Four entrepreneurial initiatives started by students at the School of Information Studies (iSchool) were selected as winners in the inaugural iPrize Pitch Competition on Friday March 24, and three of those ventures will advance to the next stage of the New York State Business Plan Competition.

Students from Syracuse University and other Central New York colleges and universities took part in Compete CNY, the regional qualifier for the New York State Business Plan Competition. Students from Syracuse University were also eligible to win funding from the The Raymond von Dran (RvD) Fund for Student Entrepreneurship at the iSchool, in the form of the iPrize.

Nearly 60 students from eight area institutions entered the competition, divided among six categories: Social Entrepreneurship, Clean Technology, Services, Products, Advanced Technology, and Software / IT.

Compete CNY / NYS Business Qualifier Winners

In the Clean Technology category, iSchool graduate student Joshua Aviv’s venture, Spark Charge took first place, and iSchool graduate student Shivali Naik’s company, VFFA (Valued Food For All) took second place. Spark Charge provides a portable charging station that allows electric vehicle owners to re-charge their vehicles on the go. VFFA offers healthy food at lower costs by improving communications between for-profit and non-profit organizations. Both Aviv and Naik are enrolled in the iSchool’s Information Management master’s program.

In the Software / IT category, Seth Samowitz, an undergraduate student enrolled in the dual iSchool and Whitman School of Management program took second place with his venture Busie. Busie is an instant quoting and booking application program interface for charter bus operators that helps to streamline the booking process.

iPrize Winners

iSchool student ventures won a combined total of $8,500 from the RvD Fund for Student Entrepreneurship.

Spark Charge won $4,500, and VFFA took $500 in the Clean Technology category.

In the Service category, Sarah Grosz’s venture, Presently, won $500. Grosz is an undergraduate dual-degree student with the School of Management. Her business helps gift-givers find the ideal gift for friends and family by automatically suggesting presents for a person through an intelligent profiling process.

Samowitz’s Busie application was awarded $3,000 in the Software / IT category.

RvD Legacy

The RvD iPrize continues the legacy of support for student entrepreneurs started at the iSchool by former dean Raymond von Dran, who served from 1995 to 2007, and passed away shortly before he stepped down. von Dran was a long-time academic entrepreneur who started many innovative programs in higher education and supported student innovation and entrepreneurship. His wife, Gisela, ensured that her husband’s infectious spirit for innovation lived on through the creation of the RvD Fund after his death.

“The iSchool is grateful to Gisela for her support of these students and their entrepreneurial spirit,” said Kim Pietro, assistant dean for advancement at the iSchool. “It was a pleasure to watch them compete here, and the iPrize funds help ensure that they can keep these teriffic ventures moving forward.”

The Compete CNY and iPrize competitions were organized in a partnership between the iSchool and the Blackstone LaunchPad in Syracuse University’s Bird Library. The LaunchPad is an experiential entrepreneurship program open to students, alumni, staff and faculty, offering coaching, ideation, and venture creation support.

Student ventures moving forward to the New York State Business Plan Competition will go to Albany on April 28 to pitch for a $100,000 statewide grand prize.

A complete list of winners from Friday’s event can be found on the Blackstone LaunchPad website.