By ALEXANDRA SACCONE
Undergraduate English major
Published August 24, 2023
Twenty-five UB student entrepreneurs have been named recipients of 2023-24 Western New York Prosperity Fellowships. The award, supported by the Prentice Family Foundation, is given to undergraduate and graduate students with an entrepreneurial drive who want to make a difference in their communities.
The award supports students at UB who are engaged with projects that will bring economic development to Western New York. Winners are offered up to $25,000 in scholarship and internship support based on financial need, access to development events and connections with fellowship program alumni.
The Prentice Family Foundation also supports a WNY Prosperity Fellowship program at Canisius University.
“These students were selected through a highly competitive selection process and awarded the most prestigious fellowship at the university,” says Hadar Borden, director of the UB’s WNY Prosperity Fellowship program. “You will notice that the students selected are accomplished both in and outside of the classroom as they are poised to be leaders in our community.”
Graham Hammill, vice provost for academic affairs and dean of the Graduate School, says it’s especially rewarding to have a fellowship cohort that represents so many different academic programs.
“The variety of interests enhances the fellows’ experience and understanding beyond their area of focus,” Hammill says. “Their diverse interests and perspectives will inform how they will contribute their talents to positively impacting economic development and job creation in the Western New York region.”
This is the 14th year of the Prentice Family Foundation’s support for local entrepreneurial students. “They have not only accelerated our fellows’ trajectory as leaders of the Western New York community, but their generous support has served as a catalyst for our campus to embrace cultivation of entrepreneurial support both in and out of the classroom — a key ingredient to the revitalization and sustainability of our region’s economy,” Borden says.
UB offers guidance for student entrepreneurs through Blackstone LaunchPad, a program directed by Borden. She is excited that many current and former fellows have crossed between the programs. For example, Dominic LaVigne, one of this year’s new fellows, serves as a venture coach and host of Blackstone LaunchPad’s Founder Stories program, where he interviews entrepreneurs about their journey in a raw and authentic format.
Last spring, LaVigne was one of three WNY Prosperity Fellows to reach the finals of this year’s Henry A. Panasci Jr. Technology Entrepreneurship Competition. His team placed second, earning $10,000, for its idea for Exergi, a company dedicated to the innovation and production of affordable clean energy products.
The fellowship program at UB is administered by the university based on its own specific admission criteria. However, fellows at both UB and Canisius must commit to working in the eight counties of Western New York for at least two of the 10 years following their graduation, thereby giving back economically to the region they have pledged to support.
In addition to a need-based scholarship, the new fellows are offered paid, credit-bearing internships in their field of choice to garner academic and professional experience. Fellows in these positions will work alongside and be mentored by upper-level management professionals in their field.
UB fellows will also receive access to a $2,000 enrichment fund to be used for personal and professional growth during their fellowship year. Fellows have used this funding to support their research, attend or present at a professional conference, and pursue a second internship experience with a local organization.
Msaada Nankumba, a student in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and member of the new fellowship class, says his experience with the program so far has been about “endless opportunities and building a solid community.”
“We are exposed to remarkable mentorship from business leaders and professionals in our community who have firsthand experience with the economic opportunities and challenges in Western New York,” he says. “The fellowship experience has not just been about exploring and learning more about our community, but also standing with and supporting it through our various community-based initiatives, such as the various volunteer activities we occasionally engage in."
This year’s winners began their orientation in May with meetings with entrepreneurs who shared their success with the Buffalo community. The fellows will take part in a two-day retreat this fall, as well as at least two networking meetings and additional skill-building meetings.
The names and photos of UB’s WNY Prosperity Fellows can be found on the Prentice Family Foundation website.
The application cycle for fellowship in the 2024-25 academic year will open in October.