Jada Ivey, Jonah Christakis, Jamison Pomroy, and Olivia Harbol at competition

Bank of America Grant Boosts Buffalo State Student Entrepreneurs


Buffalo State University student entrepreneurs once again had the opportunity to participate in the annual New York Business Plan Competition (NYBPC), an intercollegiate Shark Tank-like competition where students pitch innovative business ideas to judges for monetary prizes, thanks to a two-year, $57,000 grant from Bank of America.

The grant, which covered travel and lodging expenses, also supported the hiring of a program coordinator for the Small Business Development Center (SBDC)’s Bengal Entrepreneurship Program (BEP) in 2023. The SBDC guides students in developing proposals to submit to the competition.

“All students—undergraduate or graduate—are welcome to come to any of our sessions,” said Olivia Harbol, ’18, SBDC business advisor and BEP program coordinator. “We meet once a week all semester long. From there, it’s up the students to decide if they want to compete.” 

The grant also funds an SBDC student internship for research assistant Jamison Pomroy, a junior computer information systems (CIS) major, who helps Harbol and BEP participants.

“These internships give students the experience of a professional job,” Harbol said. “They are able to learn event planning, marketing techniques, and presentation skills.”

Of the five Buffalo State students who competed in the regional round of NYBPC, three were selected for the semifinals, and two—Jonah Christakis and Jada Ivey—advanced to the final round in Albany, accompanied by Harbol and Pomroy.

“Bank of America supports the Buffalo State University Bengal Entrepreneurship Program to help students gain important real-world business and leadership training, promoting economic growth, and encouraging a new generation of entrepreneurs,” said Ted Janicki, president of Bank of America Buffalo Niagara. “Congratulations to this year’s students for their stellar performances, and we look forward to seeing the continued impact of this program at Buffalo State University and in our community.”

“The Bank of America funding alleviates any financial burden on students having to travel to the statewide competition, which requires an overnight stay,” Harbol said. “The students only have a week to prepare to go on to Albany, so it can put a toll on finances. Thankfully, they didn’t have to stress about that and could focus solely on preparation.”

At the state competition, Christakis and Ivey had eight minutes to pitch their businesses to the judges. After the pitches, entrepreneurs fielded six minutes of judges’ questions on value propositions, management capability, and what sets them apart from industry competitors. 

Unlike some participants, Christakis and Ivey were not just pitching proposed ideas. Their businesses are fully operational. 

Jonah Christakis presents at competition

Jonah Christakis presents at NYBPC 2024.

Christakis, a senior business administration major, is the owner of 716 Corporate Housing. The business provides temporary housing for a variety of visitors, including medical professionals, academics, and those who have been displaced by fire or other disaster. The company matches renters with properties and assists with their ongoing needs. Since acquiring its first property in July 2023, 716 Corporate Housing has grown its rental capacity to 13 homes throughout the city. 

While working in a previous position in property management, Christakis identified the unmet need his business now fills. “People were asking for this,” he said. “Now, we house pretty much anyone looking for a furnished rental for several months.” 

Christakis said NYBPC was a great opportunity to work not only on public speaking, but also on his ability to explain his business. “My business is very niche,” he said. “My pitch needed to be super clear and concise for people to understand.”

Christakis’s plans include partnerships with additional Buffalo homeowners and more affordable offerings to help 716 Corporate Housing become the top choice for visiting professionals.

Ivey, a freshman fashion merchandising major, is the owner of XII XXI, a sustainable clothing brand that sells handmade upcycled pieces that incorporate recycled fabrics, garments, and denim. She sources pieces from thrift stores and secondhand shops and does all deconstruction, reconstruction, patchwork, and distressing herself. The business officially launched in December 2023 and currently operates online; this summer, it will have a stall at Niagara Street’s West Side Bazaar.

At NYBPC, Ivey made valuable connections—both with nonprofit venture development organizations like Launch NY and with other entrepreneurs—that will serve her as she works toward goals of partnering with recycling organizations and opening a storefront. 

“I connected with two other entrepreneurs with sustainable fashion businesses,” she said. “We plan on creating a Zoom call so we can learn more about each other and how we can all be successful. Especially all being sustainable businesses, we want to bounce off each other’s ideas.” 

 “Young entrepreneurs are the future; it’s where we’re going.” 

- Olivia Harbol, ’18, SBDC Business Advisor and BEP Program Coordinator

Although neither Christakis nor Ivey placed in the final round of competition, they agreed the takeaways were invaluable. 

“I learned that a lot of people have the same motivation and drive to earn money and connections for their businesses,” Ivey said. “You really have to know your information and your business top to bottom.”

“Hearing what other people are doing helped inspire me to have a different outlook,” Christakis added. “No one there was like me—no one had the same story; no one had the same business. We were all different.”

Ivey credits BEP with giving her the skills to compete in NYBPC. “I didn’t have a lot of knowledge when it came to business and financial literacy,” she said. “Coming here and being able to branch out and learn how to run a business has been very impactful and helpful.”

“These students are challenging themselves beyond the classroom or traditional club or sports team,” Harbol said. “Young entrepreneurs are the future; it’s where we’re going. It’s great to be able to help shape them into awesome entrepreneurs or individuals.”

About Bank of America
Bank of America is one of the world’s leading financial institutions, serving individual consumers, small and middle-market businesses, and large corporations with a full range of banking, investing, asset management, and other financial and risk management products and services. The company provides unmatched convenience in the United States, serving approximately 69 million consumer and small business clients with approximately 3,900 retail financial centers, approximately 15,000 ATMs (automated teller machines), and award-winning digital banking with approximately 57 million verified digital users. Bank of America is a global leader in wealth management, corporate and investment banking, and trading across a broad range of asset classes, serving corporations, governments, institutions, and individuals around the world. Bank of America offers industry-leading support to approximately 4 million small-business households through a suite of innovative, easy-to-use online products and services. The company serves clients through operations across the United States, its territories, and more than 35 countries. Bank of America Corporation stock is listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE: BAC).

For more Bank of America news, including dividend announcements and other important information, visit the Bank of America newsroom and register for news email alerts.

About the Small Business Development Center at SUNY Buffalo State University
Buffalo State’s SBDC provides management and technical assistance to start-up and existing small businesses throughout Erie County and the Niagara Frontier. As a center with Buffalo State’s School of the Professions, the SBDC brings together the resources of SUNY Buffalo State, the private sector, and government agencies to counsel and train small businesses to resolve organizational, financial, marketing, technical, and other obstacles they may encounter. Any existing small business, firm, or individual may request assistance. There is no charge for direct counseling by the SBDC under this program.

From left: Student entrepreneurs Jada Ivey and Jonah Christakis, student research assistant Jamison Pomroy, and BEP coordinator Olivia Harbol attend NYBPC 2024 in Albany.

Photos courtesy of Buffalo State's SBDC.