8 Binghamton University Alumni Entrepreneurs That Will Motivate You

Posted by Carolyn Bernardo on July 14, 2017

With the recent opening of the Koffman Incubator, it’s a great time to celebrate Binghamton alumni who blazed the trail after graduating -- and worked hard to create brands, companies and new opportunities for themselves and others. Get motivated by these amazing entrepreneurs and happy innovating!

Ali Borowick Zmishlany ‘06
Co-Founder & Co-Owner of Fatty Sundays

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(Ali Borowick Zmishlany, left and Lauren.)

Ali Borowick Zmishlany co-founded Fatty Sundays six years ago with her sister Lauren. “Neither of us had intentions of being entrepreneurs! The idea and desire to start Fatty Sundays developed while I was working full time as a graphic designer after graduate school," said Ali. After two design internships and four-and-a-half years at Equinox, Ali decided to give Fatty Sundays a go.

“A few weeks after I left Equinox, and my sister's graduation, we both started working full time on Fatty Sundays! I love designing and branding, and I am still leading all of our creative efforts at FS. It was the challenge of starting a business and bringing our vision to life that pushed us to go for it.” Ali focuses on marketing, creative and social media aspects of their business, while Lauren focuses on production, logistics and operations.

Inspired by their mom's chocolate-covered pretzels growing up, the two started Fatty Sundays with the idea to "reinvent and modernize everyone's favorite sweet+salty treat: chocolate covered pretzels. I couldn't shake the idea of creating unique flavors and doing something different than what was on the market. We spent hours tasting, researching and brainstorming early on. When we started full time working on the business, we didn't write a formal business plan but instead just hit the ground running. We shared our product with anyone that was willing to taste it; we went around to local shops with them, and built a very basic website.”

Ali encourages Binghamton students to never say never! “If you have an idea or a dream, don't be afraid to make it happen. Your career path can take many turns after college, and some may even be completely unexpected -- and that's okay! It's up to you to carve out your path, make the most of it and make it what you want.”

The now Brooklyn-based company Fatty Sundays has been in business for six years and has been featured in US Weekly.

Corrie Wang ‘00
Author & Owner of Short Grain Food Truck

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(Corrie and her husband, Shuai Wang)

A food truck that opened by happenstance.

Corrie and her husband decided to follow a different path after finding their NYC careers were burning them out. “A friend said he was opening a restaurant in Charleston; we thought we'd pop down and help him," said Corrie. "It was only after we sold most of what we owned that our friend told us his restaurant was delayed...by about six months. Jobless in a new city, we decided to do our own thing.”

Finding brick-and-mortar spots too expensive, another friend suggested the pair open a food truck. “In the same week, we got married, opened Short Grain and I sold my book The Takedown. It was a crazy, magical, stressful time.”

Never wanting a job that involved staring at a computer screen all day, unless it was for writing, Corrie worked in restaurants. “I love the industry. Restaurant peeps are a bright, talented and sassy crowd. Did I ever expect or want to own a restaurant? Hell no! But I love the freedom of being my own boss. I've traveled more since opening the business than ever before in my life.”

It took Corrie a number of years to get published, and there were plenty of opportunities to quit, but “all that quitting does is give someone else an opportunity to step into the life you wanted.” So if you're pursuing a creative or difficult career, she says, “Work hard and keep at it, but also pick something that you enjoy doing for your day job. That way, if the big dream doesn't work out or takes (way) longer than expected to come to fruition, you've still enjoyed the journey. And you never know where that day job will take you. Like to owning a nationally acclaimed food truck in Charleston, S.C.”

In 2016, Bon Appetit Magazine named Short Grain one of the Top 50 Best New Restaurants in the Country. 

Denise O Fasuyi ‘14
Owner of Desire By Denise

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A Harpur College alumna, Denise is an up-and-coming fashion designer located in New York City. Her work consists of marketing her brand, attending galleries at New York Fashion Week, as well as participating and directing in fashion shows and photoshoots. She studies fashion trends to integrate into her new collection while using a mix of her Nigerian heritage and modern-day style.

When Denise was younger, she was interested in creating through illustration. “I remember traveling to the Brooklyn Public Library and reading every book I could find about sewing, fashion design, pattern making and more," she said. "Over time, I began sketching designs; creating outfits on paper, which came to life after I learned to sew. But it wasn't until sophomore year at Binghamton University when I actually put together my first collection of 20 garments, and did my very first fashion show.”

She called it ‘Desire by Denise’ (DbyD) and then started receiving requests to showcase her work at a variety of colleges on the East Coast. “I never thought that I would have the entrepreneurial spirit within me to build this fashion brand. But I guess for some people it’s just innate. I never planned to create Desire by Denise, but it definitely found its roots and developed while I attended Binghamton University.”

Aaron Cohn ‘11, MS ‘12
Co-Founder of LaundryPuppy
Owner of happybot.ai

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School of Management (SOM) graduate Aaron Cohn realized he had an entrepreneurial spirit during his freshman year at Binghamton University, when he and a few friends founded the ski/snowboard club The SnöCats. “I felt that as a student at Binghamton, it was easy to create something if that was what you wanted to do," he said. "My friends and I were in the Newing dining hall when we decided to start that venture. That’s where I got my first real taste of doing something entrepreneurial.”

As the founder of happybot.ai, Aaron’s main focus is keeping offices across the country productive and positive. While working at happybot, Aaron became very interested in ‘conversational commerce,’ the idea that instead of conducting business via the web and apps, you can simply send a text and obtain what you need. “In the last 10 years, buying items has become far more complicated than it should be. At the end of the day, the app that you use most on your phone is your text messaging. There’s something very simple about being able to send a text and check an item off your to-do list.”

Aaron started with SnöCats, co-founded LaundryPuppy, founded ‘happybot’ and is now the Customer Experience Lead at Dirty Lemon, and teaching entrepreneurship at Binghamton University. If you’re looking for advice on starting a business, Aaron is your go-to guy!

James Orband ‘11, Lee Rogers ‘12, David Simel ‘11, Adam Sabol ‘11 & Dave Brosius
Co-Founders & Co-Owners of CommuniKey & Key Branding Labs

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(From left to right Adam Sabol, James Orband, Lee Rogers, David Brosius, and David Simel.)

When Adam Sabol and Jimmy Orband met in Leadership 353 at Binghamton University, they had no idea their meeting would change the course of their careers, and ultimately their lives. Jimmy and Adam realized they wanted to start a business right out of college.

“We had found that our classmates knew nothing about Binghamton outside of the parkway and State Street," said Jimmy. "We saw so many students missing out on all of the local businesses. So I found a few partners who all knew the area really well, and we developed our idea: a discount program for students at local businesses.”

Five days after they graduated in May 2011, they created the LLC for CommuniKey and began signing businesses. From 2011 to 2013 it was a plastic card that students could buy for $10 and use to get a discount at the 38 businesses that had signed up. Once digital took over in 2014, CommuniKey switched from a card to an app and went from 60 businesses to 120.

Then a new business was born. The team was realizing that their efforts to promote CommuniKey via social media was working well, but found their other clients needed help in that space. “In the winter of 2014, we began drawing up packages for social services, and landed our first client the following spring. We learned first-hand how to use social for business. It was trial and error, but we learned fast. It’s powerful to say, ‘Here is what we’ve done and here is what we know works.’”

Jimmy knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur when he wrote his essay to get into Binghamton. Adam didn’t know what he wanted to do after college, but he did know he wasn’t going to sit in meetings day in and day out. Since 2014, Adam has been working at Key Branding Labs full time, with his other partners working part time and often times more than part time. “Until you need it, it’s never going to be something for you. With full-time jobs, the businesses we ran were just icing on the cake; it was additional success. But if you really want your venture to succeed, you need to focus on making that success happen full time.”

Elliott Masie ‘72
CEO & Lead Investor of MASIE Productions

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As the owner of MASIE Productions, Elliott Masie understands what it means to be an entrepreneur. “Almost every successful entrepreneur I know is not doing it for the sole purpose of making money," he said. "I grew up in New York City. When I was younger, my father brought me to a small drug store and said, ‘The owner doesn’t make much money, but he likes running the business.' That’s the braincell that I have. Some productions close and we won’t make a penny, but you can’t be a producer because you want to make money; you’re a producer because you want to make art.”  

As the CEO and Lead Investor of MASIE Productions, Elliott brings decades of experience to the world of Broadway and theater, and he found his love for theatre while at Binghamton University during the ever-changing 60’s. “There were 3,500 students attending when I started, which made it an ideal place for people to gather together during a heightened time of social change. I correlate my passion for that change with what happens in theatre. Moving people’s hearts and changing their minds and souls -- Binghamton was clearly part of that movement in my life.” As a result, Elliott is deeply involved in productions that are both dramatic and impactful on social issues.

Elliott found skills and passion for entrepreneurship and theatre through his experiences at Binghamton. "I came away with some wonderful skills that I still use today. One of my most difficult courses was statistics. I failed the class the first time and then took it again and passed it. I know for a fact that I couldn’t be a good businessman today if I hadn't retaken that course and worked to get the statistical knowledge from that experience.”

And outside of the classroom? Elliott learned how to better understand life and culture away from New York City, and appeal to people unlike him. “Just the culture of Binghamton and the Southern Tier as a whole helped me figure out how to reach out and connect with people that are so different from me, which is really what you do in theatre to appeal to a wide range of audiences. I would attribute a lot of what I became to Binghamton University.”

MASIE Productions has played a key role as producer and/or investor in six Broadway-focused shows, including Kinky Boots, Allegiance, MacBeth with Alan Cumming, The Trip to Bountiful, Somewhere in Time, Chinglish and Godspell. Over three decades, MASIE Productions has created, produced and hosted global corporate conferences and shows including: Learning 2013, Interactive, Leadership Development and other key topics.

Faisal Farooqui ‘99
Founder & CEO of MouthShut.com

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It wasn’t until his junior year that Faisal Farooqui ‘99 started his journey to eventually becoming the founder and CEO of India's largest review platform, MouthShut.com The internet was evolving, and it was a time when startups were challenging brick and mortar businesses. Fascinated by the concept, Faisal began to pursue courses in computer science and decided to major in management information systems and finance.

His 'aha' moment, however, happened during a class he took in magazine writing taught by Paulette Hackman within the Rhetoric Department. It was then that the idea of setting up a review platform struck his mind. “Looking back, it wasn’t really a ‘eureka’ moment, but perhaps more of a process of evolution," he said.

Then placement season began and Faisal was fortunate to have offers from several companies that came to recruit. “While I took the best job offer, I continued to harbor the dream of starting my own company all this time.”

The following year, Faisal left for a trip to Mumbai, India. No sooner did he arrive, did he discover the thriving Indian internet ecosystem. After soul searching, Faisal made up his mind. He was quitting his job and would begin working on his idea of a consumer review platform, bringing MouthShut.com into existence in 2000. “At MouthShut.com, I am hands-on and involved with product design, technology and recruitment. I believe that hiring the best people is the key to any successful venture. When I launched the company, I found it tough. The initial years were full of challenges, and every possible challenge one can imagine and endure! I feel Binghamton prepared me to handle some of these challenges.”

Faisal urges students to dream big and never settle. “Settling in a complacent and comforting job might be tempting, but not pursuing your dream can leave you bereft of satisfaction. Ask any successful entrepreneur and he will tell you that chasing his dream is the foremost objective. None of the CEOs today settled on a conventionally secure life. They succeeded because they believed in their dreams and were ready to fail.”

David Whalen ‘05
Owner of Binghamton Hots

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(David Whalen pictured far right.)

Alumnus David Whalen realized he had an entrepreneurial spirit when the urge to work for himself began gnawing at him as a student in the School of Management. However, like most students, David wasn’t entirely sure what path he would take to make it happen. “I always enjoyed cooking, so I began to do catering to earn a little extra money while I was in school and quickly realized how lucrative and satisfying it could be to work for myself," he said.

After graduation, David held several jobs -- from marketing and sales, to project management -- but never lost the desire to run his own business. In 2010, Binghamton’s downtown started to revitalize, and with the Downtown Center and Hawley Street apartments opening, David noticed things we’re taking a turn. “It seemed like a perfect opportunity for an entrepreneur to get in on the ground floor of the downtown resurgence. So we jumped on it!” Unsure of whether the restaurant business was a venture he wanted to take on, David and his team found their space and their target demographic: Binghamton University students.

“Having been a student just a few years prior, I realized students we’re going to need somewhere to eat late! We planned our menu and hours accordingly, featuring 'Hot Plates,’ (The Binghamton version of the famous Rochester “Garbage Plates”) and all manner of fried foods, staying open until 1:30 am on weekdays and 3:30 am on weekends.” With a quick-serve business model and the aim to serve high-quality food in a fun atmosphere, and fill a late night niche, Binghamton Hots opened in August 2011. “The late night business grew steadily and developed a quick following among Binghamton students. Looking back, I'm very glad I decided to stick to my guns and continue working towards the vision I had for Hots."

David continues to stay connected to his alma mater. “I've always tried to stay involved with organizations on campus, forging relationships and teaming up for philanthropic events. I believe it's incredibly important we give back to our patrons and the Binghamton students as a whole. That is especially true for me with such a strong connection to the University (as an alumnus) and the Binghamton area."

David still does catering, and recently took on the lunch venture. The restaurant is now offering options like salads, soup and daily specials to their menu. 

Are you or is someone you know a Binghamton University Alumni entrepreneur? Contact Carolyn at bernardo@binghamton.edu to be included on this list or on the next alumni entrepreneurs blog. And follow us on social!

Carolyn Bernardo is an alumni engagement social media coordinator at Binghamton University. As a Binghamton native, she is passionate about the area and the University. One day you might run into her fulfilling her dream (of being a mascot) as Baxter the Bearcat. Paws crossed!

Have questions, comments or concerns about the blog? Email us at social@binghamton.edu.