AMSTERDAM, MECHANICVILLE – A pair of local startup companies claimed prizes at a technology conference in Buffalo last week that will help bring their prototypes to the market.
Aha! Solutions of Mechanicville won a $50,000 prize at the Jeff Lawrence Innovation Fund Commercialization Competition on Oct. 26, while Mohawk Machine Works of Amsterdam took home $25,000.
Aha! Solutions Founder and CEO Sara Hasan and Mohawk Machine Works Founder Mark Kowalczyk, each competing in the consumer products category, gave presentations to a panel of judges on Oct. 26 that included experts from FuzeHub, Phillips Lytle LLP, Empire State Development.
Hasan said she was taken off guard when her company won one of the contest’s second prizes for her step stool prototype.
“Honestly, I had watched the other competitors out there, and there was such a high standard from the beginning, that I really thought everybody else would bring a lot more value,” she said. “So I was not expecting to win, but it was a great surprise.”
Hasan first started the company in hopes of building a next-generation step stool with the flexibility to cater to people of all ages.
“What we’re making is just a better, safer step up — not just for children, but adults as well,” she explained, “so it’s for the whole family. You have so many things that are customizable these days — car seats can be adjusted, baseball hats can be adjusted. So, why can’t your step stool be adjusted? We have more steps for the younger kids and the steps can be folded in if you’re an adult and you’d still be able to get a closer reach to the area.”
Hasan, a pharmacist by trade, started Aha! Solutions in 2019 when she observed her young children struggling to use a standard step stool.
“When I was looking in the market to buy something for my daughters, I couldn’t find something that was lightweight, safe and customizable for their different ages,” she said.
The entrepreneur said the $50,000 prize from the FuzeHub contest will be highly beneficial for her company.
“This will allow us to go to market and place our first product order,” Hasan said. “We’re placing it overseas with a third-party manufacturer and once we get that we’ll start testing the demand. We also have to get some regulatory testing before we can even go to market with it. So [the prize] will help with the testing fees and that initial order as well.”
Kowalczyk said, while Mohawk Machine Works had hoped to receive $50,000 in funding from the competition, the $25,000 will go a long way in bolstering the company’s prototype, a new technology that quickly and efficiently cleans and dries large surfaces.
“We’re going to have to reconfigure a little bit because we weren’t awarded the sum we asked for,” Kowalczyk said. “The goal for this competition was for companies with a prototype that they’re trying to bring to commercialization and production. That’s still our goal because we have our prototype that we’ve demoed with customers. They want to buy, but as always there are a couple features here and there where we’re asked, ‘Can you do this or can you do that?’ So that’s really where we’re going to apply these funds.”
Kowalczyk said the contacts he made at the Buffalo competition will help further the company’s goals and noted that in August the company had a presentation in front of U.S. Department of Defense procurement scouts.
“Earlier this year, we were accepted into a defense department program where they look for upcoming businesses and try to get their technology in front of the defense department,” he said. “That’s something we’re really going after because everything we do benefits the defense department, whether it’s military bases or naval flight decks.”