By Brita Belli
Jim Boyle, managing director of the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, had high praise for the students attending the Entrepreneurship at FES! panel discussion at Bowers Auditorium on November 18. "Pound for pound, Forestry is one of the most dangerous schools at Yale," Boyle said, citing both the school's size and its penchant for producing deep thinkers.
Several YEI startup success stories have come from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, including SilviaTerra, cofounded by Max Uhlenhuth (YC ’12) and Zack Parisa (FES ’09), which unveiled a proprietary software that uses satellite images with limited ground monitoring for cost-efficient and accurate forest management from afar. The company has now worked with hundreds of foresters and has reached about $3 million in sales.
YEI Program Director Alena Gribskov moderated the panel, detailing the range of opportunities available at YEI and Yale for ventures at every stage. These include YEI's Start Something workshop for exploring entrepreneurship and the lean startup method; the Venture Creation Program (VCP) for beginning the early work of building out a venture idea; and the Summer Fellowship, YEI's 10-week business bootcamp designed to give students time to fully develop and execute their startup.The VCP provides up to $2,500 in support along with mentorship and business guidance; the Summer Fellowship provides $15,000 per team along with mentors, expert speakers, access to a community of entrepreneurs, trips, meals and more. The Sabin Sustainable Venture Prize provides $25,000 in support for innovative student ventures in the green space.
Panelists Elgin Tucker, a 2013 YEI Summer Fellow and cofounder of BlackStartup; Mark Woloszyn, cofounder of Aniya Agroforestry; and Jeff Woodward, who is working on transparency in the natural food space, had all been through the process with their own startups in various stages of development. All talked about the challenge of finding time to work on their ventures, to coordinate with far-flung team members and to get the work done - like regular customer interviews - that would allow them to tighten their business plans and make adjustments.
"That process of learning and iterating is really important to keep in mind," Gribskov said.
The panelists also noted that they wished they'd learned the lean startup method earlier and talked about the invaluable connections they made at Yale through YEI programs. Tucker said: "YEI provided access to mentors - from legal, to management to fundraising. There was access to senior executives from McKinsey to Disney."
The panelists also described their commitment to working in the social/environmental sphere. "It's a strength to work on somthing social or environmental," Woodward said. "You need to really care about it. That passion will make you successful."