SPARK Entrepreneurs, an undergraduate club focused on promoting creative business ideas among UR undergraduates, held their first annual conference on Saturday, April 11. The Greater Rochester Entrepreneurship Conference, held in Simon Business School from 10:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., attracted undergraduates from UR as well as RIT, Roberts Wesleyan College, St. John Fisher’s College, Finger Lakes Community College and Alfred University.
SPARK Entrepreneurs is a newly rebranded student organization, club president Jesse Reichenstein said. Formerly, the group was known as UR Entrepreneurs, but they renamed their organization last year. UR Consulting Group split from the club at that time, to become its own organization.
Saturday’s conference featured a morning keynote speech from Wegmans Chief Information Officer (CIO) Dave DeLaus, who spoke about entrepreneurship in the context of his own employer. Wegmans was one of the conference’s main sponsors, along with UR’s Center for Entrepreneurship, UR Admissions and Sealing Devices, Inc., a corporation headquartered in Western New York that manufactures gaskets and sealants.
“[The Center for Entrepreneurship] provided a lot of help just with booking, event support, and then we had Admissions financially supporting us, along with Wegmans and Sealing Devices.” Reichenstein said.
An afternoon keynote speech was delivered by Sharon Napier, the CEO of Rochester-based advertising agency Partners and Napier.
One of the highlights of the conference was the Wegmans Challenge, a competition for undergraduate students. Competitors were asked to invent a method for a company like Wegmans to “leverage technology to either enhance communication with employees or with their customers on the other side,” Reichenstein said. He added that the club had been in contact with DeLaus and other Wegmans executives since February, and that the company had been extremely helpful in organizing and sponsoring the conference.
A team of students from UR took first place in the competition. Senior Nicholas Falcone, juniors Harshita Venkatesh and Ervis Vukaj and sophomores Jason Altabet and Connor O’Brien each won a GoPro camera for their winning proposal, an idea for a better way to coordinate employee shifts at Wegmans.
One of SPARK Entrepreneurs’ goals for the conference was to keep it accessible to undergraduate students. Saturday’s conference was free to undergraduates from any college, and although the speeches and networking events were open to the public, only undergraduates could compete in the Wegmans Challenge.
Reichenstein noted that SPARK Entrepreneurship has seen a lot of growth since 2013, both in activity and in membership. “[Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Jonathan Burdick] is all about entrepreneurship, and we saw a big boost in the freshman class this year,” he explained. Reichenstein said that SPARK hopes to make the entrepreneurship conference an annual event, although it might be moved to the fall semester in coming years.
Passanisi is a member of
the class of 2017.