Release Date: April 26, 2023
BUFFALO, N.Y. — A durable medical equipment manufacturer that develops assistive bathing technologies to reduce strain on caregivers and improve shower quality for recipients took first place April 25 at the University at Buffalo’s Henry A. Panasci Jr. Technology Entrepreneurship Competition (Panasci TEC).
The founders of RHM Innovations Inc. will receive $25,000 in startup capital and in-kind services valued at $40,000 for their company. The company is led by Courtney (CJ) Burris, a UB doctoral student in industrial systems and engineering and Western New York Prosperity Fellow; and Brandon Davis Burris, a University of Rochester doctoral student in biochemistry and molecular biology.
Inspired by personal experiences with family, the team designed its inaugural product, the Aide-ing Arm – a shower chair attachment that enables the caregiver to have complete control over the flow of water while the resident is seated safely in a standard shower chair. The product reduces strain on both the user and the aide during the bathing process, ultimately saving continuing care facilities time and money.
“What we've learned during Panasci will help us far beyond the competition,” says Burris. “In four rounds of pitching over the course of three months, we got feedback from business leaders and other founders in the Buffalo community.”
Notably, this is the not the first Panasci competition for RHM. The team first entered in 2021 and made it to the finals. In 2022, they took second place.
“The constant feedback has accelerated our growth each time we've competed, and the one-on-one coaching has been a big contributor to our success. Shout out to our amazing coaches, John Semen, Jack McGowan and Martin Casstevens!” says Burris. “We are so grateful for everything we have learned about business, our company, and ourselves throughout this experience.”
In-kind awards include business counseling from Atlas Alignment Growth Partners; legal services from Colligan Law LLP; accounting services from Lumsden & McCormick LLP; website development services from 360 PSG; product design and manufacturing services from Tresca; Intellectual Property legal services from Stake and co-working space from the UB Office of Business and Entrepreneur Partnerships.
In second place were Dominic LaVigne, a mechanical engineering student in the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and Daniel Chan, a business student in the UB School of Management. The team will collect $10,000 for Exergi, a company dedicated to the innovation and production of affordable clean energy products.
Spectators voted on a People’s Choice award that came with $1,000, which went to Kristen Kelly, MD ’23, Sara DiBernardo, Natalia Verde and Patrick Kelly for their company Totelly Lined, which produces adhesive, thermoplastic polyurethane liners to protect the interior of luxury handbags.
Panasci TEC provided coaching and mentoring to participants to prepare them for their pitches.
Pared down from 37 first-round pitches and 13 semifinalists, six teams of finalists delivered long-form presentations to judges and spectators on April 24. At the final event, they delivered 2-minute pitches, 43North style, to a panel of judges and other viewers, 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 a device that provides users with an easy, effective way to quit vaping; an intelligent inventory-management system powered by machine learning to reduce the cost of returns for e-commerce companies selling apparel; and a certification program to increase visibility and competency of LGBTQ+ individuals and allies in professional spaces.
Prior to the presentations, guests were immersed in a demonstration of UB’s impact on economic development in the region as various UB entities — including Blackstone LaunchPad, Business and Entrepreneur Partnerships, the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, Entrepreneurship Law Clinic, Libraries, Startup New York, the School of Management, and WNY Incubator Network — highlighted programs that develop the skills and cultivate the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation. The demo experience also featured “foodpreneurs” affiliated with UB’s entrepreneurial programs.
Last year’s winners, Malkijah Griffiths, BS ’19, MPH/MBA ’22, and Sonya Tareke, BS ’17, MBA ’20, co-founders of Team Real Talk, served as masters of ceremony.
Dan Buckmaster, BS ’18, MS ’20, (mechanical engineering), founder and CEO of Tresca Design and UB Western New York Prosperity Fellow alumnus gave keynote remarks. While the judges deliberated, the audience enjoyed a performance by rapper and UB School of Management junior Hayleigh Federowicz, who performs under the name LEALE.
Serving as judges for the final presentations were Dominic Costanzo, vice president of portfolio, 43North; F. Duane Conners, co-founder, CEO and board chair, WellConnected LLC; Marshall Lindsey, vice president, Sovereign Infrastructure Group; Ellenor McIntosh, co-founder, Twipes; Holly Nowak, president and founder, HMN Resources LLC; Dante Richardson, co-founder, Stooty; and Robert Tom, CEO and founder, LENAROO LLC.
In addition to the Panasci winners, 10 individuals received the Luminary Award, which recognizes friends of UB’s Blackstone LaunchPad who have contributed support and guidance to students in their entrepreneurial journey, and assisted with the development of the campus-based entrepreneurship center. They are: Joel Colombo, 360 PSG; Maura Devlin, 43North; Jonathan Garriques, JAG Media; Jessica Kruger, UB School of Public Health and Health Professions; Victor Paquet, UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; Kamal Patel, AirExpert and BootSector; Alex Pelc, Tesla; Terry Rice, business development consultant and contributor to Entrepreneur magazine; Jordan Walbesser, BootSector; and Mercedes Wilson, Sadie’s Relish.
Now in its 23rd year, Panasci TEC was created by the UB School of Management and the UB Office of Business and Entrepreneur Partnerships, 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.
Jacqueline Molik Ghosen
Assistant Dean and Director of Communications
School of Management