GENESEO — Two SUNY Geneseo students raced deep in this year’s New York Business Plan Competition, a statewide competition that pits teams from dozens of colleges and universities against each other in five separate categories.
Joe Luconte and Joe Edisel qualified for the state competition in the consumer and business products division for their LONR clothing brand after competing in regional competitions in April. The regional competition featured live presentations and a Q&A with judges held over Zoom.
Luconte founded the streetwear brand – think hoodies, t-shirts, crewnecks and sweatpants – in 2018 with her friend, Colin Griffin, after the pair graduated from high school.
“The goal of our brand and our apparel is to shed light on the negative relationship between society and mental health,” explained Luconte, a Rochester native who is studying business administration at SUNY Geneseo. “We have both suffered from anxiety and depression since middle school and continue to deal with these mental health issues. We created the brand to give voice to the neglected mental health community.
Luconte met Edisel through SUNY Geneseo’s VentureWorks program and began working together.
VentureWorks is an entrepreneurial training and networking program for Geneseo students. It includes classes, workshops, and events that engage the community of students, faculty, and staff on campus, as well as the off-campus community in surrounding counties, alumni, and parents. The program makes a point of prioritizing hands-on, experiential learning. The two Joes met in business professor Steve Brookstein’s “Idea2Venture” class.
“In this class, students work on developing a detailed business plan to launch a new venture,” explained Brookstein, VanArsdale president of the college’s business school. “A cornerstone of the class is what we call customer discovery. Students contact potential customers to validate their idea. In a non-Covid situation, these are one-on-one interviews. In the Covid situation, those these were done remotely.
In addition to customer discovery, students perform in-depth competitive analysis and develop five-year financial projections for the company.
“The format they follow is what any investor would consider relevant and informative when deciding whether to actually invest in a business idea,” Brookstein said. “In summary, the course is designed to provide a real-world experience.”
Edisel, who studies how to use theater as a way to teach children social skills, said he was drawn to the LONR brand through his own personal experiences with mental health.
“Growing up with an autism spectrum condition, I struggled to adjust to many aspects of adult life, hence my return to college,” said Edisel, who is 32.
LONR Clothing spotlights pop culture figures and other well-known people who are struggling with “human issues,” have overcome obstacles, or are “fighting an inner mental battle,” Luconte said.
“The purpose of our garments is to uplift the community and the people who wear them while supporting the mental health community in any way possible,” he said.
While the pair failed to advance to the final round of state competition, Luconte said he and Griffin plan to release another clothing collection this summer through LONR’s Instagram account: @lonrclothing.
“We plan to continue designing clothes for anyone who wants to wear stylish, comfortable clothes while supporting a cause in need: mental health stigma,” he said.
Edisel also hopes to continue working with Luconte on the brand.
“I look forward to continuing to work with Joe Luconte on LONR,” he said. “…I want to see this business through.”
Brookstein said that even though his students didn’t make the finals, passing the regional competition and being invited to the state competition “is a testament to their idea and their effort.”
More than 600 students comprising 269 teams from 55 colleges and universities participated in this year’s business plan competition. The Finger Lakes region had 38 teams from six schools competing in regional competitions with teams from the University of Rochester, Hobart and William Smith Colleges and Rochester Institute of Technology progressing to state competition with SUNY Geneseo.
The final round of the state competition will take place and the winners will be announced on May 7. The grand prize is $10,000. Other awards will also be given out in specific categories, including company-backed startups, social entrepreneurs, minority and women-owned businesses, veteran founders, and pandemic response. Judges will include venture capitalists, angel investors, investment bankers, experienced entrepreneurs and business executives.
According to organizers, the competition has helped launch more than 150 businesses and social enterprises since its inaugural year in 2010. During that time, companies that debuted through the competition have contributed more than $100 million in economic value, organizers said.