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Entrepreneurs make pitches at annual Pre-Seed Workshop

With programs like StartUp NY and the Buffalo Billion, Buffalo has encouraged entrepreneurship and innovation. But not everyone with the next great idea has a business background.

That’s where the Pre-Seed Workshop comes in.

The annual event allows prospective entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas to a panel of experts in business, technology and other areas in order to receive feedback on the viability of their potential startup. This year’s event was held Thursday at the Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences, where 10 groups presented their business plans. The workshop was so popular this year that some applicants were turned away, a positive reflection of the entrepreneurial environment in Buffalo, said Pat Govang, a facilitator of the event. Govang said he’s been part of the workshops since 2003, adding that six of the ten participants will typically go on to build a business.

“It’s an indicator Buffalo is moving and shaking,” he said.

Three University at Buffalo students were among those who elaborated on ideas that included a method to remove heavy metals from drinking water, a new type of immuno-therapy to treat cancer and a testing device for the rapid detection of bacterial infections like MRSA. Some were inspired by personal experiences and others by their professional background, but most concepts dealt with some form of health services.

Charles Jones, a fourth-year Ph.D. student studying chemical engineering at the University at Buffalo, presented the plan for Co-Pop Biotechnologies intended to address limitations on the delivery of vaccines.

Jones added that the event as a whole validates that Buffalo is an up-and-coming city for entrepreneurs. On an individual level, the panel provides a dose of reality for participants as to whether or not their ideas are truly business-ready, he said.

Panelists were generally positive and were quick to acknowledge the value the startups could have if the participants chose to move forward and consider minor adjustments. One judge commented that Sarah Scouten, who was presenting on the MRSA testing system, made him more confident in the idea based on her science background.

While some pitches didn’t sound appealing on paper, experts and audience members were quick to recognize their potential use. One example was Lisa Peterson, who shared her idea for a device that provides spinal support when using the shower or toilet for those who may need extra assistance.

“It may not be sexy, but you’re in the right place,” said one audience member. “There’s a massive market for that.”