School of Management alumni inspire with high-profile success
By Matthew Biddle
Rebecca Brady stood on stage last fall for the 43North competition. While most finalists pitched tech solutions, her products were different: a line of organic crackers stuffed with nutritious seeds.
During her pitch, Brady knocked out the judges with a one-two punch—her products were in 350 stores and her business, Top Seedz, was already profitable. And the taste? “One of the best crackers I’ve ever had,” declared one judge, a former Peloton board member.
In the end, Top Seedz won the $1 million grand prize.
“We plan to use the money to build a large facility that can produce 10 to 20 times what we can now,” says Brady, a 2018 graduate of the M&T Bank Minority and Women Emerging Entrepreneurs program, a joint venture by the School of Management’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership and UB Center for Urban Studies. “We’ve been growing with demand, but this will allow us to knock on doors and proactively approach new customers.”
Over the next five years, Brady plans to grow Top Seedz into a $100 million brand that’s in 6,500 stores—and do it all from Buffalo.
“Everyone eventually connects in Buffalo,” says Brady, who grew up in New Zealand and moved here in 2015. “If I have an issue, I know if I ask enough people, someone will have been through it before and have the answer I need. Then, I can make sure I have the answer at the ready when it’s my turn to help others.”
School of Management alumni launch and lead pioneering companies around the globe. But more than that, these innovators are making an impact on the entrepreneurial scene wherever they are—paving the way for others, too.
As CEO, George Chamoun is at the helm of the inaugural 43North winner: ACV, a technology company whose flagship product, ACV Auctions, is upending the automotive industry with an online marketplace that offers unmatched transparency. ACV went public last year, raising $414 million and taking its market valuation north of $4.8 billion.
“ACV proved you can build a tech company in Buffalo to massive, even bigger than unicorn scale,” Chamoun says. “After establishing this new standard, more entrepreneurs locally will believe their idea can evolve similarly, with the right support.”
After graduating from UB in 1997 with his bachelor’s in political science and a management minor, Chamoun co-founded Synacor, which eventually became a trusted tech partner for some of the world’s top communications providers.
Back then, Chamoun says Buffalo lacked the incubators or processes to help entrepreneurs catalyze their ideas. But today, thanks to the ecosystem built by UB and nonprofits like Launch NY—where Chamoun serves as chair—things have changed considerably.
“Now, the startup ecosystem is more robust, with a clear pipeline—you just need to work extremely hard and participate in the process,” says Chamoun, who received the School of Management’s 2021 Entrepreneurship achievement award and serves on the Dean’s Advisory Council. “I feel it’s my duty to pay it forward after the Buffalo community supported me when I was a young UB graduate with a business idea.”
On the other side of the planet, Ridzki Kramadibrata, MBA ’99, serves as president of Grab Indonesia. Launched as a ride-hailing app in 2012, Grab has since exploded in popularity, amassing 214 million downloads across eight countries. It’s now one of the continent’s most dominant super apps, with services from package, food and grocery delivery to cashless payments, insurance and investment solutions.
“In my role, I lead initiatives that help make everyday life easier for millions of people and empower entrepreneurs with technology to grow their business,” says Kramadibrata, who was honored with the school’s 2021 Industry Leadership award. “Every morning I wake up, I’m motivated and energized thinking of the incredible impact we make—and what more we can do.”
For example, Kramadibrata says because of traditional approaches and technology, most Indonesian food merchants are limited to customers in their area.
“Onboarding them to Grab enables them to tap into customers beyond their proximity,” he says. “They gain access to promotional tools and digital reports, and through those reports, they can learn what works and what doesn’t, and take necessary actions to make business improvements.”
Even in Silicon Valley—arguably the innovation capital of the world—School of Management alumni leave their mark.
Jarrod Tran, BS ’16, first moved west for a position overseeing inbound operations at a 1.3 million-square-foot Amazon Robotics Fulfilment Center. Next, he went to Tesla, where he helped launch the company’s 4680 battery cells. And today, Tran is at Apple, serving as strategic operations program manager for the iPhone.
“It’s such an exciting industry—challenging, for sure, but rewarding too,” Tran says. “There’s nowhere else in the world where you can be like, ‘Today we launched a car that drives itself or a phone that does augmented reality.’ It’s inspiring.”
All of Tran’s career moves started with connections he made—and, in return, he hopes to be that connection for other UB grads. He has mentored many students, both informally and through the UB Career Connector Network, and hosted site visits for the school’s Silicon Valley Tech Trek program. Already, he’s helped students find roles with Tesla, Amazon, Microsoft and other companies.
“A lot of times, tech companies can seem daunting, like there’s a pearly gate around them,” Tran says. “But there are some crazy successful people who went to UB, and if you break the mold, stand out and leverage UB’s alumni network, that’ll take you further than anything.”