The college's annual Launch It competition, which sparks entrepreneurial spirit and alumni connections among students, named its 2021 winners on Nov. 12.

The idea for the winning concept -- Hush Bracelet, created by marketing major Molly Bergin and finance major Robyn Kilts, who are sisters of Phi Sigma Sigma and members of the college's American Marketing Association chapter -- began on a September night when Bergin was walking home alone and catcalled by a stranger. 

“A guy yelled from his porch and he said, 'Maybe if you catch up to the rest of the college kids, you’ll be safe,'” Bergin said of that night on Oswego’s Bridge Street. “That really rattled me. Once I got to the back streets, I started running and I thought there has to be a safer way to let people know you feel like you’re in danger but it’s not always immediate danger.” 

Upon entering her idea into Launch It, Bergin asked Kilts to partner with her on the project, who agreed wholeheartedly with the need for the concept. 

“When Molly came to me with the idea, I loved it, because I completely feel the same way,” Kilts said. “I have a keychain on a ring that if you pull it, it sounds an alarm, but if there is no one around, nothing will happen. When she told me her idea, all I thought was, ‘This is genius!’”

Collaborative concept

The Hush Bracelet contains two main technological concepts, an app and GPS signaling within the bracelet. Bergin and Kilts said they asked their friends who are technology majors to troubleshoot the technological aspects of their design to make sure what they were envisioning was accurate and could be carried out upon production.

“It’ll be connected to an app which is how you’d be able to contact people primarily. If you push the bracelet once, it notifies friends and family that you feel like you’re in danger, but that you don’t necessarily need to be picked up at that moment,” said Bergin. “The second time you hit it, it starts tracking your location while still notifying friends and family. And then the third time you hit it, it notifies 911 and sends them your location.” 

The app would also allow users to create and activate different profiles containing different contacts depending on your location. The example provided by Bergin and Kilts was that of a “School Profile” and “Home Profile” for college students.

The Hush Bracelet is designed to be sleek and unassuming, and would mirror designs like a FitBit or Apple Watch to not attract attention in cases of attack or emergencies. 

“Say you have a diamond bracelet on your hand, someone who is trying to rob you would take that,” said Kilts. Bergin and Kilts also noted that upon attacks or robberies that your purse and phone are more likely to be taken or hidden and therefore, individuals with a Hush Bracelet will still have a way to contact emergency assistance without notifying their assailants. 

Although the concept of their idea was targeted toward women, the Hush Bracelet can be for anyone. “There were a lot of technical logistics behind it, but the concept itself was really appealing to all of the judges,” said Irene Scruton, assistant dean in the School of Business, which hosts the competition. “It’s not just limited to young women, it could be useful to elderly person walking or a child. It was a really appealing and really innovative idea.”

Bergin and Kilts also said that the Hush Bracelet could also assist anyone involved in domestic violence who need a discreet way to call for help.

For winning first place in the 2021 Launch It competition, Kilts and Bergin earned $2,500, sponsored by Riverwalk. Kitts and Bergin plan to use their winnings to patent the Hush Bracelet and enter the 2022 New York State Business Plan Competition.

Launch It 2021

This year, Launch It was a hybrid event with judges, students, faculty, alumni and guests participating both in person in Rich Hall and virtually through Zoom. However, one thing remained consistent -- the spirit of entrepreneurship and involvement from enthusiastic alumni. 

“We have a history of building an entrepreneurial ecosystem here at SUNY Oswego,” said Scruton, who is a key organizer and also directs the college's MBA programs. “SUNY Oswego’s Launch It is unique in that we have intensive involvement from our alumni. We offer alumni coaching in the development of the idea, and we offer alumni mentoring -- one-on-one -- to the final development of the idea and pitch. As far as I know, there aren’t schools that have that level of alumni involvement.”

This year, over 30 alumni provided training and mentorship to students participating in Launch It. Scruton and the organizers of the event work hand-in-hand with the Alumni and Development Office to gather alumni from all walks of life, graduated degree programs and business ventures to participate.

“We have everyone from self-employed who are running their own businesses to those who are from the IBMs of the world. It’s a huge range of alumni experience in all industries,” Scruton said. “It’s significant alumni coming from all over the country."  

Scruton notes 1984 alumnus Mark Marano, CEO of Structural Integrity Associates, Inc. in North Carolina, went as far as traveling up to Oswego to have dinner with the finalists. “It’s fun to work with the alumni. They are really energized by the students’ ideas, energy and creativity,” Scruton said.

The Launch It Finals were the culmination of a series of events that began in October. In all, 31 students of all academic concentrations gave one-minute business idea pitches and submitted two-minute business introduction videos. These were scored by faculty and alumni who mentored them throughout the process. An online community via the Engage platform provides ongoing connections and advice for student participants. 

In-person competition judges included Ed Alberts, an Oswego MBA alumnus and founder of Wired and Riverwalk; 2006 alumna Sarah Mastrangelo; and Kevin McMahon, a 1978 alumnus and chairman and CEO of Edwards & Kelcey; as well as online judges Lisa Wodka, from Sherwin Williams, and 2007 alumnus Mike Davis.

On Nov. 12 at Rich Hall, the semifinal round began with 16 teams competing for a spot in the finals. The competition was then narrowed down to the top eight finalists who presented their business idea with a five-minute video pitch, followed by answering questions from the judges. Judges scored each team electronically and confidentially using a rubric of six business venture factors, including vision and story; identification of resources; clarity of presentation; and identification of target market.

“How well did you define the problem you are trying to solve?” Scruton said, “Is this something no one else has thought of? Or, is there a problem out there that you can solve in a better way than somebody else.” 

In the end, the 16 teams were narrowed down to the top three based off the scoring rubric. In addition to Kilts and Bergin winning the top prize, senior Sa’Cora Sneed earned the second-place prize of $1,500 sponsored by Sherwin Williams with their pitch for Accustom; and seniors Ianya Armstrong and Leah Clynes earned the third place prize of $1,000 sponsored by Wegmans with their pitch for Style Me. 

In addition, the remaining 12 teams that made the final 16 received $200 prizes.