Panasci Business Competition Winners Showcase the Intersection of Business and Innovation

Professor Cristiano Bellavitis and Ben Ford, FundWurx

On the Syracuse University campus, there are many ways to innovate. The Panasci Business Plan Competition is an excellent example of where innovation and business plans intersect. A campus-wide business plan event hosted annually by the Department of Entrepreneurship and Emerging Enterprises (EEE) at the Martin J. Whitman School of Management, this year’s competition was held April 14 and made possible by David Panasci ’80, president of DHP Consulting, who sponsors the first, second and third place awards, and Scott Friedberg ’14, founder and CEO of Gilded Social, who sponsors the Gilded Social Rising Entrepreneur Award. The competition is open to all students at the University, as well as those from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

“This year’s Panasci competition was a huge success. The number and quality of students’ presentations were unparalleled. We are also excited about the diversity of our teams and judges,” said Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship Cristiano Bellavitis, who also managed this year’s competition, “and I am confident that all the students who were selected for the finals will succeed in life, as entrepreneurs or otherwise.”

The 2023 Panasci competition awarded a total of $35,000 in prize money to the winning teams, who demonstrated the best potential for growth and attracting outside financing. All competitors submitted written business plans in the semi-final round, and the top teams were brought together to compete in the finals. Whether or not they were selected as winners, every finalist was given specific and valuable feedback from industry professionals involved in the event.

 First place went to Benjamin Ford ’23, founder of Fundwurx, a centralized platform that helps small and mid-size companies better manage their social impact initiatives. Many companies today struggle to manage and develop their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts efficiently due to a lack of resources—either in technology, HR staff, or outdated manual processes. Many company leaders understand that social impact is crucial for their employees and customers and see the value in building this into their company's culture. Fundwurx will empower businesses with an innovative product suite to seamlessly implement CSR into their business. The Fundwurx platform helps companies streamline and automate operations, find nonprofit partners to connect with through their advanced matching algorithm, and personally engage employees with organizations to either donate to, volunteer with, or join nonprofit boards. Fundwurx received a $20,000 prize, which they will use aggressively over the next three months to launch the platform with four to five beta testers, collect and analyze data, and determine what a phase two development will look like.

Second place went to Motolani Oladitan ’24 (A&S), founder of Tà, a virtual marketplace connecting African beauty and wellness brands with the diaspora. Tà makes it easier for consumers to discover and purchase high-quality, authentic African products. Tà’s mission is to empower African entrepreneurs, promote African culture and facilitate access to global markets. These unique qualities are what set Tà apart from its competitors, such as Sephora, making it a highly sought-after marketplace. Motolani’s hard work and dedication did not go unnoticed, and her parents even traveled all the way from Nigeria to see her compete. Tà received a prize of $7,500, which will go towards designing and developing the virtual marketplace, providing quality assurance and testing prior to deploying to launch.


Third place and Gilded Rising Social Entrepreneur Award went to Bailey Davis ’23 of ZEAL, a Web3 magazine focusing on fashion, art, and culture contextualized by emerging technologies. The main focus of ZEAL is to innovate within the magazine space by broadening the perspectives of Web3 and further down the line, introducing a new phygital magazine format. ZEAL received two prizes: one of $5,000 for being the Gilded Rising Social Entrepreneur, and $2,500 from winning 3rd place in the overall Panasci Business Plan Competition, amounting to $7,500. The first issue is set to launch Saturday, May 6, 2023, and the second issue later this fall.


The Student Entrepreneur of the Year award went to Jack Adler ’23 of Out2Win, which helps empower athletes with the tools they need to engage their social media audiences.

Judges for this year’s Panasci Business Plan Competition included: Bruno Gonzalez Hager ’21 G’22, Co-Founder, Head of Business & Brand Development, Illumenar; Jim Tylenda ’72 MBA, Executive Consultant, GVGroup; Nick Monzi ’11, Monzi Design; Jessica Falcone, Owner, Jessica Elizabeth Skincare; Emad Rahim, Co-founder and CSO at Conjure; Brittany Berry, Owner, Fractional Executive & Business Consultant; F. Jasper Massey, Commercial Loan Officer, Empower Federal Credit Union; Brandon Reiter ’16, Founder & CEO at Skyview CFO; Anas Almaletti ’14 MBA, Co-Founder/CEO, Cell Phones for Less, Inc.; Don R. Stanton ’03, Founde and Owner, Tanglewood Gardens and a 2003 winner of the first Panasci Competition; Blake Bossman, Scott Friedberg ’14, founder and CEO of Gilded Social, who sponsors the Gilded Social Rising Entrepreneur Award; Maithreyee Dube ’96, ’17 MBA, Manager, Enrollment Services, IVMF; and Ryan York ’06, President, York Wealth Management.

“We were very excited to see our community come together again for the Panasci Competition—a fantastic opportunity to celebrate entrepreneurship and its enormous positive impact on our lives,” said Maria Minniti, chair, Department of Entrepreneurship & Emerging Enterprises and the Louis A. Bantle Professor of Entrepreneurship and Public Policy. “This year’s nascent entrepreneurs and winners especially impressed the judges, successful entrepreneurs in their own right, with their innovative and impactful ideas. We are delighted to be part of their journey.”

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