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2 LI entrepreneurs win cash for start-ups

Rich Dallojacono, 22, of Selden, won $10,000 in

Rich Dallojacono, 22, of Selden, won $10,000 in the LI Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge. He'll use the money to develop an app to make restaurant service faster. (Aug. 16, 2012) Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

A moped rental service and a restaurant service mobile app took the top prizes in a new entrepreneurship contest on Long Island Thursday.

The two fledgling businessmen, Alex Tsunis, 18, of Port Jefferson, and Rich Dallojacono, 22, of Selden, each took home $10,000 for winning the Long Island Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge in the student and entrepreneur tracks, respectively.

The LI Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge, which was hosted by the Empire Facilities Management Group and Capital One bank's local office, allowed Long Islanders between 17 and 22 to submit their business ideas.

Sixteen contestants applied during the entry period in June and July, and seven finalists were chosen to pitch their business in front of a panel of six judges Thursday.

Tsunis' business idea, Port Moped Rental, is a moped and bicycle rental service based in Port Jefferson that would service tourists in the spring and summer.

Dallojacono's start-up idea was SERV-IT, a cloud-based mobile or tablet app for restaurants to use to shorten the time it takes for a waiter to place an order.

The entrepreneurship challenge was the brainchild of Joe Scaretta, the chief development officer and co-founder of Empire Facilities. Scaretta, who also judged the competition, said he wanted to help other entrepreneurs after looking back on his experiences when starting Empire years ago.

"What we didn't have was that support and mentorship . . . to define how we should grow our company," he said.

All seven finalists in the challenge were mentored by a Capital One business banker before their final presentation. The two winners will continue to work with their mentors, and also will receive help from an accountant and lawyers as part of their prize package.

Both Tsunis and Dallojacono said they plan to use the $10,000 prize as leverage to fundraise and gain more investors.

Tsunis said the backbone of his moped-rental business is nearly complete. He will head to North Carolina Friday to start college, and complete the finishing touches on his planned rental company -- which will be located in downtown Port Jefferson -- during the winter. Port Moped Rental is slated to open for business in March 2013.

Dallojacono said he will spend about six months recruiting programmers and developing his restaurant-service application before he thinks about putting it on the market.

"I'm excited about the future now, and very confident going forward," he said.

Empire Facilities and Capital One plan to continue the entrepreneurship challenge in the years to come. Scaretta said he was pleased with the pilot contest this year.

For 2013, the challenge plans on taking applications in January and through the spring, with the final event taking place some time in April, Scaretta said. The timing is to encourage more local students to apply.

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