UAlbany Students Prepare for NYS Business Plan Competition

UAlbany student Jacob Webb stands with his award for first place at the Capital Region business competition.
UAlbany junior Jacob Webb is competing in the New York Business Plan Competition finals on April 25. Webb won first place at the Capital Region competition in the Software and Services track. (Photo by Jenny Huang, Blackstone LaunchPad, UAlbany)

By Michael Parker

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 23, 2024) — Growing up, University at Albany Jacob Webb spent plenty of evenings watching episodes of Shark Tank, where would-be entrepreneurs pitch their product to a group of investors who then inevitably found weaknesses and faults in the presentations as they debated whether or not to fund the startups. 

Now Webb is working to perfect his own presentation as he prepares to compete in final round of the New York Business Plan Competition (NYBPC). Webb is one of five UAlbany students taking part in the competition, which includes Sam Hogan, Russ Fugal, Omar Cunningham and Ehdoh Kyi.

“My family and I would watch Shark Tank together and converse about each business being pitched,” said Webb, a junior from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., who is majoring in business administration. “This developed into a passion for entrepreneurship, innovation and the responsibility of running a business.”

When it came time to choose a college, Webb felt that UAlbany and the Massry School of Business would put him in the best position to one day live out the dream of creating his own startup company. 

“My parents were thrilled that I chose UAlbany. Although it was over 1,000 miles away, the environment and people made it feel just like home,” said Webb, who is chief operating officer of the University at Albany School of Business Investment Group (UASBIG). 

NYBPC is a statewide, intercollegiate entrepreneurship competition powered by Upstate Capital. Webb, Hogan, Fugal, Cunningham and Kyi each participated in the Capital Region competition, which was hosted by Hudson Valley Community College. The students advanced by first or second place to earn a spot in the final, which will be held at ETEC on April 25.

“The NYBPC has provided me with a range of perspectives and has encouraged me to look into issues or ideas I would have never initially considered,” said Webb, whose company, Starlight, finished in first place in the Software and Services track of the Capital Region event. 

Webb, who is also in the Financial Analyst Honors Program, learned of the competition through  Blackstone Launchpad at UAlbany. “Blackstone Launchpad informed me about the competition and provided resources to best prepare me for it. Once the competition is over I plan to use the advice, connections and experience to better equip my startup for the future.”

Webb also credits Men’s Lacrosse Head Coach Scott Marr for helping him to succeed in the classroom and in the entrepreneurship arena. After initially committing to UAlbany to play lacrosse, Webb found he had a medical condition his senior year of high school that would preventing from taking the field. 

“I still wanted to come to UAlbany despite not being able to play. Coach Marr still let me be a part of the team and put me in charge of all film for practice and games. He and the team have never treated me differently even though I couldn’t play,” said Webb. “’Treat others the way you want to be treated,’ is something Coach Marr preaches day in and day out. I am lucky to have a group of friends and a coaching staff that I can call a family.”

After graduating, Webb plans to run a successful startup that incorporates his interests, including business management, videography and sports.

“Blackstone LaunchPad has been working closely with the students, helping refine their ideas, honing their skills, and mentoring them through the entire process; we are thrilled to see them moving forward in the NY Business Plan Competition” said Jenny Huang, manager of Blackstone Launchpad at UAlbany.

Cunningham teamed with Kyi to finish in second place with their company, LimiGlo Innovations, in the Safety, Power and Mobility Track in the first round.

“My mom and dad both saw education as a tool to empower oneself and rise from the depths of poverty,” said Cunningham, a business administration major from Brooklyn who earned an equivalency diploma when he was 16.

Having grown up in the shadow of Wall Street, Cunningham was interested in business from an early age and wanted to focus on finance as a way to create a better life for his friends and family. “Both of my parents were very proud that I decided to go to college and even happier when I finally found a major I became passionate about and began to excel in.”

Students Omar Cunningham and Ehdoh Kyi listen to feedback following their presentation at the Capital Regoin Business Competition.
Students Omar Cunningham and Ehdoh Kyi listen to feedback following their presentation at the Capital Regoin Business Competition. (Photo by Jenny Huang, Blackstone LaunchPad, Massry School of Business)

A junior transfer from Hudson Valley Community College (HVCC), Cunningham is in the NYBPC for the second year in a row after competing at HVCC in 2023. He and Kyi are once again teaming up for the contest. Their plan this year involves creating a company to sell bioluminescent plants. Regardless of outcome, he and Kyi fully intend to compete again in 2025.

After he graduates, Cunningham intends to become a financial advisor as well as pursue a master’s degree.

“Thanks to the business plan competition, I can draw on firsthand entrepreneurial experience —from starting a business from scratch to the dedication and research involved in it—to help me excel in my master's program,” said Cunningham.

His teammate Kyi was born in Thailand, where he and his family lived in a refugee camp before moving to the United States when he was 8. His early years in the U.S. were difficult as his parents coped with a the struggle of trying to make a better life for their children while dealing with a language barrier and numerous other challenges that come along with the immigrant experience. 

Like Cunningham, Kyi found his place at HVCC where he began studying business and became president of the college's Entrepreneur Club. When it came time to transfer, there was one clear favorite.

"I chose UAlbany in part because it was local but also for its School of Business. I could easily transfer to UAlbany from Hudson Valley Community College and continue my studies in business administration," said Kyi, who plans to graduate in May 2025.

Kyi chose marketing as his focus as it was field where he could put to use his creativity, just as he did through entering the NYBPC.

"Through the Entrepreneur Club (at HVCC) I met people who had the same mindset of being an entrepreneur, and this has pushed me to start my own ventures as well as participate in the Business Plan Competition," said Kyi, who plans to use the experience and his studies at UAlbany to one day start a business of his own.

Hogan, from Glens Falls, originally started out at Cornell University before transferring to Utah State University where he completed his bachelor’s degree in finance. He came “back home” to complete his MBA while also taking over as a kicker and punter for the UAlbany football team, which advanced to the NCAA Semifinals in 2023. He was encouraged to compete in the competition by Noah Simon, the director of Career & Professional Development at UAlbany. His company, Hirebird, finished in first place in the Learn, Work, and Live track in the Capital Region competition.

“I'm a natural storyteller and self-proclaimed ‘professional yapper’ so it's very difficult for me to cram all the exciting things we're doing at Hirebird into an 8 minute pitch. However, it's been great practice to learn how to condense everything into what really matters,” said Hogan.

His next venture after finishing his MBA will be to run his company full-time. He already has some funding lined up and is ready to take his pitch to the professional boardroom.

“With 17,000 people on our waitlist and paying clients already, we think Hirebird has a really strong ability to be a mover in the HR Tech and Job Search niche,” said Hogan, who recently took first place and a $2,500 award in the inaugural Syracuse University Blackstone LaunchPad Investor-Ready Pitch Competition.

Fugal, who is working on his master’s degree in information science, finished in second place to Hogan at the Capital Region competition. His company, SARA’s books LLC, uses technology to help emerging readers develop their sight word vocabulary. 

Fugal, who grew up Santa Fe, was originally planning on a career in the Air Force before eventually landing at the University of Utah where he finished his bachelor's degree. 

"I chose UAlbany to further my graduate studies because I am interested in literacy, and the MSIS program is closely aligned with my work and career goals," said Fugal, whose eventual goal is to earn his PhD. 

He was inspired to take part in the competition by his children as well as his own battle with dyslexia, to make reading a fun and enjoyable experience for everyone.

“We started Blackstone LaunchPad to train UAlbany students in entrepreneurship and soon realized that they learn so much more, including, critical thinking, creativity, presentation skills, and team work which makes them better students and improves their chances of getting jobs," said Massry School of Business Professor Sanjay Goel, the founder of Blackstone Launchpad at UAlbany.