“Receiving the CNY Student Business Award inspired us to dedicate all our efforts to grow the business. Having six months of hard work preparing the business plan be rewarded in this way was both validating and motivating. It has allowed us to start operations sooner than expected.” Gabriela Escalante ‘15
The Whitman Alumni Club of CNY created the Student Business of the Year award to support Whitman student entrepreneurs like Escalante and her business partner, Hannah Fagut ’15. Their company, Electro Beats Apparel (EBA) develops, manufactures and markets LED apparel. The award comes with a cash prize of $3,000 and up to $7,000 of in-kind services donated by alumni. EBA also won a $3,200 prize from RvD IDEA and $3,000 from the Innovation and Creativity Awards, both of which are Syracuse University innovation initiatives.
When they met in their “Launchpad” class at Whitman, Escalante was focusing on her wearable technology venture. Fagut was selling her food delivery business, so the timing was right for a new entrepreneurial endeavor. They had a great connection, and casual brainstorming about Gabby’s business led to a partnership.
Research had shown Escalante’s initial target of music festivals to be a saturated market. Fortuitously, Hannah accompanied her dad, a former pro-cyclist and owner of high-end cycling stores, to the N.Y. Bicycling Coalition conference in Lake Placid, N.Y. “It was daylight savings time and the sun was setting earlier, which sparked talk about cyclist and pedestrian safety,” said Fagut. “The idea of extending EBA to athletic wear was born. I brought the idea back to Gabby, and we started working on it as partners.”
They plan to initially promote their products at annual cycling trade shows and estimate a cost of $60,000 to launch operations, which they are crowd-sourcing and seeking investors to fund. EBA operations will be housed in CNY where Escalante and Fagut feel they have a network of potential clients and access to valuable resources provided by Syracuse University, where they have been supported throughout the process.
“The Falcone Center staff has been incredibly helpful,” said Fagut. “We have utilized them, students and everyone we could…from getting second opinions to help with market research. Being a business owner as a college student can be isolating and intimidating. The Falcone Center gives us a sense of belonging and a support group.”
“The Falcone Center really became our second home,” added Escalante. “In fact, we may have spent more time there than in our own apartment.”
Fagut encourages other student entrepreneurs to do the same. “Go to the Falcone Center. Don’t do it on your own. You may have a great idea, but that’s only a small percentage of it. Execution is 99 percent. Be willing to be guided and critiqued. If you aren’t disciplined and passionate about what you are working on, it’s not worth pursuing.”
Escalante also stresses the importance of commitment. “Do something to pursue your idea every day. Don’t go to bed until you have moved a step forward. Entrepreneurship is about dedication. You have to make it a habit.”
CNY Student Business Award Winner Updates:
ThunderCakes, LLC, the CNY Student Business Award winner in 2014, is a remote-location bakery on the campus of Syracuse University specializing in customized cakes, made-to-order baked goods and private event catering. The company was founded by Courtnee Futch ‘15 in Whitman’s Couri Hatchery student business incubator.
The CNY Student Business Award allowed Futch to purchase all of the required licenses and permits for the growth of the company and fund operational aspects of the business, such as legal fees and kitchen space.
This fall, Futch will begin Whitman’s M.S. in entrepreneurship program and will restructure the business while she works on her degree. “We will have designated days for ordering and use pop-up shops for selling our baked goods,” explained Futch, who plans to use this time for a rebranding and operational remodeling. “I have hired a consulting firm to help strengthen the business, and I look forward to applying lessons from my master’s coursework to further grow ThunderCakes.”
Gilded Social won the CNY Student Business Award in 2013. Founder and CEO Scott Friedberg, a finance major from New Jersey, launched the company as the wave of social media began to swell. Gilded Social creates an instant social network digital display for any business or organization through a proprietary software device. The nature of the product allows an instant connection with patrons of Gilded Social clients, with a longer-term value of creating brand evangelists.
Since its founding, the company’s client list has grown to more than a dozen Syracuse-area locations, including Café Kubal, Urban Life Crossfit, J Michael Shoes, Fleet Feet and more, with negotiations for regional and larger-scale deals in the works.
“The CNY Student Business Award was a major milestone in growing my business,” said Friedberg. “I’m so appreciative of the opportunities this award provided, and I’m thankful to the Whitman alumni who volunteer their valuable time to help student entrepreneurs like me.”