The team of Syracuse University students who make up Brand-Yourself led off the five finalists’ presentations in NY’s Creative Core’s $200,000 Emerging Business Competition on April 27 at Onondaga Community College’s Storer Auditorium.

Working under a seven-minute time limit, Chief Marketing Officer Patrick Ambron ’09 (Newhouse) and Chief Technology/Financial Officer Robert (RJ) Sherman ’09, G’11 (iSchool) delivered an impressive overview of their online branding services company to a panel of nationally recognized financial experts, venture capitalists, and investors.

Following their presentation, the judges had eight minutes to ask questions about the company and their business and marketing plans. The team responded to questions about how the company would convince mid-career folks to pay for its service, how it differed from the competition, and how it would use the $200,000 should the team win.

Brand-Yourself, led by Sherman and Ambron as well as CEO Pete Kistler ’11 (iSchool) and Evan Watson ’12 (Whitman), beat out 103 applicants from 11 counties to become one of 10 to make the semi-finals and then became one of five to reach the final presentations. They were the only company created by college students to reach the finals.

The winner will be announced May 10 during the Metropolitan Development Association’s Annual Meeting at the Nicholas J. Pirro Convention Center at OnCenter.  

The other finalists included:

  • Floodwatch, a water detection system, of Ithaca
  • GeneWeave Biosciences,a diagnostic testing technology company, of Ithaca
  • Microgen, a nano-chip that recharges/extends the life of sensor node batteries, of Ithaca
  • Sound Reading Solutions, reading therapy software, of Ithaca

“These presentations demonstrate the significant growth potential each finalist company has,” said Patrick J. MacKrell, president and CEO of NYBDC. “We are making a direct investment in these companies because we recognize the potential impact they will have on our region’s economy. Small businesses annually generate about 70 percent of net new jobs while producing many of the most innovative products.”

The competition’s $200,000 grand prize will be given as a convertible note. The prize will be a 0% interest investment in the company, which can be converted to an equity note.

“$200,000 is a significant investment in an emerging company,” said Robert M. Simpson, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Development Association of Syracuse and Central New York. “This investment will return dividends for our region and help ensure that the competition’s next generations of entrepreneurs are supported.”

Last year, Brand-Yourself attracted a lot of attention when it was named a finalist in the New York’s Creative Core Student Business Idea competition. also won second place and $10,000 in the Whitman School of Management’s Panasci Business Plan Competition in spring 2009, and in April 2009 and 2010, the Kairos Society named one of the top 100 most innovative student startup companies in the country and recognized the team with the Best Marketing Award in 2009. The company was also among five finalists in Entrepreneur Magazine’s College Entrepreneur of 2009.

The company also signed its first business-to-business (B2B) deal with Digital Vertical, a Syracuse-based marketing firm specializing in search, social media, and high-end branding for B2B companies in the bioscience, clean tech, green building products, embedded systems, industrial distribution, health care, medical devices, professional services, and software industries., currently based in the Syracuse (N.Y.) Technology Garden, also secured $275,000 in venture capital from a mix of private investors, including a managing director at the equity firm Black Rock, and a small portion from friends and family. The company reports it is right on pace with its first year revenue projections.

“Closing this first round of funding allows us to stay in the area and concentrate on growing the business by taking our proven system to market faster,” said 22-year-old CEO Pete Kistler. “It has always been our goal to help turn Central New York into a hub for young, high-growth start ups by serving as an example of success.”