1:00pm

Mon April 2, 2012
The Upstate Economy

Young entrepreneurs pitch projects, for money and advice

Brian Page and Benjamin Onyejuruwa stood in front of the panel of judges with their hands full of groceries in an attempt to show how much easier their invention - an electronic ID and key programmed into a bracelet - could be.

The duo are roommates and freshman at Clarkson University. They made the trip down to Syracuse University on Friday to pitch QuickWhrist for a chance to win seed money from the university's Emerging Talk program.

Even as a freshman, Onyejuruwa already holds a patent for the technology.

"I've done worse, I've done better, so I can't really say," Page said of their performance after the roughly 10 minute pitch, complete with questions from judges.

QuickWhrist didn't win any of the $120,000 being doled out at the competition, but they did get this piece of advice from the judges: Drop the "H" in the name, it's confusing.

One of the startups that did take away prize money was a smartphone app called "Chase My Racer." Developers say it was used successfully at the Buffalo Marathon and they're looking to grow.

It allows fans to track friends and family running in the race - and find the bathroom. Judges awarded it $5,000.

"Not just home runs"

Organizer Bruce Kingma, who is Syracuse University's associate provost for entrepreneurship, told some judges in between presentations that most all of this year's ideas would have won money last year - a nod to the fact that students are getting better at creating viable ideas at a young age.

"We're not just looking for home runs," says judge Gino Duca. "We're looking for ideas that could at least progress forward and potentially be a learning opportunity - and maybe their next idea is the one that really takes off."

The young entrepreneurs often have great ideas, but their ability to sell investors on them usually needs some work, Duca says.

Some of the bigger portions of seed money - $10,000 - went to students developing an app for restaurant hostesses, and another for mail-order craft kits, playing off the recent success of online bookmarking service, Pinterest.