Students qualify as finalists in nationwide Student Startup Madness competition

Avery Blasko, Staff Writer

University students Ryan Bailis ’21 and Michael Chen ’20 have been chosen as finalists for this year’s nationwide Student Startup Madness (SSM) competition. Bailis and Chen’s startup, The Acme Fellowship, is a networking platform that aims to connect nonprofits, alumni, and students. After participating in the University’s annual BizPitch competition, Bailis and Chen were encouraged to enter SSM by Steve Stumbris, director of the Small Business Development Center in Lewisburg.


According to Bailis, in their preliminary research, the pair discovered that many students seek a “real-world, long-term project to harness the power of their education.” They also found that nonprofits were seeking “additional resources to augment their community impact,” Bailis said.


“We still feel there’s a big disconnect in students trying to get enjoyable work experience while giving back to the community,” Chen said.


“We’ve always wanted to do something that would resonate with the campus community and give students a way to explore service organizations and NGOs while building their resume…Because Acme’s business plan is dramatically different from that of a standard for-profit organization, SSM was the perfect platform to showcase our hyper-connected community,” Bailis said.


SSM is a tournament-style competition that provides an opportunity for college-student entrepreneurs to share their startup with an audience and for their business to be seen by professionals. Students from any university can apply to SSM and, after two rounds of online competition, finalists are chosen. The final round will take place in March at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas, an event that brings professionals and entrepreneurs together to network and seek opportunities to grow their startups. Bailis and Chen will represent the University among competitors from 13 other top-tier universities.


“Coming from Bucknell, we were in a special position to launch a project like this due to Bucknell’s involved alumni base, curious and ambitious students, and partnerships with numerous non-profits in the area,” Chen said.


Since they participated in the University’s BizPitch competition, the pair had already prepared and perfected a pitch and deck when they entered SSM. The pair will travel to Austin, Texas in March to pitch their startup to well-known entrepreneurs and compete against other schools to earn a spot in the “Entrepreneurial Eight,” which makes them eligible them to win prizes and gives them a shot at the National Student Startup Madness trophy.


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