Entrepreneurial spirit captures UB students
Business hopefuls embrace new winter session course
Published: Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, January 28, 2014 20:01
For Houghton College graduate Chris Way, the Kenya he studied was not the Kenya he found. On the contrary, the international development student who had devoted his college education to global poverty alleviation and intercultural studies saw great joy in the Kenyan people.
Amidst the scarcity of resources, he found an abundance of happiness in the African communities – not only in the streets, but also in the rubber tires that drove on them.
Way is the co-founder of the start-up company Atinga, which markets and sells handmade shoes and sandals made by Kenyan artisans from discarded taxi tires.
The company plans to reinvent the way global economies work and how Western nations see Africa. With its focus on creating a more self-sustainable market for African nations, Atinga is a proud investor in Kenyan’s businesses and people.
“What are their needs? How can they grow? We learn from the people,” Way said.
He and business partner Alexander Burgos, a senior business administration major at UB, attribute much of their success to the Entrepreneurship Lab, a three-week winter session course. The class provided an opportunity for business-minded students to be immersed in the field and to make their business plans a reality.
Six winning projects were selected by noteworthy business leaders in the area to receive cash prizes of up to $8,000, access to E-Lab facilities and the name recognition vital to a successful business. Though Way and Burgos did not place in the competition, they found the class rewarding.
Dr. Robert Genco, the supervisor of the business “boot camp,” is confident in the program and the impact it has had on its students. In just half a month, students are expected to create, implement and pitch a fully developed business plan. The class, which is an experience-based course, gives young, hopeful business owners of all educational backgrounds an opportunity to grow.
An advocate for student involvement and participation, Genco feels that the growing culture of entrepreneurship is having a substantial effect on UB students and the communities being improved by their projects.
“I’m very impressed with the creativity and the spirit of the students at UB,” he said. “They have an enthusiasm and passion to make life better for people with businesses that do a social service or satisfy a need for people.”
Vitchel Toussaint, a senior psychology major, is one of those students. One of the two contest winners, Toussaint saw a void in the educational experience and was determined to fill it with his WeStudy app, which allows students to find others with whom to study. The app won one of the two $8,000 prizes.
Toussaint, who founded the application for easier and faster student communication, hopes to spread the program to schools across the country and, in the future, around the world.
“It was so easy to go to Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and see pictures of parties and such,” Toussaint said. “But there was a hole and I wanted to fill it. [This class] allowed me to step out of the classroom setting.”
The E-Lab course allowed Ramona Stefanescu to develop her prize-winning project. She founded Earth Risks, a program that helps governments, construction companies and insurance agencies better understand the geological and social impact of natural travesties, such as mudslides and volcanoes. Hoping to use her winnings of $5,000 to help spread the software to nations especially susceptible to damage, she says that the hard work from this class was worthwhile.
“I want them to use the program to make decisions if an area is in danger and evaluate the danger,” Stefanescu said.
From the Buffalo community to the global market, Genco sees a future in entrepreneurship at this research university. As the college looks forward to the continuation of the boot camp next year, there will be big shoes to fill – shoes that, in the eyes of the Atinga entrepreneurs, should very well be made of rubber.
*information from The Buffalo News and the UB Reporter
Eric Kishel, undecided major: Creator of E-Bridge (information was not disclosed due to fears of theft) – $5,000
April LoTempio, MBA student: Creator of B2Y Education, a program that assists organizations and businesses with connecting with young people in the classroom setting – $5000
Elena Ramona Stefanescu, mechanical engineering, Ph.D candidate: Creator of Earth Risks Software, a program that illustrates the harm done by natural disasters – $5,000
Michael Sparks, MBA student: Creator of Stickerlight, a sticker that music artists use on their sound systems and computers – $5,000
Hosien Kerdar, civil engineering Ph.D student: Creator of Emviss (Electromagnetic Vibration Isolation and Stabilization System). Emviss provides medical institutions with electromagnetic technology – $8,000
Vitchel Toussaint, psychology major: Creator of WeStudy, a mobile application that assists students by pairing them with nearby learning groups and academic tutors – $8,000