March 31, 2014

Young entrepreneurs pitch their dreams at PSU

Experts judge inventions, business plans




“I think the judges have a hard job today,” said Erin Draper, director of the Reh Center for Entrepreneurship. She noted that there has been 30 percent growth in participation since last year’s competition.

The event is held annually at either Plattsburgh State or Clarkson University. “The partnership is what really makes it a successful event,” Draper said.

Mark Dzwonczyk, one of the judges, was impressed. “Every year either I’m getting older, or the entrepreneurs are getting younger — and very sophisticated.

“There are a couple of standouts where I’m saying, ‘That’s an interesting business.’ I live in Silicon Valley, so I’ve seen a lot of businesses start up, and I’ve built some myself.”

Dzwonczyk regularly travels from California to the North Country for his role as CEO of Nicholville Telephone Company, which is installing broadband to sections of rural New York. He mentioned that his own experience has taught him to be open-minded about new business ideas.

Dzwonczyk was in Silicon Valley during the early days of Internet, and he recalled hearing about the ideas of Larry Page, co-founder of Google, and Jerry Yang, co-founder of Yahoo.

With a wry smile, Dzwonczyk said he recalled thinking: “Indexing the Internet — how is that a business?”

His conclusion? “You’ve got to think ahead.”


As presentations came to a halt for a lunch break, Congressman Owens addressed the crowd, referring to experience from his law practice in assisting businesses with patents, contracts and financing. He advised students to make sure that their ideas were marketable instead of just going by their own preferences. “It shouldn’t just be something I like, it should be something somebody else likes — and will buy.”

He also talked about what he called “figuring out how to share the upside,” so that if your ideas is successful, people who work for you will also benefit. “It makes for happier, better workers,” Owens said. “It’s important that people understand that you value what they do.”

He closed with a story of a White House event where he met the prime minister of Ireland, who shared this witty advice on speaking: “Stand up tall to be seen. Speak loudly to be heard. Sit down to be appreciated.”

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