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Hydrogen fuel technology powers win in UB entrepreneurship competition

More than $60K in startup funding and services awarded

Parham Rohani and S. Bruce Kohrn, winners of the 2017 Henry A. Panasci Jr. Technology Entrepreneurship Competition for their company, NanoHydroChem. Photo: Nancy J. Parisi.

Release Date: April 13, 2017

“We learned how important it is for us to put a prototype in the hands of customers as soon as possible to test our value proposition and validate our assumptions.”
Parham Rohani, Co-Founder
NanoHydroChem

BUFFALO, N.Y. — A team led by a UB doctoral student took first place on April 12 in the University at Buffalo’s Henry A. Panasci Jr. Technology Entrepreneurship Competition (Panasci TEC) for a technology that generates hydrogen gas from water.

Parham Rohani, a doctoral student in chemical and biological engineering, and S. Bruce Kohrn, business strategist, will receive $25,000 in startup capital and in-kind services valued at $27,000 for their company, NanoHydroChem.

NanoHydroChem is a research and development company with a patent-pending technology for a significantly safer and more effective method to produce hydrogen fuel from water to generate power from fuel cells. Fuel cells offer significantly more power per unit weight and unit volume than the best batteries, but their biggest problem is hydrogen storage. The company’s unique technology allows them to produce hydrogen on demand.

“This process helped me to put our technology in a business context,” says Rohani, co-founder and technology leader for the company. “We learned how important it is for us to put a prototype in the hands of customers as soon as possible to test our value proposition and validate our assumptions.”

Rohani says fuel cell companies and system integrators will be the company’s first customers and believes the military will be an early adopter.

Robert Kosobucki, senior consultant at Insyte Consulting, was a Panasci advisor to the winning team, and Mark Swihart, UB Distinguished Professor of chemical and biological engineering, is a co-founder and technical advisor to the company. The technology was developed under his supervision.

In-kind awards for the winning team include legal services from Bond, Schoeneck & King PLLC; accounting services from Lumsden McCormick LLP; human resource startup services from the People Plan by HR Foundations Inc.; business development services from the UB Office of Economic Development; and office space from North Forest Office Space.

The second-place team, Bernard Cohen and Joseph Ricciardi, both BS/MBA students in engineering and management, and Joseph Barrios, a School of Management finance undergraduate student, will collect $10,000 for their venture, Chip-Down, a portable, golf-inspired chipping game that uses a specially engineered, adjustable golf wedge.

All finalists will be offered co-working space in dig, located in the Thomas R. Beecher Jr. Innovation Center.

Pared down from 33 first-round pitches, five teams of finalists delivered 10-minute presentations at UB’s Center for the Arts and were evaluated on how well they described the feasibility and marketability of their venture, proved the need for their product or service and presented potential sources of capital.

Other new venture ideas included an application that connects users with available storage space for their short- and medium-term storage needs; a platform that provides automated, real-time patient tracking and surgical staff notification tools to streamline the perioperative procedure; and a cloud-based application used to capture and preserve a family’s oral history.

Serving as judges for the final event were Dan Greene, director of operations, 43North; Marnie LaVigne, president and CEO, Launch NY; Dan Penberthy, executive vice president and CFO, Rand Capital Corp.; Tom Sass, director of consumer markets, BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York; and Matthew Wagner, executive vice president, Solidifi. Also, Kevin Clarke, retired chair and CEO, Niko Resources Ltd., reviewed the written plans to help choose the finalists.

Now in its 17th year, Panasci TEC was created by the UB School of Management and the UB Office of Economic Development and is funded with a $1 million endowment from the late Henry A. Panasci Jr. to facilitate and promote the commercialization of UB-generated technologies.

Panasci TEC provided coaching and mentoring to participants to prepare them for their pitches. In addition, both winning teams and several other participants took advantage of the burgeoning entrepreneurship ecosystem at UB, through such innovative opportunities as the Blackstone LaunchPad at UB, a campus-based entrepreneurship program that supports and mentors students, staff and alumni, and the eLab, a hands-on, 3-credit course that helps develop skills needed to launch a new venture. 

Hosted by the UB School of Management’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, the event brings together UB students from science, technology, business and other disciplines to maximize their potential and create viable businesses in Western New York.

The UB School of Management is recognized for its emphasis on real-world learning, community and economic impact, and the global perspective of its faculty, students and alumni. The school also has been ranked by Bloomberg Businessweek, Forbes and U.S. News & World Report for the quality of its programs and the return on investment it provides its graduates. For more information about the UB School of Management, visit mgt.buffalo.edu.

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