Youni, Inc., co-founders and recent graduates Anthony Escamilla, Jordan DiLapo and Jake Ruth took full advantage of the benefits the Blackstone LaunchPad program offers. The Blackstone Charitable Foundation expanded its entrepreneurship program to UAlbany in early 2016.
While most UAlbany students slept through the frigid nights of Winter 2016, a trio of budding entrepreneurs papered lecture centers, residential quads and the Academic Podium with flyers promoting their new startup. Anthony Escamilla, Jordan DiLapo and Jake Ruth, the team behind millennial-focused photo-sharing social app Youni, Inc., remember those 3 a.m. flyer bombs well – because their marketing strategy worked.
With support from their families, friends, faculty and alumni, Escamilla, DiLapo, and Ruth drove student exposure and launched the Youni app at UAlbany in February. Winnings from three local and national Blackstone LaunchPad grant competitions have enabled them to continue their business pursuits full time. Last June, the entrepreneurs packed up their temporary post-graduate homes on friends’ floors and couches and settled in the heart of New York’s Tech Valley. They are now living their dream, with an apartment in Troy just feet away from their workspace.
For Escamilla and DiLapo, the dream has been a long time coming. The two met as transfer students and athletes, and shared similar interests in business and social-media networking. They noticed a communication gap between companies and millennials, and connected with app developer (and third co-founder) Ruth in 2015 to begin pursuing their dream of becoming experts in millennial advertising. “When you tell millennials to buy a product and they reject it, they influence friends to do the same,” DiLapo says.
The Youni app, which is based on social photo sharing and fueled by user-driven engagement “scores,” is a pipeline for marketers and advertisers to effectively connect with a generation that tends to be driven away by the noise geared toward other demographics on popular social-media channels. “This is a space everyone in the business is trying to figure out,” explains Escamilla. “We understand the millennial demographic and what attracts them to products because we are a part of the demographic. The Youni app works well for millennials because it gives them a space to connect with peers on their respective college campuses, as well as with brands that speak to them.”
While attaining success through the Blackstone LaunchPad program and Blackstone business competitions, Youni, Inc., has won several additional competitions, including the Patashnick Entrepreneurial Challenge, created by Harvey Patashnick ’67. The company was also recently included in the IgniteU-NY accelerator program.
Youni’s future is bright. With the help of student interns, the app will relaunch at the University this fall. To generate interest from potential investors, the team will also partner with five to 10 additional college campuses and develop relationships with campus brand ambassadors by December. Those 3 a.m. wake-up calls will not stop anytime soon, and the Youni team wouldn’t have it any other way.