received through Syracuse University’s amazing innovation ecosystem.”

SparkCharge will use the funds toward testing and certification of its EV battery-pack charging unit, to move from prototype to first-run manufacturing.  The company employs five, three of whom are Syracuse University alumni, and one is a Syracuse University student.  Aviv has now raised $135,000 for his venture, and was the recent grand prizewinner of the New York State Business Plan Competition, also winning first place in the clean technology division.  He is also a winner of the Panasci Plan Competition and the RvD iPrize, as well as the Syracuse CoE Innovation Fund.

The Blackstone LaunchPad is a campus-based entrepreneurship program founded by the Blackstone Charitable Foundation.  The program leverages the resources and intellectual capital of Blackstone, empowering entrepreneurs, generating job growth, and supporting local communities.  The Blackstone LaunchPad at Syracuse University is part of SU Libraries, and helps faculty, staff, students and alumni develop entrepreneurial skills to achieve success in whatever venture or career path they pursue.

 Techstars is a worldwide network that inspires, educates and connects entrepreneurs, accelerating innovation and startup activity.  The Techstars accelerator portfolio includes more than 1,000 companies with a market cap of $10.2 billion.

Looking for creators for ‘Cuse Market, October 20 at Bird Library

The Blackstone LaunchPad is looking for innovators, makers, and creatives for ‘Cuse Market. The annual “pop-up shop” and product showcase will be held Friday, October 20, from 3 to 5 p.m. in the Learning Commons, first floor of Bird Library.

Each semester the LaunchPad invites faculty, staff, students and alumni to display their creative work, whether it is a product, service, or technology.  Part “demo alley” and part “market bazaar,” it is an opportunity to browse ideas being invented at Syracuse University. From health and wellness products, to artisan goods, packaged foods, fashion and apparel, jewelry, furniture, 3D printed items, industrial designs, and gadgets, ‘Cuse Market is a chance to “show” and “sell” to new audiences.

This year, ‘Cuse Market is expanding with an emphasis on creative services. Are you a musician, photographer, artist, filmmaker, graphic designer, sound or lighting engineer? Are you a web developer, creator of a new mobile app, software platform, or unique on-line product or service?  The hunt is on for the next big thing. This is your chance to shine the spotlight on what you’re creating.

In addition to showcasing and selling goods and services, there will be “best in show” prizes in various categories, based on real-time audience voting.

‘Cuse Market also provides an opportunity to test your product and get customer feedback, as well as launch ideas. The event will also feature campus and community resource providers, and Maker Spaces to help connect with the local “maker movement.”

The event is presented by the Blackstone LaunchPad, which is part of Syracuse University Libraries. The community is invited to meet campus creators and innovators who are showcasing their new products, services, technologies in Bird Library, the busiest building on campus, with more than 8,000 visitors a day.

This is always a popular annual event, so reserve your free display table early. If interested, please e-mail: LaunchPad@syr.edu.

Weekly Social Entrepreneurship Impact Hour with Syeisha Monquesse Byrd kicks off Thursday at 2 p.m.

A Social Entrepreneurship Impact Hour with Syeisha Monquesse Byrd, Director of Engagement Programs at Hendricks Chapel, will take place on Thursdays from 2 to 3 p.m. in the Blackstone LaunchPad. During weekly office hours in the LaunchPad, Syeisha will mentor students interested in making a social impact through their entrepreneurial work.

Syeisha holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Syracuse University and has over 16 years of experience working with youth and youth organizations in Syracuse. She is dedicated to helping students advance the common good and discover ways to make a positive impact in the world.

This fall, the LaunchPad is coordinating a Social Impact Prize to grow the pipeline of students interested in social entrepreneurship and civic ventures.

Award winning author, VP of Mozilla, to speak at Bird Library on September 28

Experienced marketing executive, futurist and award winning author Alex Salkever will speak about his new book, Driver in the Driverless Car, Thursday evening, September 28 at 7 p.m. in the Blackstone LaunchPad, main floor Bird Library. The event is co-sponsored by the Newhouse School and the Blackstone LaunchPad.

Vice President of Marketing Communications at Mozilla, Salkever drives strategic positioning and marketing communications campaigns, overseeing global communications, social media, user support, and content marketing teams for Mozilla and Firefox products.

His new book inspires readers to evaluate the potential impact of any new technology by asking simple questions about what technology means and how we allow it to move forward. As computers beat the reigning human champion of Go, a game harder than chess, and create life-forms from synthetic DNA, what does this mean for humans? Breakthroughs such as personalized genomics, self-driving vehicles, drones, and artificial intelligence promise a future world, but do they also raise issues of a jobless economy, complete loss of privacy, and ever-worsening economic inequality? As the authors put it, “Will our future be Star Trek or Mad Max?” The decision is ours.

Salkever and his co-author Vivek Wadhwa ask three questions about emerging technology: Does it have the potential to benefit everyone equally? What are its risks and rewards? And does it promote autonomy or dependence? Their treatise is that the future is up to us to create—that even if our hands are not on the wheel. Humans must decide the driverless car’s destination.

Before joining Mozilla, Salkever was Chief Marketing Officer of Silk.co, a data publishing and visualization startup, where he led efforts focused on user growth and platform partnerships, working in the fields of scientific instruments, cloud computing, telecommunications, and the Internet of Things. He was former Technology Editor for BusinessWeek.com. Among his many accomplishments, Alex is the co-author of The Immigrant Exodus, a book named to The Economist Book of the Year List in the Business Books category in 2012.

“I help technology companies grow by helping them communicate complex “Big Ideas” in accessible terms,” says Salkever. “I enjoy conceiving and developing products. I am equally comfortable marketing to consumers and technologists, having worked in both worlds often. I have an extensive writing background with a decade of experience as a journalist at top level publications like BusinessWeek.”

Among the projects he has worked on are Node.js, Servo/Rust, Mozilla Firefox, and the broad Open Data movement, bringing expertise in technology marketing PR/AR, product development, brand building, big data, and storytelling.

He is also fond of surfing in warm water, hiking, craft beer (partial to Belgian styles), and Japanese izakayas.

Applications open for the Global Student Entrepreneur Award

October 25, 2017 is the deadline to apply to the 2018 Entrepreneurs’ Organization’s Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA), the premier global competition for student entrepreneurs who actively run a business. Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO), a private peer-to-peer group, is composed of over 12,000 of the world’s most influential entrepreneurs.

EO GSEA nominees compete in qualifying competitions for the chance to advance to the Global Finals. With more than 1,700 competitors from more than 30 countries, EO GSEA is an exclusive opportunity for student entrepreneurs to make connections, find resources, and grow their businesses.

The 2014 National Champion was Syracuse University graduate Daniel Goldberg ‘15. The 2017 USA-Western New York regional winner was Syracuse University student AJ Damiano ‘18, founder of Power-Spike, who advanced to the Nationals in Kansas City this past spring.

The winner of the upcoming regional competition will receive $5,000 and an all-expense paid trip to GSEA Nationals in Dallas in February 2018.

Qualifications for the award are:

  • Entrant must be currently pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree (full or part-time)
  • Must be business owner, founder, or controlling shareholder, and principally responsible for its operation
  • Structured ‘for-profit’ or social enterprise
  • Generated $500 USD or received $1,000 USD in investments
  • Operating for at least the past six consecutive months

Apply online by October 25 at https://www.eonetwork.org/EO-GSEA/ and be sure to select USA-Western NY.

The competition will be held November 8, 2017 at St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute in Buffalo. Finalist selection will be judged on: completeness of the application; the student’s ability to overcome obstacles; clarity of the mission and vision; leadership; and innovation.

For more information, contact David Robinson at 716.276.8707 or robinson@thelotisgroup.com

The Blackstone LaunchPad at Syracuse University Libraries is helping to coordinate the campus competition.