By Vienna McGrain
Photo by High Tech Rochester
Two clients of the Venture Creations Business Incubator at Rochester Institute of Technology have won the top two prizes at the 2017 Rochester Venture Challenge business competition, hosted by High Tech Rochester. The winners were announced during the Celebration of Entrepreneurship Luncheon on April 27 at Hyatt Regency Hotel Rochester.
First place—Empire Medicinals, founded by RIT alumnus Qiaosong George Zheng ’15 (mechanical engineering technology), Chris Carter, F. Scott Valpey '03 (business administration management), Luke Luft and Dr. Xinmin Zheng, captured first place and the $25,000 grand prize. Empire Medicinals is a biotech manufacturer looking to advance health and well-being by modernizing traditional herbal medicines through the cultivation, extraction and packaging of USDA organic, natural medicinal supplements. Their first product, Lingzhi Essence, is a dietary supplement made from Ganoderma Lucidum mushrooms, which reportedly addresses issues varying from immune system modulation to relieving fatigue. According to George Zheng, the company deploys current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP), certified organic production, and lab testing of every batch to ensure the safety, purity and excellence of the product.
“The team is ecstatic, and we’re honored to have won, especially since we had such strong competitors,” said Zheng. “We’ve worked hard to get here, but we’re just getting started. The exposure from Rochester Venture Challenge will allow us to quickly close our current financing round. The capital will be used to reach ‘year one’ goals with an expected launch of our product, Lingzhi Essence, by early August. The team is also actively working on numerous grant proposals to further augment our R&D budget. We would also like to thank our mentors at Venture Creations—they are nothing short of amazing.”
Second place—ThermApparel, founded by Bradley Dunn ’15 (industrial design; pictured middle), Kurtis Kracke ’15 (industrial design; pictured left) and Crystal Mendoza Paulin ’13 (biomedical engineering; pictured right), took home $5,000 for the second-place finish. ThermApparel is a lower cost, discreet, flexible garment that assists patients with multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, cerebral palsy or other conditions by regulating body temperature in hot weather.
“Placing second in the Rochester Venture Challenge is more than just an honor. It is great to be recognized for all the hard work put into the business,” said Kracke. “The best part for ThermApparel has been the great opportunity to work and learn from the communities at RIT’s Venture Creations and High Tech Rochester. The contest will help speed up our transition from being on back order to being fully stocked. This will help us get our product out to those who need it.”
ThermApparel also participated in the Saunders Summer Startup program, sponsored by RIT's Albert J. Simone Center for Student Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
Venture Creations was created in 2003 to establish an environment in which new technologically innovative business concepts develop into new high-technology businesses. The incubator provides services to incubating companies, to refine and validate business models that match technology solutions with the needs of customers. It was also created to promote economic development and competitiveness in Monroe County and New York state by encouraging and facilitating the transfer of technology resources to the marketplace. Thirty-three companies have graduated from the incubator and together have created 466 jobs.
“RIT’s Venture Creations business incubator is proud to be associated with Empire Medicinals and ThermApparel, and we offer our most sincere congratulations to each of the founders and their teams for their work and dedication in achieving this goal,” said Richard Notargiacomo, incubator director. “The future is bright for these innovative companies and this designation is another testament to the spirit of entrepreneurship that is thriving at RIT.”