SU student-led companies dominate the New York Business Plan Competition

Several student businesses advanced to the New York Business Plan Competition and won first place in their categories as well as the $100,000 grand prize.

On Friday, April 28, 11 SU student teams participated in the annual New York Business Plan Competition for the chance to win the $100,000 grand prize. The companies earned their spots at the NYBP Competition after finishing first or second in their categories at the iSchool’s RvD iPrize competition in March. The teams competed against some of the best student entrepreneurs from across New York. Within the six team categories, Syracuse University student-led companies won first place in four of the categories. These four businesses include SparkCharge (clean technology), IIID (service), PowerSpike (Software/IT) and Thrive Project (social entrepreneurship/non-profit). Each of these teams won $10,000. After advancing to the final round in the competition, SparkCharge won the $100,000 grand prize.

Aside from these companies, ModoScript and Origin Story competed at the competition, as well. They represented the biotech, social impact and education sectors and they pitched to a panel of venture capitalists, angel investors and other industry experts.

Thrive Project

Thrive Project, a non-profit founded by three SU students, just celebrated their one-year anniversary, but has already managed to raise $30,000 and start a local subsidiary in Nepal. The company was created after cofounder Brian Kam found himself in Nepal shortly after the earthquake. He connected with a friend and computer scientist from University of California, Santa Barbara, who introduced him to what is now Thrive Project’s signature product, called S.P.A.R.K. It stands for Solar Powered Auxiliary Relief Kiosk, and soon after assembling the first one, Kam and his two co-founders Ryan Brinkerhoff and Joshua Moon were given the go ahead to incorporate the technology into their company.

In the summer of 2016, they launched a pilot program installing the system in Sindhupalchowk-Hyolmo, a Nepalese community, and quickly realized the technology alone wasn’t enough.  They decided to transform it into an educational platform to train local students who could then take their skills back into their communities and train others while continuing to expand the Thrive network. Brinkerhoff called this the “train the trainer” model, and emphasized its importance in making an impact that the technology alone could not. This model allowed them to launch their local branch, Thrive Nepal, which Brinkerhoff said is totally self-sufficient, and able to raise funds and run operations for themselves while the rest of the team is back in Syracuse.

The team competed at the New York State Business Plan Competition for the second time, but this year they competed in the non-profit sector instead of technology. 

“Being there on the same platform as the other students and being able to share our story is nothing short of a great privilege,” Brinkerhoff said.

Thrive Project won first place and $10,000 in the social entrepreneurship/non-profit category at the NYBP Competition. They plan to use the money to run a pilot program in Haiti they have in place for this summer, and run assessments in other countries they are interested in entering. Most importantly, they plan to save some of the money to use as leverage during other fundraising efforts.

Brinkerhoff said the team has logged at least 2,000 hours within the past year, and had to sacrifice a lot but hopes that in the end they’ll have a branch in every country where there’s a need, and be able to see the Thrive impact reach around globe.


David Zuleta’s idea for ModoScript was born out of his experience as a medical scribe at Crouse Hospital last summer. A neuroscience and biology major on the pre-medical track, Zuleta thought that after graduation he would continue his education and join the medical industry. After seeing the consequences of prescription drug abuse and the challenges time-strapped doctors faced while keeping track of a patient’s recovery process, he knew he didn’t want to be part of a broken industry, and that he had to step up to the challenge to fix the problem. His solution is ModoScript – part app, part smart pill dispenser. At its core, he sees the whole system as a way to provide a link between patients, insurers and doctors.

“It’s a way to educate patients more about their health. There is no one there that can guide patients through the treatment process,” Zuleta said.

His first step in launching Modoscript was talking to SU’s Senior Director of Corporate Relations and Strategic Partnerships Vijay Srinivas, who encouraged him and helped him work out the kinks. He first realized he could become successful with his product during the iSchool’s annual Spring Break in Silicon Valley trip, where he had the opportunity to pitch to product developers at Google and Livefyre. Everyone he met was excited by his idea, and he says that CEO and founder of LiveFyre, Jordan Kretchmer, stopped him midway through his pitch to tell him he had heard enough, was interested in working with him and to call him when he gotten patents.

Back at SU, Zuleta worked to make connections with insurance companies and further validate his idea in preparation for the state competition. He’s also working with two professors in the College of Engineering to develop a working prototype to show the judges. For Zuleta, winning at RvD and just having the chance to compete was gratifying. ModoScript won the Minority and Women Business Enterprise award for the advanced technology category at the NYBP Competition. 

Origin Story

After successfully organizing a charity soccer tournament when she was 17, Analise Sesay knew she wanted to dedicate her life to making an impact.

“I remember looking around being in awe at what I did,” Sesay said.

Her company Origin Story, is the latest iteration of this desire. The idea is to provide customers with curated boxes of high-end cannabis-related products to their doors, while empowering and educating them about using marijuana to deal with stress and intense work or school schedules.

“The boxes are really about emphasizing time with yourself and using cannabis as a catalyst for that,” she said.

Another aspect of the boxes is education about the products themselves. Each one will come with a card introducing the customers to the people who made their new product, so that they can be confident in the product and form a connection with it and the people behind it.

The idea came to her last semester in an iSchool class called “What’s the Big Idea?” that teaches students about creating and running a successful business. Initially, she kept Origin Story to herself, but after winning at the RvD competition, she felt validated and started sharing the project with people around her. She’s planning on moving to Oakland, California this summer to test the idea with a small group of people. What she learns from her first customers will then determine the direction of her company.

“I’m tired of brands doing what they think people want. Feedback is so valuable, and if you have the ability, why not learn from that?” Sesay said.

Sesay was surprised when she won at RvD. Shocked and extremely grateful – she’s been bootstrapping the company so far, and investing every cent she saves back into it. Origin Story won the Minority and Women Business Enterprise award in the service category at the NYBP Competition. 

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