In April of 2021, Startup Allegany launched the County’s first tri-collegiate business plan competition, the Startup Allegany Collegiate Competition.
The event was hosted by Alfred University and its Center for Advanced Ceramic Technology (CACT) and was organized by IncubatorWorks of Alfred, a state-of-the-art incubator offering services and facilities to foster the growth of entrepreneurial businesses in ceramics, glass, advanced materials, and related technology-based industries.
Each team pitched their business plan to a panel of esteemed judges who have all been entrepreneurs for a chance to win cash prizes among other opportunities.
Aiden LaCourse and his team won second place. We reached out to him to see what has happened since his win.
IncubatorWorks: Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
Aiden LaCourse: I am a 22-year-old student currently pursuing a Master’s in Business Administration at Alfred University, set to graduate Spring 22’. In Spring 21’ I received my Bachelors in Glass Science Engineering from Alfred University. I am currently starting a company called Glass Lab and will be producing what I hope to be the best reusable drinking straw on the market. I have always had a passion for entrepreneurship and am excited for the journey I have started on!
As I am very close to finishing up my MBA, there are many important decisions for me to make about my path moving forwards. As it stands, I am doing what I love the most and grew up dreaming about. I hope that my business is able to express that to my consumers so that I can continue doing this for years to come.
How did you learn about the pitch competition?
AL: Initially, I was lucky enough to be put in contact with IncubatorWorks’ Ashleigh Madison and MK Kellogg for a different project that I have been working on. They mentored me during my senior year of undergrad and recommended the pitch competition to me when I mentioned my straw idea to them. Afterward, they put me in touch with Dr. Morrison here at the University, who was leading the teams on our side as a portion of one of his courses.
Had you heard about IncubatorWorks before? What ideas did you have about them, or about the work incubators do?
AL: Before being mentored by Ashleigh and MK, I was not entirely sure what IncubatorWorks was. Throughout my mentorship and my time studying engineering at the university, I gained a huge appreciation for everything they have provided to me and the area and an even bigger appreciation for their business model.
What motivated you to enter the pitch competition?
AL: I have always had a passion for entrepreneurship my whole life. It wasn’t until my senior year of undergrad that I realized that I want to work for myself more than anything else right now. At the time of the competition, I was already researching and developing my reusable glass straw idea on my own. Being pushed by my previous mentors at Incubator, as well as Dr. Jason Morrison and Marty Metzger, at the University, I decided to join the competition for both the experience and the money to put towards my business.
Tell us a bit about your experience with the process.
AL: At first, my group definitely had a rocky start with our pitch preparations. Our mentors at the time, Marty Metzger and Dr. Morrison were both some of the most valuable assets we had. Coming from an engineering background it was also really beneficial to be connected with my teammates, Zachary Gloskin and Tajmaleeak Beckett. They were both very driven individuals and really helped to create a good pitch for my idea. Marty and Dr. Morrison provided us with the insight and tools to help me make a successful pitch because of their phenomenal backgrounds in business and entrepreneurship.
Having taken one of Dr. Morrison’s finance classes previously, I was very excited to have him oversee our project and to learn even more from him. It was honestly a really great experience, and one of the reasons I decided to take my education a step further and pursue an MBA this year.
Tell us about your project.
AL: In my second semester of junior year, I was taking a course called Engineering Design. We were separated into groups and our large assignment for the semester was to invent a product, a machine, etc, and I proposed an almost unbreakable reusable glass drinking straw to our group. Later in the semester, I was talking to my uncle, Dr. William LaCourse, about this idea and my project and he suggested that I take it a step further and make the surface bactericidal so that bacteria can not stick to it.
Doc has always been the person I look up to most at the University. While he is my Uncle, I also look up to him as a mentor. Both he and his wife, Patricia LaCourse, have given me some of the best advice and have been one of my greatest supporters throughout my education at Alfred. He has been an invaluable mentor and professor to me throughout my education and even now, and a large reason I am able to do what I am doing right now with the straws.
How did you prepare for the pitch competition?
AL: Before the pitch competition, I was lucky enough to have worked on my straw idea for many months prior to hearing about it. This gave me a great head start in the competition because my product was already thought through.
However, I only focused on the engineering and technical sides of my product prior to the competition with little business experience. Most of my preparations were entirely focused on these business aspects I didn’t explore before so that the judges can understand my product’s potential.
What was going through your mind during the pitch? Was it like you had imagined?
AL: At first, I was very nervous about my presentation and the pitch competition because I wasn’t sure what to expect from the judges. As it began, I soon became pretty comfortable with the process as other groups presented before me. While everything was basically as I expected, I did expect more critiques and criticism in terms of what the judges would actually invest their own money in.
And you won Second Place! Congratulations! What has resulted since your win? Where are you now with your project/idea?
AL: The biggest benefit that came with this competition was the ability to lease space from IncubatorWorks in Alfred. As part of my prize, I have my first 6 months for free at this facility which has given me a great head start on my business.
Since the competition, I have set up my lab in the IncubatorWorks building and am just about ready to officially launch my product and website. Right now, I am only offering transparent reusable drinking straws with the option of having your name, business, or any words laser etched alongside it for personal customization.
I am also talking with a few institutions, small businesses, and restaurants about bulk custom orders right now, with Alfred University being my first customer.
Have you continued working with IncubatorWorks since the competition?
AL: Yes! I have been put into contact with so many great individuals at IncubatorWorks and at the Alfred site. It is such a relief to have a supportive community of experienced people around me as I start this venture. Without people like Ashleigh Madison, M.K. Kellogg, Greg Saufley, Kimberly Barres, and the technicians helping me get set up, I would not be here right now.
I just recently signed the lease on some lab space in Alfred and am getting the manufacturing aspects of my business set up there. Things are progressing along really fast right now and I am hoping to be able to deliver the best reusable drinking straw on the market.
What hopes do you have moving forward?
AL: Moving forward, I hope to be able to scale up my business and offer a long line of colored glass drinking straws. I really want to make my business as sustainable as possible, while maintaining the highest quality products I am able to produce. As it stands, these straws will be multiple times stronger than any of my competitor’s products currently on the market.
What advice would you give someone else looking to enter the pitch competition? About working with an incubator like this?
AL: As a whole, this has been a very positive and impactful experience for me. It really pushed me to think differently and present my ideas in different ways. On top of this, the knowledge and experience provided by my own mentors have been absolutely invaluable. IncubatorWorks and all of its associates have such a wonderful outlook on our communities and a great appreciation for this younger generation as we begin to contribute and impact these communities ourselves. I would highly recommend this experience to anyone, even if you do not want to start your own business.
The insight and experiences I gained through this process and my previous mentorship are something I will always look back to.