Entrepreneurial engineering students off to good startups

Team led by CSEE PhD student Hosein Kerdar Wins Panasci Technology Entrepreneurship Competition

Published May 4, 2014

It takes more than a great idea to start a business. Two engineering graduate students, Hosein Kerdar, civil engineering, and Elena Ramona Stefanescu, mechanical engineering, took advantage of several UB resources this spring to help move their entrepreneurial ideas towards reality.  

Kerdar led a team that took first place in UB's Henry A. Panasci Jr. Technology Entrepreneurship Competition in April for a startup called EMVISS (Electromagnetic Vibration Isolation and Stabilization System). He and his fellow team members, Conor Flynn, JD ’15, John Fraczek, JD/MBA ’16, and Travis West, BS ’14, will share $25,000 in prize money and about $27,000 in related services to enable them to manufacture the system.

Clockwise from top, Hosein Kerdar, John Fraczek, Travis West and Connor Flynn celebrate their victory; below, Elena Ramona Stefanescu.

Kerdar, who will serve as president and CEO of EMVISS, drew upon his background in earthquake engineering to develop a patent pending invention that removes problematic vibrations in high-precision devices such as microscopes, cameras and lasers. The technologies are primarily for use in research centers and hospitals.

“The cash prize and donated services should be more than enough for Kerdar to build the prototype,” said Martin Casstevens, Business Formation and Commercialization Manager at UB’s Office of Science, Technology Transfer and Economic Outreach (STOR). “We expect great things from him.”

 

Elena Ramona Stefanescu; photo by Douglas Levere

Fellow engineering student Stefanescu’s startup, Earth Risk Systems, comprises software that estimates the cost of damages to property and the areas of people affected by natural disaster. With these estimates, engineers, governments and clients in the insurance and construction industries can better prepare for the catastrophes.

While not a winner in the Panasci competition, Stefanescu has embarked on an intensive seven-week National Science Foundation-funded program called Innovation Corps. This very selective nationwide competitive program is designed to help researchers explore the commercialization potential of NSF-funded science and technology. Particular emphasis is placed on developing the "entrepreneurial leads"--a PhD student or doctoral fellow involved in each project team.

"We are in the cohort that includes universities from all around the U.S. We are the only one from Western New York. The training includes meeting close to a hundred potential partners," explains Stefanescu. “We are now at the stage of customer discovery, talking with people in the insurance and reinsurance industry, and risk modeling companies to see where my project can fit within their work process."

The process for both teams began during a UB winter session course recently established by STOR and the School of Management called Entrepreneurship Lab (eLab) which is a small business boot camp for students looking to advance a preexisting entrepreneurial idea. Kerdar and Stefanescu won awards of $8,000 and $5,000, respectively, in seed funding, mentorship and shared space in the UB Technology Incubator after pitching their startups to a panel of local business leaders and investors.

The Henry A. Panasci Jr. Technology Entrepreneurship Competition was created and is managed by UB’s School of Management and STOR.