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News-oriented social network wins $10,000 tech competition

The creators of a news-oriented social network have won $10,000 in the University at Buffalo's Henry A. Panasci Jr. Technology Entrepreneurship Competition.

The first-place finishers won for Lectio Labs, a consumer and enterprise social network that feeds users personalized news according to their stated preferences, reading habits and interests shared with peers.

The team included Smruthi Mukund, Anurag Bharadwaj, Vedanth Satyanarayana, Achint Oommen Thomas and Venugopal Govindaraju, distinguished professor of computer science and engineering at UB.

Lectio, an early version of which is up at http://www.mylectio.com, asks what you like and then tracks your habits to tailor the news it delivers to your preferences. If you and a friend share an interest, Lectio may show you articles your friend reads and vice versa.

"Within a very short span of time, it will learn about you," said team captain Mukund.

The Lectio Labs team was among five finalists who competed Wednesday as they presented their business plans at Jacobs Executive Development Center on Delaware Avenue. Contestants were judged according to how well they outlined the marketability, feasibility and need for their projects, as well as potential capital sources.

"The competition was invaluable," said Mukund in a news release. "There are thousands of good ideas, but only one or two with a good business plan make it. Through the process laid out by the School of Management's Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, we learned so much about revenue streams and marketing streams, and we had even more ideas about how to improve Lectio and make it more interesting to use."

In addition to the $10,000 in start-up funding, the winning team will receive legal, accounting and human resources services and office space worth at least another $10,000.

Mukund, a UB doctoral student, said the company will need a total of $70,000 to accomplish its start-up goals for the consumer version, which will be free for the foreseeable future, and about $130,000 to accommodate its vision for the business version. The business version, expected to launch in October, will charge a fee and target such entities as law firms and health care organizations, which have a lot of documents to read and share.

Although users share news on Twitter and Facebook, Mukund said, Lectio stands on its own. "On Facebook and Twitter, users share something they're interested in. On Lectio, you get information you're interested in. Information you're interested in comes to you. On other networks, you're looking for information."

Lectio will also have a service called Lectio for Good, which helps users discover like-minded groups and spread information about diseases, causes and support groups.

The 11-year-old Panasci competition, created by the UB School of Management and the UB Office of Science, Technology Transfer and Economic Outreach, is funded through a $1 million endowment from the late Henry A. Panasci Jr., a one-time CEO of Fay's drugstores.

e-mail: vsherry@buffnews.com

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