UB students create storage company to solve summer storage dilemmas
Students use new company to compete in Panasci Entrepreneurship competition
When Sam Kuruvilla was a sophomore in high school, he bought his first car with the money he earned selling chocolate.
Although he’s no longer selling chocolate out of his backpack, Kuruvilla’s entrepreneurial edge continues to motivate him at UB. His latest venture: a website for storage units.
In the fall of 2016, Kuruvilla, a junior financial analysis and marketing major, teamed up with Kittikawin Cheecharern, a senior communication major, to create a new company called Storbnb. The website is a platform for students to rent or lease empty space for storage. Students can earn money by renting out their space and renters can store their belongings cheaply. The team also hopes its website will foster a sense of community by allowing people to rent from their neighbors instead of traditional storage facilities.
“Everything is done from a website, which is very mobile friendly, comparable to airbnb,” Kuruvilla said. “You can filter the space you need by amount of space, size, climate control and price.”
The duo is competing in the Henry A. Panasci Jr. Technology Entrepreneurship Competition, where students from a variety of backgrounds can compete to maximize their potential and create viable businesses in Western NY, according to the school of management’s website.
Their goal is to win the $25,000 prize to fully incorporate their company. The company currently conducts background checks for each seller to prevent mishaps, but the team wants the added security of legal services, since stored belongings are sometimes lost or damaged.
Storbnb was inspired by Kuruvilla and Cheecharern’s own experiences as international students. Both have struggled with the inconvenience of storing their belongings at storage units off-campus.
“I didn't like the high cost and distance storage units are from campus; driving back and forth to haul everything was not fun,” Kuruvilla said.
Cheecharern is from Thailand and said he has struggled to find affordable storage areas in Buffalo when he goes home over the summer.
“We want to keep more money in the community,” Kuruvilla said. “It helps both the renter, since it’s cheaper and closer, and the student storing, since you’re monetizing your unused space.”
Cheecharern and Kuruvilla launched their first trial for Storbnb over the 2016 winter break when three international students stored their cars in students’ garages while they were away.
“We definitely want to build a community of trust and people trusting their stuff being stored with their neighbors,” Cheecharern said.
Mallikarjun Siddappa, a senior industrial and systems engineering major, used Storbnb for his car over winter break.
“I paid about $85 to park my car safely for a period of a month and a half,” Siddappa said. “They provided me an amazing service. As a customer, I am privileged to vouch for them and their business.”
Win or lose, Kuruvilla said Storbnb has already benefitted from the competition. The judges, entrepreneurs themselves, offer advice and feedback to the competitors in the first round. The second round judges see how the company reacts to their feedback.
“I think the process of feedback is very valuable because a lot of entrepreneurs are in their own heads and have their own business ideas but the seasoned business people give a lot of constructive advice,” Cheecharern said.
Kuruvilla and Cheecharern said the competition has given them more exposure to strategies for growing and marketing.
“The question is can we go from here to Syracuse to Western New York to New York state, and then big schools, big 10’s, and stuff like that.”
Thomas Ublrich, the assistant dean of the school of management and executive director for entrepreneurial leadership and Blackstone Launchpad, has mentored them through the process, acting as a “sounding board” for ideas.
Ulbrich said he is most impressed with the team’s “ability to validate the business opportunity through interacting directly with customers.”
Cheecharern and Kuruvilla take a “lean startup approach,” surveying potential users and “getting out there” to talk to students and receive feedback on their company.
“I’ve served with Blackstone Launchpad as a sounding board for them to bounce ideas off of,” Ulbrich said. “I think the most important part of starting any business is to not build it on a dream, you need find customers that will actually pay for it.”
The team will find out if they are going to make the final competition on March 29 and the final competition will take place on April 14 at 4 p.m. at UB’s Center for the Arts.
Lindsay Gilder is the assistant features editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org