Blog: mentors


By Brita Belli

bill schnoor

Bill Schnoor (BA ’80, Law ’83), the newest member of the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute’s Advisory Council has been supporting YEI since it began. In fact, years before YEI was formed by the Yale Office of Cooperative Research, Schnoor was waiting for tech entrepreneurship to gain momentum at the university. In his legal work with startups he’d long noticed the power of harnessing university-based research and talent to practical commercial opportunity at schools like Stanford and MIT, and wanted to encourage a similar approach at  Yale.

“Those schools were encouraging practical application of knowledge,” Schnoor says.

He currently serves as co-chair of the Technology Companies Group and the Clean Technologies Practice at Goodwin Procter in Boston. Schnoor recognized that supporting student entrepreneurs was important beyond the immediate image boost and financial gain: It would give those enterprising students an enduring connection back to Yale.

Seeing YEI take off and grow into a recognized force for launching successful startups has been gratifying, Schnoor says, who adds: “I’m seeing the ecosystem build momentum and the trajectory is great.”

He mentions YEI’s Tech Bootcamp—a 10-week programming camp for Yale students run in partnership with the Yale ITS Student Technology Collaborative—and increased academic-year programming, including the ongoing Venture Creation Program for nascent startup ideas—as particular bright spots. In his role on the Board, Schnoor will encourage YEI to continue to develop and push out more ingenious Yale companies, regardless of where they choose to take root. Success, he says, is in the numbers.

“If Yale embraces the MIT-Stanford view, ‘We want all students and faculty to feel empowered to launch companies,’” over time more will stay in New Haven in absolute terms, even if many or most ventures choose to relocate elsewhere,” Schnoor says. “You have to approach it with an attitude of abundance – let 1,000 flowers – or startups -  bloom.”

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By Margaret Lee

 joe lane

Joe Lane, a founding principal of the private investment firm Sinter Partners, has been a highly involved mentor with YEI since the earliest days of the Mentor Program. His broad business experience over the past 30 years has made him one of YEI’s most versatile mentors.

Most notably, Joe served as Senior Vice President of IBM and President of IBM Credit Corporation. He was also an owner and Vice Chairman of Bay4 Capital, an independent provider of leasing, management and portfolio services for information technology which was sold to GE Capital.

Joe worked with former YEI Summer Fellow Bob Casey (YC ‘11) on his project, YouRenew, a company that sells used electronics to other companies and recycles the rest. Calling on his experience re-designing IBM's equipment recovery processes, Joe challenged Bob to consider the differences between a capital-intense business model, versus a leaner one that could leverage existing facilities and processes of a potential strategic partner/buyer. Staying lean and focused, Bob positioned YouRenew as an attractive acquisition for Clover Wireless in 2012.

“You really want to comb through the later stages of business development and think about what would make the enterprise attractive to buyers,” Joe says. YouRenew was successfully acquired by Clover Wireless in 2012.

Joe was also involved with Claire Henly (YC ‘12) and David Kohn (YC ‘11) of Red Ox Technologies, a startup built around water desalination that would use the process to create electricity and valuable inorganic salts. Joe was able to help Claire and David challenge their original business model focused on multi-hundred-million-dollar commercial de-salination plants, and redirect toward more manageable applications for energy companies pursuing enhanced natural gas recovery projects. In the end, it was also about finding the right suitor, something Joe always keeps in mind as an end-goal.

Other YEI ventures Joe has mentored include Chairigami, Guidefinder and Lockswipe.

One of his main goals in guiding these startups is to accelerate awareness among suitors. What are buyers looking for? What makes the business attractive? Joe says that incorporating the answers to these questions well and early is key; sharpening the business plan from the beginning, he has found, saves a lot of trouble later on.

How can entrepreneurs take advantage of mentors like Joe more effectively? He recommends involving them regularly as opposed to sitting them on a shelf and touching base every three months. Joe puts it this way: “In the end, it comes down to simple and regular cadence of communication, from the concept level all the way to launch and expansion.”

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Jeff Speed has worked more than 20 years in the media/entertainment industry, most recently serving as EVP and CFO of Six Flags and SVP and CFO of Euro Disney. He also serves as a board member, audit committee member and nominating and governance committee chair for WWE, a publicly traded media/entertainment company based in Stamford, CT.

jeff speedDuring YEI’s Summer Fellowship, Jeff served as a mentor for Spylight, a company founded by Casper Daugaard (YC ’13), which provides a website and app for immediately identifying and purchasing clothing, electronics, housewares and other products seen in TV shows. Casper signed a deal with a major Hollywood studio to launch the service for three top TV shows this fall.

Below, Jeff talks to YEI about his experience as a mentor.

1. Tell me what you’ve been able to share with Spylight that has had the greatest impact.

The areas that the Spylight team has solicited my advice and input and, as a result, the areas we've spent the most time interacting, has been related to the development and refinement of the company's business model, consideration of potential funding strategies, as well as the creation of a detailed financial model for the business and a business overview presentation to be used with potential strategic partners and investors.  

2. What are your impressions of the YEI fellows you’ve met?  

I have to say that the quality of the people I have met during my relatively short tenure as a YEI mentor has been exceptional. The consistent theme I've observed is that these young entrepreneurs are passionate about their businesses, highly motivated, not at all intimidated by the challenges of launching a new business, and very, very smart.  It’s incredibly inspirational.

3. Was mentoring a new experience for you? What has the experience taught you?

I've never been a "mentor" in a formal sense before; this is my first experience. However, having been a public company CFO and responsible for managing large teams of individuals across various functions, I always believed one of my most important responsibilities was to develop key talent in the organization. With that came a significant amount of coaching and mentoring of individuals at various levels of the organization. So, in that sense, mentoring has been a significant part of my professional life.   

The opportunity to make a difference in the future of a young adult by imparting some relevant knowledge, sharing insights from prior experiences, making introductions, or just acting as a sounding board when needed, I find to be extremely rewarding. 

4. How have you been able to use your connections within industry to help teams?

It has come in a variety of forms including, among others, obtaining relevant market data for the company's business model; seeking input from industry insiders regarding the competitive landscape of the business; as well as soliciting thoughts regarding potential sources, size and timing of the various funding phases.   

5. Any recommendations for how teams can best utilize mentors?

Teams should definitely take the time to get to know the backgrounds of the various YEI mentors and proactively seek out those persons that have relevant industry experience, technical expertise, and/or potential contacts or relationships that can be leveraged, particularly those that may have access to capital either individually or through a firm. At the end of the day, obtaining as much informed input and advice, as well as developing key relationships, in the startup stage of a business will do nothing but increase its chances of success.  

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By Brita Belli

When Chris McLeod retired as CEO of 454 Life Sciences, he was looking for a way to stay involved in new biotech and use his industry connections to give promising student startups a commercial edge. Serving as a YEI mentor has been a great fit.

chris mcleod

“The individuals involved are phenomenally smart and talented,” Chris says. He mentored RedOx, a YEI team interested in developing a wastewater treatment and electricity production technology and is currently mentoring IsoPlexis,  a YEI team that is developing a Yale patent-pending technology that uses a microchip for “fingerprinting” more than 40 protein markers secreted from more than a thousand single cells simultaneously. The technology gives researchers and drug developers a very accurate picture of patient response to treatment. Chris has also invested in and is on the board of directors of Ancera, a startup centered around a Yale-patented technology platform for the separation, detection and identification of minute concentrations of pathogens from blood or other bodily fluids.

Life science startups like these have in common an innovative technology with several potential applications. But the real challenge for the teams, he says, is “identifying a market where the technology can offer enough of a competitive difference to displace existing products.” These startups are often focused intently on developing the technology itself, but just as critical is identifying the path to get it commercialized. “The prototype itself can be fairly broad-based,” Chris says. “But once the proof of concept is achieved, the next challenge for the team is to take that device and refine it for specific target market needs.”

How He Can Help

Chris guides teams by asking them the right questions and using his industry connections to introduce them to potential customers and consultants as their startups progress.

And he says YEI has been particularly good at helping teams balance their science and business skills. “In all three cases of teams I’ve worked with,” he says, “YEI has done a good job of combining a technology expert with an individual who has a very good business background. That balance is critical on any team.” All three startups in Chris’ roster have emerged from Yale’s Technology Commercialization Program, which pairs faculty innovators with Yale School of Management students to commercialize patented faculty inventions at the cutting edge of science and technology.

Working with Teams

Each team has its own approach to utilizing mentors, Chris says, from having mentors meet as a team to utilizing them primarily to test out pitches and receive feedback. In order to get the most out of a mentorship, Chris advises teams to talk to their mentors about setting up a schedule and defining expectations. “Talk to each mentor and find out how they want to be used,” he says. “Have a real dialogue at the beginning.”


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This month's mentoring corner features insights from YEI's inaugural Lead Venture Mentor, Victor Budnick. Victor has been working with teams for the past year and now offers advice for those looking to mentor student entrepreneurs.

People, who themselves have successfully launched or led their own businesses, frequently bring a wealth of contacts, leadership skills and expertise to guiding novice entrepreneurs. However, a key strength shared by experienced entrepreneurs--a bias to action—is exactly the kind of mindset which can undermine the ability to mentor.

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