NU Alumnus Leo Schultz Leads Winning Team in National Business Plan Competition
November 14, 2017
An online fitness, nutrition, and health training program marketplace co-founded by College of Business Administration alumnus Leo Schultz was awarded $500,000 during 43North’s business plan competition in October. It was the only local company that made it to the finals of the competition, which awards a total of $5 million to startups.
Schultz’s father was a “serial entrepreneur,” he says, so it was natural that Schultz would aspire to launching his own business. Because his experience was in technology, Silicon Valley was the obvious choice to follow this dream so, the summer after he graduated from Niagara University with a degree in accounting and economics, he packed his car and drove to the West Coast.
There, he was offered entry-level opportunities with well-established companies, but decided that he would rather “make a splash” volunteering as a mentor for the Global Social Benefit Institute alongside top executives and venture capitalists, to showcase his work ethic and ability as a peer. He was attending Santa Clara University at the time as well, earning his master’s degree in computer engineering.
His plan paid off – his reputation caught the attention of venture capitalists in the area, who recommended him for contract employment opportunities with a variety of companies in the area, where he expanded upon his experience and found mentors in the business. One of those mentors introduced him to Oke Okaro, a well-known and highly accomplished technologist who founded ESPN Mobile and ESPN Interactive TV, and served as Bloomberg’s head of mobile.
Oke was ready to launch a business of his own and was looking for a team of young technologists to help him do so. Schultz, who was working with a team of his own by now, which included NU classmate Kevin Ryan, ’14, was the ideal partner. Together, they co-founded Burner Fitness in the fall of 2015.
That same year, the Burner team, including Schultz, who is the company’s chief technology officer, and Ryan, who serves as the company’s senior front-end developer, began relocating to Buffalo, where it found co-working space in the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and continued working on developing a prototype of the platform, which was completed in 2016. And just one short year later, Burner Fitness was among the winners of the 43North competition, defeating hundreds of entrepreneurs from around the world in obtaining capital to support the business.
The Burner Fitness platform is available on the web and as a mobile app. Personal trainers, nutritionists, doctors and/or any type of health or wellness experts can create, publish, and sell programs in the marketplace. The programs are then available to users on the Burner Fitness application, who can also access free tools to track diet and exercise, determine optimal caloric intake and nutrients to meet their goals, and gamify the experience for motivation. Each program has a community of users competing for and sharing results.
“Our industry is full of enterprise software that is focused on serving the gym, coach, or corporation,” Schultz said. “Our priority has been on the end-user experience. We want to be the Apple – not the Blackberry – of fitness applications.”
Burner Fitness has also gotten involved with the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus’ health initiative, piloting its technology partnerships with local corporate and population wellness programs.
“Our partnership with the Medical Campus is exciting,” Schultz said. “They have a forward-thinking executive team. Our pilot has the potential for saving millions of dollars in healthcare costs, creating jobs in the wellness industry and new access to wellness coaching and preventative care for thousands of people across Western New York.”
Despite their success, Schultz and Ryan have not forgotten their Niagara roots; in fact, they have linked the firm to the university through B.O.L.D. (Business Organizational Leadership Development), a business club they co-founded as students. B.O.L.D. officers Megan Rogers, a marketing major, and Domenic Conroy, an accounting major, are involved with Burner Fitness operations and plan to join the business as full-time employees after graduating from Niagara.
Schultz and Ryan also launched a “Silicon Buffalo” startup mentorship and workshop series at NU to expose students to the world of startups, digital media, and programming. The program has been successful placing students into internships with startup companies thus far. Schultz said that future plans call for up to three student-led companies to be created out of the program annually, and then linked with the Burner team’s venture capital connections.
Clearly, Schultz is ambitious—his goal is to build the first “unicorn” start-up to come out of Buffalo.
“I would be really disappointed if we weren’t the most successful Buffalo company, or even the most successful one as part of 43North,” he said.” That’s really my focus. We’re in a great place to scale this business—the product is already built, works well and its business model is proven.”
To that end, he is putting in 60-hour weeks and doing whatever it takes: “I call myself the water boy. I’m the person who does whatever no one else will do, and I’m completely okay with that.”
“I don’t think of work as work,” he continues. “It’s what I know, it’s what I enjoy. I wake up every day excited to do what I do.”