Written by: Alisa Franasiak, MBA ‘24
Created in collaboration between the University at Buffalo School of Management and the Office of Business and Entrepreneur Partnerships to bring together UB students from various disciplines and create viable businesses in Western New York, the Henry A. Panasci Jr. Technology Entrepreneurship Competition is one of UB’s largest entrepreneurial competitions.
Hosted annually, there is a grand prize of $65,000 in startup funding for the winning team; $25,000 in seed funding and $40,000 worth of in-kind business services, such as legal, intellectual property, accounting, and product design services. Additionally, a $10,000 seed funding is awarded to the runner-up. It is funded with a $1 million endowment from the late Henry A. Panasci Jr.
The competition runs elimination style over four rounds, beginning with over 30 startups in the first round of pitches, narrowed down to just five finalists by the final round. The five finalists then give a 2-minute presentation about their venture and its viability to an audience comprised of judges, the UB community, and the general public.
I had the pleasure of participating in the competition, and it was a wonderful experience from start to finish. I entered the competition with an early-stage idea I called VentureGigs, a freelance marketplace tailored specifically for students who can go onto the platform and complete gig-based projects for local businesses and startups for valuable hands-on experience. I was initially leery of joining the competition since my idea was just… an idea. Yet, I decided to take the jump.
The Panasci competition was nothing but welcoming and many people helped me hit the ground running. The competition welcome businesses at any stage, from early-stage ideas to incorporated companies. All organizations are welcome to participate as long as the startup has a UB student on the team and the venture has less than $100,000 in funding.
I participated in three rounds of the competition. The first two rounds were 5- and 10-minutes, respectively, and they were in-person, in front of a panel of judges. The third round was remote. I submitted a 10-minute recorded pitch, accompanied by a 7-page business plan that detailed various aspects of my venture, such as the go-to market strategy, market size, financial statements, and viability.
After each round, participants receive feedback from the judges. Furthermore, the Panasci competition paired us with a WNY business leader to provide in-depth guidance and feedback on our pitch and supporting documentation. UB also provides Venture Coaching through Blackstone Launchpad that my team utilized various times throughout the competition. Venture coaches act as a sounding board for ideas and help guide you on how to elevate your venture to the next level.
The Panasci competition is an excellent opportunity for UB MBA students to apply what they have learned in the classroom to an actual business and help build it from the ground up. Additionally, for those with entrepreneurial interests or simply just an idea, like me, Panasci is the perfect place to help execute and bring your vision to life. Through the successive pitches, it allows you to flesh out your idea and determine its viability through the means of customer discovery, development of pro forma financial statements that help to project the profitability of your venture and estimate your market size, among many others.
I highly recommend that everyone participate because it is a great learning opportunity to put the MBA curriculum into practice. Take a leap of faith. Maybe it can result in $65,000 in funding or, even better, a successful venture.
Alisa Franasiak is a current MBA student at the University at Buffalo School of Management. As of this post she is working as an intern at the UB Center for Advanced Technology in Big Data and Health Sciences. She also is the Founder of VentureGigs, a freelance and gig economy platform that connects college students with startups.
Photo credit: Tom Wolf