New York Business Plan Competition

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2014 Capital Region Semifinal Competition Judges

The 2014 New York Business Plan Competition is pleased to introduce the investors that will be evaluating the 30 teams competing in the Capital Region Semifinal Competition. The judges are a mix of investors and industry experts, including venture capitalists, angel investors, investment bankers, other sophisticated public and private investors, and seasoned entrepreneurs – all of whom have years of experience investing in their respective industries.

  • Peter Wohl, Chief Performance & Innovation Officer, SEFCU
  • Mark Austin, Venture Partner, Bright Capital
  • Clayton Besch, Director, Small Business Technology Investment Fund, Empire State Development
  • Mel Chudzik, Investor, Eastern New York Angels
  • James Groelinger, Managing Director, Bellegrove Associates
  • Michael Hickey, Investor, Eastern New York Angels
  • Reid Hutchins, Principal, Advantage Capital Partners
  • Michael Lasch, Managing Director, Pine Street Capital Partners
  • Steve Lobel, Investor, Eastern New York Angels
  • J. Peter Lynch, President, Salem Financial
  • Robert Manasier, CEO, In Focus Brands
  • Les Neumann, Founder & CEO, iCANny
  • Robert Nichols, Senior Vice President & Upstate New York Regional Manager, Business Banking, First Niagara Financial Group
  • Richard Sleasman, Investor, Eastern New York Angels
  • Christine Tate, Investor, ARC Angel Fund & FundingPost Angels
Peter Wohl
Chief Performance & Innovation Officer

Wohl has held Senior Management positions in the public, private, and non-profit sectors during his more than 20-year career. At SEFCU, he is responsible for serving as the lead on projects that will improve organizational efficiency and leveraging creative ideas to move the credit union forward.

Before joining SEFCU, Wohl was a regional director at Empire State Development (ESD) Corporation where he was responsible for the performance of two ESD regional offices and the Harriman Research and Technology Development Corporation, managing state regional economic development investment portfolios, and coordinating the activities of the Capital Regional Economic Development Council.

Wohl earned a Bachelor of Science in human development and social policy from Northwestern University and a Master’s Degree in public policy from the University of California at Berkeley. He is currently a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council at the University at Albany School of Business and serves on the Board of the Center for Economic Growth.

Mark Austin
Venture Partner
Bright Capital

Mark Austin is a senior venture advisor, strategic development consultant, serial entrepreneur and seasoned executive with over 25 years of experience. For the last 15 years, as Managing Director of Chandler Reed LLC, he has provided insight with implementation to the CEOs, Boards and Senior Management of his clients. He combines the talents of a creative strategic thinker and a hands-on executive, with deep cross-functional expertise and breadth of industry experience to deliver practical insights, strategies, plans and follow-through. He serves as a Venture Partner with Bright Capital, a Board Advisor with iCLEAN, and an Entrepreneur-In-Residence with NYSERDA.

Mr. Austin creates impact to accelerate growth, boost profitability and realize value for cleantech, alternative energy and technology-based companies. Focusing on core drivers of strategy, marketing, finance, business planning, technology commercialization and intellectual property, he helps ventures and growth companies get traction, build momentum and secure sustainable competitive advantage. His work in the cleantech and alternative energy sector has encompassed a broad range including energy storage, fuel cells, solar, nanotech, energy efficiency, green building, composites / advanced materials, hydrokinetic, biomass, biofuels, waste to energy, gasification, water, hazardous waste detoxification, and sustainability. Clients have ranged from start-ups and VC-funded ventures, to public and private growth companies, to divisions of global multinationals and UN agencies such as the Sustainable Energy and Environment Division of UNDP.

Clayton Besch
Director, Small Business Technology Investment Fund
Empire State Development

Clayton is currently the Director of the Small Business Technology Investment Fund of New York State’s Empire State Development Corp. Raised in the Capital Region, he did his undergraduate at Hamilton College in Central NY. After years of advance education in Asia, earning a Masters at Nagasaki University and a PhD at Tokyo University, Clayton's focus turned to finance and investment. Experiencing the growth and evolution in Japan's bubble market and later in the Emerging markets he crossed from equity research to sales to the global investment community. He then moved to the Venture Capital world working with SOFTBANK's worldwide VC network for a number of years. After consulting for funds in the US, Japan and the UK, he most recently ran the Asian office for NYS’s ESDC in Tokyo introducing NYS companies to sales opportunities in Japan and Korea and introducing Japanese companies to strategic opportunities in NYS.

Mel Chudzik
Eastern New York Angels

Mel Chudzik teaches Strategic Management in the MBA Program at Union Graduate College that includes comprehensive business planning in the Program’s Capstone course. He also teaches a China Studies course that incorporates business research projects and a 12 day visit to companies and universities in Shanghai and Beijing. For the past 13 years he has taught MBA courses in the International MBA Program in the Antai School of Management at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Prior to his association with Union Graduate College, Mel Chudzik was with GE. During his last 15 years at GE, he was responsible for business and market development in a high technology business both in Europe and Asia. He expanded GE Asia-Pacific organization to over 30 offices, distributors and including three joint venture companies in Shenzhen, Beijing and Shanghai. He ran the Shanghai JV for one and a half years. In a four year period he increased the Asia – Pacific sales over 400%.

James Groelinger
Managing Director
Bellegrove Associates

Mr. James Groelinger is an international business and energy expert who focuses on technology development and commercialization. Currently, he is:
  • Executive Director of the Clean Energy Alliance, Inc., a national association of clean energy business incubators that focuses on providing practices and resources to its members;
  • President and CEO of InterCore, Inc., a publicly-traded company focused on commercialization of the ADS System, a smartphone app for early detection of a driver’s loss of alertness; and
  • Managing Director of Bellegrove Associates, a consulting firm providing strategy and transaction advisory services in the clean and renewable energy arenas.
Previously, he was CEO and President of EPV Solar, Inc., an amorphous silicon thin-film solar energy technology company, and Senior Vice President for business development for CHI Energy, Inc., a Stamford, CT-based renewable energy company operating in hydroelectricity, biomass cogeneration, wind, and solar. Before that he was a director of Putnam, Hayes & Bartlett, Inc., an international energy strategy firm at which he was involved in numerous activities related to energy and electric industry strategy and restructuring around the world.

Mr. Groelinger started his career as a process engineer for Monsanto Company. He has a BChE from City College of New York and an MBA-Finance from Temple University.

Michael Hickey
Eastern New York Angels

Michael Hickey is currently the Executive Director of the Stack Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Siena College and Chairman of the board at the Center for Economic Growth. Previously, Hickey was COO of MapInfo, President of Pitney Bowes MapInfo, President of Pitney Bowes Software, Chairman of the Albany-Colonie Chamber of Commerce, and Chairman of AeA's (TechAmerica) New York Executive Council. Hickey has highly competent experience in leadership, strategic execution, operations, and entrepreneurship. He has emerging experience in education transformation and economic development. Prior to MapInfo, Hickey worked at AlliedSignal (now Honeywell), for nine years, in various management positions. He has served on numerous private company and non-profit boards. He also is a current investor/member of the Eastern New York Angels an angel investment fund focused in the Tech Valley region of New York.

Reid Hutchins
Advantage Capital Partners

Mr. Hutchins manages Advantage Capital's New York investment portfolio. His responsibilities include sourcing and structuring new investments, as well as working with current portfolio companies. He currently sits on the Board of the Upstate Venture Association of New York (UVANY).

Prior to joining Advantage Capital in 2006, Mr. Hutchins served as a product development engineer for Advanced Micro Devices and prior to that as an engineer and manager with IBM Microelectronics. Mr. Hutchins brings operational experience in semiconductor design, manufacturing, test and production to the firm.

Mr. Hutchins holds a bachelor's degree in physics from St. Lawrence University. He also holds a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and a master's in engineering management from Dartmouth College.

Michael Lasch
Managing Director
Pine Street Capital Partners

Michael Lasch is a Managing Director and co-founder of Pine Street Capital Partners (PSCP), a private debt and equity fund founded in 2004 and based in Albany, NY. PSCP is currently investing out of its second fund, PSCP II, which was launched in 2011. From 1997-2004, Mike was a Director in the corporate and investment banking group at FleetBoston Financial in Boston, MA. Before starting his finance career, he served as a congressional aide in Washington, DC. Mike earned his MBA from Emory University and his BA from Holy Cross College. He is a 2007 recipient of the New York Capital District Business Review’s “40 under 40” award. Mike serves as a board member of three PSCP portfolio companies and is also involved with several regional non-profit groups including serving as a board member and past president of the Upstate Venture Association of New York and as Chairman of the Make-a-Wish Foundation of Northeastern New York.

Mike resides in Loudonville with his wife, Alicia, and their three children.

Steve Lobel
Eastern New York Angels

Steve Lobel is known as a serial entrepreneur. Since 1997 he has been responsible for sales & marketing at Anchor Agency, Inc. where he is now Vice President. Previously, he served as the University at Albany’s Director or Marketing after which he became Assistant Vice President for Alumni Affairs. He has also served as an adjunct professor, teaching marketing in the MBA programs at Union Graduate College and University at Albany’s School of Business where he still serves as a guest lecturer. Mr. Lobel’s Capital Region entrepreneurial activities span over four decades. He is best known as the founder of The Cheese Connection, which had its start in 1980. The business grew and moved to Stuyvesant Plaza where it expanded and was renamed Cowan & Lobel, a gourmet marketplace which became a landmark business.

At Anchor Agency, Mr. Lobel established a technology division to provide risk management and insurance services for emerging technology companies. He has developed specialties in Employment Practices Liability, Life Insurance, Professional Liability, Alternative Energy and other niche markets. He has attained the professional designation CIC (Certified Insurance Counselor). Steve has also been active in community affairs serving as director on the boards numerous organizations in leadership positions, including the Albany Symphony Orchestra where he currently is Chairman of the Board, The Community Foundation, Jewish Family Services (Chairman 1991-1992), Albany Center Galleries, Senior Services of Albany Foundation and too many others to mention. He was the founding President of Tech Valley Healthy Kids, an organization formed to bring mobile dental care to needy children in the Capital Region. In 2009 Steve has been the recipient of numerous awards acknowledging his civic activities including the Edward H. Pattison Citizenship Award for “his exemplary commitment to improving the lives of individuals through community involvement” by the Rensselaer County Chamber of Commerce.

J. Peter Lynch
Salem Financial

Mr. Lynch has worked, for 37 years as a Wall Street security analyst, an investment banker and a private investor in small emerging technology companies. He has been actively involved in following developments in the renewable energy sector since 1977 and is regarded as an expert in this field. During this time he assisted a number of renewable energy companies with private placements and public offerings in the 1980’s, 1990’s and 2000’s and has raised over $600MM for renewable energy companies in the Photovoltaics, Solar Thermal, Wind and Biomass areas.

He was the contributing editor for 18 years to the Photovoltaic Insider Report, the first publication in Photovoltaics (PV) that was directed at industrial subscribers, such as major energy companies, utilities and governments around the world.

He is currently a private investor and has from time to time been a financial/technology consultant to a number of emerging technology and renewable energy companies. He can be reached via email at or at his website for the promotion of solar,

Robert Manasier
In Focus Brands

Robert Manasier is currently CEO of In Focus Brands, a branded go-to-market firm, and President of IFP Films, a multimedia, multiple award-winning content creation firm. As a serial entrepreneur, Mr. Manasier has been involved in and part of over 80 startups and turnarounds. He created and developed the Diamond Point Co-Development Fund to assist intellectual property, services, products and new ideas to prove concept and/or get to market.

As a frequent speaker, consultant and player in the growing economic need for a stronger public-private synergy for startups and the economy in general, he has been a judge, investor and strategic/tactical partner in numerous nonprofits, launches, incubators, accelerators, university entrepreneur programs and business plan competitions. Mr. Manasier is heavily involved with regional economic development and recreation programs. He serves as a Saratoga Springs Recreation Commissioner, was recently named to the Saratoga Sports Tourism Commission as Chairman, is President of Saratoga American Little League, a StartUp Weekend organizer and facilitator, NYS Business Plan Competition Judge, a League of Dreams member who in his spare time volunteers as a coach for Saratoga Miss Softball, SALL, Jr. NBA and on multiple Lake Ave BLT PTSO Committees and school board initiatives.

Les Neumann
Founder & CEO

Les has been intimately engaged with technology based incubation, acceleration, and commercialization since 2005 as the founder and Managing Director of the Hudson Valley Center for Innovation, which is also known as iCANny. iCANny is a partner along with the SUNY College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering and Saratoga Technology + Energy Park in iCLEAN, the NYSERDA-supported incubator for energy focused technological development and commercialization.

A lifelong entrepreneur, Les has a passion for assisting entrepreneurs and innovators fulfill their entrepreneurial dreams.

Robert Nichols
Senior Vice President & Upstate New York Regional Manager, Business Banking
First Niagara Financial Group

Robert Nichols serves as First Niagara Financial Group’s Upstate New York Regional Manager for Business Banking, the division responsible for managing small and mid-sized commercial client relationships. In this role, Nichols oversees teams in Albany, Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo.

Rob began his commercial banking career in 1987, when he completed an 18 month comprehensive management training program in Washington, DC. Rob proceeded with a banking career that has included both line and management positions in Commercial and Industrial Lending, Commercial Real Estate and Municipal and Not-for-Profit Investment Banking. Rob joined First Niagara Bank in 2012, with his first responsibilities including managing the integration of business banking assets related to First Niagara’s acquisition of HSBC’s Upstate NY retail franchise.

Nichols received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University at Albany and his Masters Degree from Union Graduate College. He has also completed employer-sponsored Advanced Leadership and Commercial Lending programs through Babson College and Harvard University.

Rob lives in Voorheesville, New York with his wife Theresa, son Kyle and daughter Alyssa.

Richard Sleasman
Eastern New York Angels

Richard has been with CBRE-Albany since 1984 and licensed as a broker in 1987. Richard now manages CBRE-Albany’s Brokerage Services and Asset Services in the Albany, NY office. He became a Principal and Vice President of CBRE-Albany in 1999, Executive Vice President in 2007 and President/Managing Director as of January 2011. During his 30 years in brokerage, he has leased or sold over 9 million square feet of space. Installed as a member of the Society of Industrial and Office Realtors (SIOR) in 1991 with an Active Industrial designation, he was later elected the upstate New York Chapter President in 2001-2002, Membership Council Director in 2010 and recently served on its national board as Northeast Regional Director. He has served as president of the Commercial and Industrial Real Estate Brokers (CIREB) and was elected its Outstanding Member of the Year in 1996. He lives in Colonie with his wife Terri.

Richard has played a key role in the lease and/or sale of properties, both large and small, for clients in and around the Capital Region.

Christine Tate
ARC Angel Fund & FundingPost Angels

Christine Tate is an Angel Investor actively involved in early stage/seed investing in the Northeast. She serves on the due diligence committee of the NYC-based ARC Angel Fund and is a member of FundingPost Angels. Christine is active in the Upstate New York startup community as a mentor and event judge and serves as an EIR for RPI. She is involved in the NYC and Philly startup communities in events such as Funding Post, FashInvest and Early Stage East. Christine was an organizer of Startupweekend Tech Valley and a principle in a gaming accelerator and fund based in Troy NY.

Prior to becoming involved in startups, Christine worked for Cargill, Inc. in a variety of executive level positions, including Overseas Business Development based in Asia, Worldwide Audit, Tech and IT Development, and corporate level system and strategic efficiencies. She managed the financial and sales service departments of a $1B telecommunications company and served as Business Development Manager for an Asian manufacturing sourcing company.

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