Blog

Nov
18
2014

startup showcase

Jim Boyle, managing director of the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute (YEI) introduced the Startup Showcase at the AYA Assembly by noting that YEI is no longer the sole entrepreneurship hub on campus. “We’re one of several hubs,” he told the assembled delegates, “and that’s a good thing.” Among those other hubs represented at the event were InnovateHealth Yale, which is dedicated to solving global health problems through entrepreneurship; Yale School of Management, which launched a new Program on Entrepreneurship this year; and the Center for Business and the Environment at Yale (CBEY) which is dedicated to solving global environmental challenges.

These groups and others on campus are working in close coordination to expand entrepreneurship opportunities for both students and faculty and to create a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem at Yale. Martin Klein, Director of InnovateHealth Yale, mentioned that they would offer a course next year in conjunction with SOM on health and innovation. “Entrepreneurship is important not just for solving business problems, but for solving social problems,” Klein said.  

SOM and CBEY are also working with YEI and other partners on campus to provide students with opportunities for making connections and advancing their ideas both inside and outside Yale. Kyle Jensen, the Shanna and Eric Bass ’05 Director of Entrepreneurial Programs at SOM, called entrepreneurship “a team sport.” He talked about the increased number of course offerings related to entrepreneurship at SOM (now up to 12) and the fact that SOM hosted Startup Weekend New Haven, connecting Yale students with developers and founders in the community. “We’d like to play a role in expanding economic opportunity in New Haven,” Jensen said.

The speakers mentioned the importance of alumni as engaged participants, particularly in the role of mentors.  Stuart DeCew, Program Director of CBEY, talked about that organization’s efforts to build their mentor network. “I want to compete with MIT and other institutions to solve global challenges,” DeCew said.

Former and current Yale students took to the podium to share their startup stories, including Olivia Pavco-Giaccia (YC ’16) founder of LabCandy, which is dedicated to getting young girls excited about science through storybooks with relatable female characters and fun, stylish lab goggle and lab coats. LabCandy launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter in October and surpassed their fundraising goal of $20,000, raising $31,035. Andy Lebwohl (SOM ’12), founder of New Haven bar Karaoke Heroes, talked about his vision to create a space where people could feel empowered and have fun on a night out. His is one of the few dedicated karaoke bars (and only superhero-themed karaoke bar) in the region. Chris Fleming (SOM ’15), is determined to disrupt the boring hotel gym with his startup wrkIN, which provides an easy way for travelers to pay for quick access to local gyms, yoga studios and the like without memberships.

On the social side of entrepreneurship, Ruchi Nagar (MCDB '15) spoke about his startup Kushi Baby, which is making it easier for healthcare workers to track child immunizations in remote parts of the world thanks to a necklace that contains a chip that can be easily scanned by a smart phone. Kushi Baby won the $25,000 Thorne Prize for Social Innovation in Health, run by IHY, last year. The startup StoryTime also has a bigger mission: to provide stories and related activities to underprivileged kids via smartphones. Founder Phil Esterman (YC ’17) told the audience, “We are not the next Facebook or SnapChat. At StoryTime, we want to make it easier for parents to raise readers.” He painted a compelling picture of how his app could turn smartphones into a tool to bring families together, even for parents struggling to read themselves.

Two undergrads—Patrick Casey (YC ’15) and Benjamin Burke (YC ’15) have been working on solving a very different sort of problem—how to make it easy for Yalies to share taxis back to campus from Bradley Airport. They designed and launched the website and app Bulldog Taxi to solve the problem with the skills they learned from the YEI Tech Bootcamp, a 10-week intensive coding program run by YEI and the Student Tech Collaborative, last summer.

Numaan Akram—cofounder of Rally Bus with Siheun Song (’15)—closed out the event. The startup provides easy-to-access bus travel to and from sporting events, concerts and rallies and has been growing in success since it launched in 2010. Akram says they are approaching their 60,000th reservation and that the business has always been profitable—even without outside investment.

It was just a sampling of the entrepreneurial activity underway at Yale—but a strong showing of both Yale ideas that have come to fruition and those that are just beginning to take root.

Read More
Oct
23
2014

viveca morris david chiYale student startups have a new potential funding outlet in Dorm Room Fund, a student-run venture capital firm backed by First Round Capital that provides $20,000 on average to help accelerate new student ventures. “The purpose of Dorm Room Fund is to support promising student founders in taking their ideas to market and to inspire students to engage in the startup community,” says Viveca Morris (YC ’15) who along with David Chi (YC ’16) was chosen to represent Dorm Room Fund at Yale this year. The two meet with interested student entrepreneurs on Tuesday and Friday mornings at a newly converted space across the hall from the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute.

Student entrepreneurs have at least two meetings with Morris and Chi before submitting their online application. After that, the team may be invited to pitch to the 14 Dorm Room Fund investment partners on the New York City team, which includes representatives from Columbia University, New York University, Princeton University, Cornell-Tech and Cooper Union in addition to Yale. (Dorm Room Fund has additional chapters in the Bay Area, Philadelphia and Boston).

Chi says the ventures they are looking to fund are ones for which $20,000 will be a meaningful investment. “One way for that money to be spent is toward reaching a milestone that informs the founders if their idea will work,” he says. Software companies are often able to make an impact with $20,000, he continues, particularly when they use it to hire a talented developer, although hardware companies might use the money to build a prototype to show proof of concept.

In addition to working with YEI to meet with teams in its programs, Morris and Chi plan to reach out to students taking CS112 and 113—Intro to Programming and Programming and Entrepreneurship—which will emphasize app building. They are also in touch with the Yale Entrepreneurial Society and other groups on campus. Morris spent last summer learning to code as part of YEI’s Tech Bootcamp—a 10-week coding immersion program that may be another fertile source for new tech entrepreneurs.

Chi, who has worked as an analyst at Lone Star Investment Advisors and Abdiel Capital, says he’s looking closely at teams but real world experience is not always required. “We have met founders that have done an exceptional job of understanding markets that they haven’t worked in,” he says. “They have demonstrated tremendous hustle—cold calling industry experts, tapping into their alumni networks.”

Morris adds that Dorm Room Fund also adds value to its portfolio companies by providing legal and business services, mentors and networking opportunities. “Dorm Room Fund is founded on the idea that you can start a meaningful company while remaining at school,” she says. “It’s exciting to see so many highly creative, capable and motivated Yale students focused on building solutions to challenging problems.”

To sign up for office hours, email vmorris@dormroomfund.com and dchi@dormroomfund.com.

Read More
Oct
01
2014

Get to know the Yale Entpreneurial Institute and the resources it offers through scenes from the YEI Fellowship program and interviews with student entrepreneurs past and present.

Read More
Jul
14
2014

By Justine Yan

Since 2012, the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute (YEI) has been offering the Venture Creation Program (VCP), which was designed to catalyze and support the growth of new, early-stage ventures at Yale University. By providing a small amount of funding and a strong support system of mentors, consultants and corporate partners, the VCP has been successful in providing resources for entrepreneurial teams to commercialize promising products or services for which there is a customer or market demand.

artcapital

This year, YEI has expanded the program to enable teams to hone their startups over a 10-week period in the summer. This intensive version of VCP bears a few key differences from the academic year program. With more time and twice as much financial support ($5,000 per team instead of $2,500), teams are empowered to grow their startups from promising ideas to feasible and concrete business models by the summer’s end in their own designated space at the YEI incubator at 55 Whitney Ave. In addition, VCP participants work alongside those in the 10-week YEI Fellowship and Tech Bootcamp programs, offering a unique opportunity for cross-pollination. VCP teams attend many of the same events and talks as Fellows and Bootcampers, exchanging skills and constructive criticism.

Six teams were accepted to the 2014 Summer VCP: Ashton Forest, ArtCapital, Kuky, Poseidon, Rally Bus and wrkIN. Team members include students and recent graduates of Yale College, the Forestry School, the Divinity School, the School of Management and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Both Ashton Forest and ArtCapital had participated in the academic year VCP before being accepted into the summer VCP. Ashton Forest is dedicated to preserving forests by increasing their financial worth through harvesting and utilizing natural resources (like acorns) to generate high-value products (like pork). ArtCapital was founded to provide medium-sized businesses the opportunity to rent museum quality art for their facilities.

Mark Woloszyn, one of the cofounders of Ashton Forest, says the summer program has allowed the team to really focus without the pressures of school and other projects. Since the fall and spring, his team has learned a lot about local forests and their target market, and the cofounders have discovered new problems to investigate, says Woloszyn. During the academic year and first part of the summer they tested their assumptions and looked for ways to broaden their scope. Now they are focused on formalizing their business model and filling out the basic structure that they have developed for their operations.

“Being part of both programs was key,” says Andrea Zapata of ArtCapital. “Working on the business model and strategy throughout the year gave us the opportunity to fully work on implementing the model as a pilot. The program only started one month ago and most of our time we are outside the office working with suppliers, partners and possible customers. Of course this wouldn't have been possible without thinking about the strategy beforehand.”

chris fleming

Another experienced participant of YEI programs, wrkIN founder Christopher Fleming, began as a startup supporter before launching his own venture. As a YEI Venture Creation Adviser, he has helped student ventures see the larger strategic picture of entrepreneurship and guided them in structuring their work. “Sitting on the opposite side of the table in the founder role I now feel the weight of important questions, the joy of good news and the frustration that comes from my own mistakes,” he says. “It has been humbling, and I think I'm better at both jobs because of the dual experiences.”

wrkIn’s vision is to make travel healthier by connecting travelers to quality fitness facilities that are currently hard to find or inaccessible to temporary visitors.

Fleming says the summer VCP program has been integral to advancing his startup. The grant money enabled him to take a critical business development trip to Chicago and make small but important investments in the website. He was also able to hire an undergraduate intern, who has been instrumental in helping get wrkIN off the ground. “I'm confident that by the end of July we'll be a revenue-generating company poised for tremendous growth,” Fleming says.

 “[VCP] has given us access to dream resources for any entrepreneur,” adds Zapata. “Legal advisors, accountants, talks with investors and successful entrepreneurs, mentorship, office space, guidance, feedback, even breakfast and lunch!”

So far this summer, ArtCapital has secured two more partnerships with art galleries in New York, which will allow them to expand their art offerings. They have also solved key issues regarding insurance and legal advice, and are now fully committed to reaching out to customers. Having received useful feedback from curators and industry experts, they are now working on closing a deal with a major hotel chain. 

All in all, the summer VCP experience is shaped by YEI’s vibrant community and the palpable energy and dedication of fellow entrepreneurs. “The formal and informal mentorship of everyone connected to YEI has helped me navigate the uncertainty that is the startup world,” Fleming says.

Zapata echoed this statement. “We've learned that being an entrepreneur is scary for some people, but you have to embrace that fear and overcome it, and being part of an entrepreneur network helps a lot. We're always cheering each other up, offering to help and giving feedback.”

The academic year and summer VCP are offered to any student who is interested in launching a startup and applications are accepted on a rolling basis. Interested students should sign up for office hours with a YEI staff member.

Read More
Jul
08
2014

ilana odess

When Ilana Odess took the stage at Harkness Hall on June 10, she told the audience she wanted to discuss her failures as well as her successes. She’d given herself a difficult task; Odess’ resume hasn’t left her with many failures worth mentioning.

After working for a time with ICL, an Israeli chemical company, Odess – who is Israeli – helped the massive multinational Johnson & Johnson expand into her native country. A few years later, the company’s Israel branch, under Odess’ leadership, was earning Johnson & Johnson its highest revenue-per-capita of any country in the world.

This was the first in a long string of successes:  Odess moved on to executive roles at several different medical companies before becoming the CEO of her current venture, Woven Orthopedic Technologies, which develops engineered fabrics to reduce complications and recovery time for patients undergoing orthopedic surgery.

Odess has seen just about everything that can happen in business, but she managed to distill her wisdom down to five lessons for an audience of entrepreneurs, beginning programmers and members of the Yale community:

1. Be relevant. Every startup fits somewhere along Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, whether they provide basic food and shelter or help customers achieve self-actualization. Startups are most likely to find success when they can fill an unmet need – making something unlike anything anyone else has ever built before.

2. Know your business. Know the answer to every question someone might ask about your work – and make sure you can explain your company to people who know nothing about your market. Speaking of markets, make sure you’ve defined yours carefully. Knowing specific, quantifiable details about your business shows people that you have done your research, and that you’ll work diligently to provide accurate results.

3. Build a great team. Odess compared building a team to building an ecosystem. “We hired people based on their strengths,” she said, explaining that every team member knows exactly where they can do the best work. She likes the idea of hiring people who can function as generalists but have expertise in targeted areas. “When operating in a startup environment,” she said, “people have to wear many hats for the company to operate efficiently and control costs. I look to hire people who can function in many different roles but who have specialized knowledge in certain areas.”

4. Embrace change. No business plan survives contact with the open market. Odess cited a Harvard study showing that companies that change course three times underperform compared to those that change course six times. The Affordable Care Act, for example, forced many medical companies to rethink their business models; Odess adjusted faster than many competitors, and her business grew accordingly.

5. Be relentless: Odess believes that our minds are capable of pushing us further than we expect, and that some of the greatest businesspeople on the planet have discovered this. Steve Jobs, for example, watched his company lose hundreds of millions of dollars without him, then stepped in to turn things around by refusing to part from his vision of the future of computing. (This author notes that mental strength is more powerful than we might assume; just thinking about a swimming match beforehand can improve one’s speed in a race.)

Odess left the audience with a reminder that team-building is central to success: “Put the right people on the bus, even if you don’t know its destination.”

Read More
  Next