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Mon August 23, 2010
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Collegiate Entrepreneurs Show Off Business Ideas

Syracuse, NY – College-age entrepreneurs in Syracuse are trying to find potential investors as a part of the "Student Sandbox" program.

At a recent demonstration, community members, business leaders, and teachers were given fake funds to invest with the best projects.

While the investing environment is fake, the stakes are real. The company that gets the most faux $100 bills will win a real $1,000.

Eric Altman and Jason Newton have a secret weapon to win over investors: free beer samples. And it's working.

"I'd pay $100 for this beer," said a potential investor visiting their table.
They want to create a new brewery called "Brewing History."

"What we want to do is replicate old Syracuse brews along side our own," said Altman.

He said they found old recipes from the region's historical association. Newton has photocopies of old brewer notebooks from the 1930s.

"This gives you all the information on Haberle Congress' American Lager, which is one of the most famous beers Syracuse produced," said Newton.

Nearby, Kate Gaffigan has a less appetizing idea. She wanted to create something that reuses food scraps, so she came up with a business called "Recircle."

"What we do is we take the grease from restaurants, we purify it and clean it and turn it into soap," said Gaffigan.

That's right, taking something from Chinese restaurants or KFC and turning it into something that you rub on your face.

"That's the one thing, people have been like that's disgusting, is all soap really made from grease or fat or oils?' and of course the answer is yes. Most soap is made from tallow, fat trimmings, lard, oil I'm not kidding you, that's actually soap," said Gaffigan.

Kidding, it turns out, runs in the family for Gaffigan.

"For those who know Jim Gaffigan, he's my second cousin; my dad's cousin," said Gaffigan.

This is actually an interesting detail. Jim Gaffigan is a comedian whose whole shtick revolves around extolling the virtues of bacon. So since the family has a track record with grease, Kate Gaffigan thinks she a chance at the $1,000.

"You never know, everybody's company here is worth investing in. I've been working with them all summer, so I want it for them just as a bad as I do me," said Gaffigan.

The idea behind the incentive is to create some competition, but not so much that it's cut throat. That's according to John Liddy, the head of the Student Sandbox program.

He said the atmosphere should be collaborative, but at the same time wanted to allocate some prize money for the most investable idea. The program's bottom line is learning.

"It actually gives students the opportunity to get their feet wet and run a business rather than study it, think about it, put a plan together. They actually go out form an entity, try and get customers, and build a product. It lets them dip a toe," said Liddy.

Back at Brewing History, Eric Altman just scored another fake $100 bill. They're piling up.

He'd like to think that $1,000 is in his grasp. He hasn't visited the other tables because his own exhibit has been so busy.

During the moment of truth, he stands by to find out if passing all those beer samples will pay off to the tune of $1,000.

"Come on over everybody," said Liddy. "As far as sampling and demonstrating is concerned it matters."

That sounds like it could pertain to the beer guys.

"This year's award winner for the $1,000 prize for the most investable business: Black Orchyd," said Liddy, to the sound of roaring applause.

Black Orchyd is a Caribbean hot sauce company. Altman can't quite put his finger on why the sauce trumped his beer.

"They did have very good hot sauce though," said Altman.

After the summer program ends the college-age participants will head back to school, or continue to try and grow their business at the Tech Garden, a business incubator.