Making All Students Happy at Blackstone LaunchPad’s Innovation Competition

Article Written by Caitlin Treacy

This weekend over 30 teams of student entrepreneurs competed in Blackstone LaunchPad's Innovation Competition at the University at Albany, SUNY. We attended and together with our vendors Denny's, Cinnabon, and Auden Albany, we made everyone involved a winner!  Auden Albany  and Cinnabon were participating in giveaways, and Denny's meals were provided to each and every student, faculty, and judge present at the event.

Auden residents enjoying the variety of giveaways


The Innovation Competition enables student-run startup businesses to showcase their companies and compete for prize money. Students are invited to submit a proposal under one of the five unique tracks to choose from including IT/Software, Social Entrepreneurship/Non-Profit, Advanced Technology, Products, and Services. Teams are then given the chance to pitch to a panel of judges in an environment similar to the TV show Shark Tank. The experience gives young entrepreneurs a valuable opportunity to improve their pitches and public speaking skills.

Round one consisted of a 10-minute pitch to judges, followed by a five-minute period for questions. The top two teams from each track were chosen to progress to the final round, where the teams had to give another pitch in hopes of impressing the judges.

One of the finalists during their pitch to judges and a crowd.


Jan Woodcock, Executive Director of Blackstone LaunchPad, said "The Innovation Competition went very well today. It was incredible seeing the true passion for entrepreneurship the participants had. I've heard students say over and over again that they're most fulfilled in their educational experience through the entrepreneurship program. That's our goal—to help students be fulfilled and drive themselves towards success."

Prizes consisting of money and services were awarded each round to help students get their startup businesses off their feet, with a total of $20,000 in cash and prizes given out. Amanda Dolan, with her company, RiboDynamics, was the grand winner.

"I'm so happy to have won after all of the hard work we put in and thanks to everyone in the Business School who has helped us out!" Dolan said, after finding out her team won.


“RiboDynamics is technology that extracts RNA, scans it, and then profiles it out, enabling you to see if the sample is infected or not,” Dolan explained. Dolan and her team have big plans for the future. “Infections wise, we’re working on mastitis in cows right now,” she said, “but we’re hoping to use it for diseases like cancer and HIV in the future as we grow our database.”

Denny’s General Manager, Jim Eilenberger, was on the panel of judges. “It was interesting,” he commented. “There were a lot of good ideas and energy. The big one that stood out to me was NutMeg's.” NutMeg's, who is also a MASH vendor, came in second place overall. The company creates specialty peanut butter in a variety of flavors. Check out our article about them HERE.

Jim Eilenberger (middle) with Blackstone LaunchPad Executives Jan Woodcock (left) and Rick Neff.


Denny’s supplied all of the judges and participants with free meals. “Our goal is to get more involved in the community. We love seeing students and their families coming into Denny’s on the weekends. We love being a MASH vendor and supporting the University at Albany,” Eilenberger added.

The top 2 winners, Amanda Dolan (back far right) and Meghan VanAuken from NutMeg's (front middle),  enjoying their Denny's meals with their competitors.


The competition was a great opportunity for students to get assistance from industry experts in starting their own businesses, and network with other professionals. We highly encourage all student entrepreneurs to enter next year's competition!

Woodcock’s advice for students interested in competing next year is to come meet with the advisors at Blackstone LaunchPad. “Early preparation is helpful,” he emphasized. “But passion is very important as well,” he added.

"We at Blackstone LaunchPad are very appreciative of Denny's gracious donation of meals,” concluded Woodcock. “It's a real gift!"