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Young entrepreneurs compete to impress investors

Tom Magnarelli

College students from across upstate New York pitched their businesses to an audience of potential investors. It was the end of a 12-week program called the Syracuse Student Sandbox, which mentors young entrepreneurs on generating revenue for their startups.

"Teams are coming out of the sandbox at the end of the summer already having some funding, already having products, already having some customers," said John Liddy, the director of the program he helped start in 2009.

Like Anthony DiMare, whose company Regattable built a sailboat that will retail for $24,000 and that can fit into two suitcases. It won the top prize of $1,000.

"It can hold two adults or one adult and about two to three children. You can definitely sail it by yourself, but you can also entertain people with it," said DiMare.

Ryan St. Pierre's company ElbowRoom  puts a heat scanner in a door frame to track, in real time, how many people are in a location.

"That information we think is really valuable both to businesses so that they can better understand foot traffic in their space and be able to adapt and improve their own efficiency as well as to consumers who will be able to use that to make smarter decision," he said.

ElbowRoom is currently raising $55,000 to expand their operation.

Liddy, the director of the Student Sandbox, says the measure of success over the last five years varies with the teams.

"Is it, hey I went out and got a bunch of venture capital? Which we have one team that's raised north of probably $2 million. Is it, I got a lot of customers? We have one that has over 150,000 customers. We actually have a couple that have over that. Is it, that I've been able to create jobs? We have a company here in town that's employing 20 people."

Judges picked one team to present their Internet company to the 2013 Startfast Demo Day to be held in Syracuse later this week. Organizers billed last year's Demo Day as the largest gathering of venture capitalists and angel investors in upstate New York.