Startup Bootcamp

IgniteU's Summer Accelerator Program Boosts UAlbany Startups

Fatouma Diallo (left) and Lauren Bennis co-founded Starving Artists in 2016.  

ALBANY, N.Y. (July 25, 2018) — Three 2018 UAlbany graduates are launching their startup through IgniteU NY’s summer accelerator program.

The nine-week program matches participating startups with area business professionals while facilitating workshops and providing resources.

Starving Artists

In 2016, Fatouma Diallo, Lauren Bennis and Keyla Navarro developed Starving Artists, a community-based events organization, as a student organization.

Bennis, who majored in business with a concentration in entrepreneurship, said that the accelerator program has made the partners’ goal of transitioning from a project to a business a reality.

Starving Artists organizes events such as open-mic nights, workshops and showcases, with the mission of creating a judgment-free space where creatives can perform, experiment new art forms and inspire others, according to Bennis.

The startup placed third in the 2018 Innovation Competition, hosted in March by the Blackstone LaunchPad, the University’s campus-based innovation and entrepreneurship program.

“We always wanted to take Starving Artists further,” said Bennis, the finance operations manager at Starving Artists. “We all had just graduated, so we said, ‘We have the time. Why not see what resources we might have?’”

Receiving feedback from aspiring to more seasoned entrepreneurs has been one of the most meaningful aspects of the program, said Diallo, head marketer of the startup.

“We all help each other build our businesses, while making connections and receiving mentorship,” she said. “It pushes us to do everything in a timely fashion.”

Campus Pro

Also participating in the summer program is Samuel Mere, a UAlbany alum who founded his company CampusPro in 2017.

The startup is an 'on-demand marketplace' that connects students who need services with students who can provide them, according to Mere. He said the website and app are strictly for college students, with an .edu email address required to create an account.

“Whether it’s tutoring, haircuts, photography or even sneaker restoration, there are tons of individuals who have certain skills and can make extra cash on their free time, but they don’t have a platform to market themselves and get their name out there,” said Mere, who graduated in 2016.

After launching a beta test of the company last spring at UAlbany, Mere said he wanted to join IgniteU NY to learn from industry professionals.

“At the beginning, being a one-person team, as well as someone who didn’t necessarily have startup experience, I knew that mentorship and resources would be really important to me and that this program would be able to provide that,” said Mere, who graduated with a degree in criminal justice.

Mere said he plans to expand CampusPro in the next year from UAlbany to other colleges and universities in the Capital Region and New York State.


IgniteU NY, based in Troy, N.Y., seeks to connect the entrepreneurial network with the greater Capital Region, according to Bob Manasier, entrepreneur-in-residence of the program.

“We really look to develop the entrepreneur rather than the individual company, knowing that most companies fail,” Manasier said. “We try to teach the processes and systems of how entrepreneurs should think about their future businesses, but also how they can give back to our communities and our ecosystem of innovation.”

IgniteU NY is a partner of Innovate 518, the Capital Region’s Innovation Hot Spot and NYSTAR initiative managed by the University.

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A comprehensive public research university, the University at Albany-SUNY offers more than 120 undergraduate majors and minors and 125 master's, doctoral and graduate certificate programs. UAlbany is a leader among all New York State colleges and universities in such diverse fields as atmospheric and environmental sciences, businesseducation, public health,health sciences, criminal justice, emergency preparedness, engineering and applied sciences, informatics, public administration, social welfare and sociology, taught by an extensive roster of faculty experts. It also offers expanded academic and research opportunities for students through an affiliation with Albany Law School. With a curriculum enhanced by 600 study-abroad opportunities, UAlbany launches great careers.