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Noted Upstate New York Entrepreneurs to Deliver UAlbany Commencement Addresses, May 17 and 18

Chobani founder Hamdi Ulukaya will deliver UAlbany's undergraduate commencement address on May 18.

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 17, 2014) — Hamdi Ulukaya and Thomas D’Ambra, notable entrepreneurial achievers and business leaders from New York’s Capital Region, will speak at the University at Albany’s undergraduate and graduate commencement ceremonies May 17 and 18.

Hamdi Ulukaya, who founded Chobani in 2005 and shepherded it into the No. 1-selling brand of Greek Yogurt in the U.S. with annual sales of more than a billion dollars, will deliver the main address and receive an honorary degree at UAlbany’s 170th Undergraduate Ceremony on Sunday, May 18, at 10 a.m. on the University’s Entry Plaza.

“I am honored to join the University at Albany in celebrating the graduating Class of 2014,” said Ulukaya. “I came to the U.S. a decade ago with very little other than passion, work ethic and an entrepreneurial spirit, and settled in upstate New York, where I started and built Chobani. I hope to inspire the next generation of leaders and innovators so that they can also pursue their passions and fulfill their dreams.”

Thomas D'Ambra of Albany Molecular Research

Albany Molecular Research, Inc., co-founder Thomas E. D'Ambra will deliver UAlbany's graduate commencement address on May 17.

Thomas D’Ambra, who co-founded Albany Molecular Research, Inc. (AMRI) in 1991 and piloted the company’s success in drug discovery, development and manufacturing services onto three continents, will deliver the main address and receive an honorary degree at the University’s Graduate Ceremony, on Saturday, May 17, at 9 a.m. in UAlbany’s SEFCU Arena.

“My career and AMRI’s growth have benefited from the support of the University and numerous faculty and staff over the years,” said Dr. D’Ambra. “It is therefore a great honor and privilege to participate in these commencement activities. I look forward to being with and congratulating this latest group of outstanding graduates soon.”

Hamdi Ulukaya
Hamdi Ulukaya founded Chobani in upstate New York in 2005 and within two years launched Chobani Greek Yogurt. Today, it is the No.1-selling Greek Yogurt brand in the U.S. — making Chobani one of the fastest growing companies in history. Led by his passion to create better food for more people, Hamdi’s vision for Chobani effectively transformed an entire food category.

For his achievements, he was named the 2013 Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur of the Year and was recently selected to serve as a Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship. He was given UAlbany’s Excellence in Entrepreneurship Award in 2012.

Hamdi’s success is rooted in humble beginnings. A Kurdish immigrant who grew up in eastern Turkey, he helped with his family’s dairy business as a young man. In 1994, he moved to the U.S. to learn English and study business, and took classes at UAlbany in 1997. While a student, Hamdi was struck by the difference in quality between American dairy product offerings and the dairy foods he had grown up eating, and decided to start a small cheese company.

With the help of a Small Business Administration loan in 2005, he purchased an abandoned Kraft Foods plant in the Chenango County town of New Berlin and officially started Chobani. Ulukaya spent 18 months perfecting his yogurt recipe, and Chobani hit shelves in 2007. In 2009, New England’s largest retailer agreed to stock Chobani, beginning the company’s meteoric rise, Chobani opened the largest yogurt factory in the world in Twin Falls, Idaho, in 2012.

Beyond his business acumen, Hamdi is also a passionate philanthropist. The word “Chobani” means shepherd in Turkish, and Hamdi has embraced the spirit of the shepherd since his company’s earliest days. He has pledged to give 10 percent of profits to charity, and the Chobani Foundation has distributed grants to grassroots organizations all over the world.

From helping to build a state-of-the-art baseball stadium for the youth of New Berlin, to making a gift of a million dollars to support famine relief in Somalia, Hamdi has been dedicated to empowering individuals to reach their full potential as well as making good food accessible to more people and strengthening U.S. manufacturing in small towns across the country.

Hamdi was recently appointed by President Obama to the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship (PAGE), a group of successful business leaders who have committed to sharing their time, energy, ideas and experience to help develop the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Thomas E. D’Ambra, Ph.D.
Thomas E. D’Ambra, Ph.D., co-founded Albany Molecular Research, Inc. (AMRI) in 1991 and served as president and chief executive officer until his retirement in 2013. During his entire leadership tenure with the company and until 2012, he also served as the company’s Chairman of the Board, a role he resumed in January 2014.

Over the years, D'Ambra has been involved and taken an active role in all aspects of the company’s business, from bench-research science, to business development, to operational and strategic management. As he led the company in its global growth, he authored numerous publications and is an inventor on more than 30 U.S. patents. He has, and continues to serve, as an advisor and mentor for new and young companies.

Prior to co-founding the company, D’Ambra served from 1989 to 1991 as the vice president, chemist and co-founder of Coromed, Inc., a traditional development contract research organization. Previously, from 1982 to 1989, he was group leader and senior research chemist with pharmaceutical giant Sterling Winthrop, Inc.

D’Ambra’s entrepreneurial skills, strategic vision, leadership ability and in-depth knowledge of AMRI’s business strategy, industry, product, research and development, operations and employees were critical to the growth experienced by the company.

A noted philanthropist in support of life sciences research and other noble causes, D’Ambra and his wife Connie have made numerous gifts to higher education. These have included a $1 million matching grant which was critical to the construction of UAlbany’s Life Sciences Research Building, $3 million to RPI to endow a chair in organic chemistry, and $1.3 million to the College of the Holy Cross to create the Thomas E. D’Ambra Endowed Professorship in Chemistry.

D’Ambra holds a B.A. degree in chemistry from the College of the Holy Cross and a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was named a national finalist for the 2003 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in the life sciences category and was inducted into the Tech Valley Business Hall of Fame in May 2008.

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