Blog: vcp


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.


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.

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 By Brita Belli

yale student rocket team

Two Yale students who have built a hybrid rocket engine are scaling up and readying their motor for flight. Glen Meyerowitz (ES ’14), director of YPL, an on-campus propulsion lab, and Patrick Wilczynski (CC ’16), both previous members of the Yale Undergraduate Aerospace Association, have designed and tested a small-scale hybrid rocket motor that is 100 percent reusable, and are currently testing a larger version of the motor to prepare it for flight readiness. The project has received funding from the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute’s Venture Creation Program, which supports startups in their earliest idea stages and provides teams with expert mentorship. Others sources of support include the Yale School for Engineering and Applied Science and the Yale Center for Engineering, Innovation and Design. 

Traditionally, when a rocket is blasted into outer space nearly all of its parts are destroyed in the process—including boosters, first stage engines and second stage engines. “Billions of dollars in equipment are lost to the ocean and the atmosphere,” says Meyerowitz. He adds: “Imagine if you were driving somewhere and throwing away parts as you get there. We’re trying to reuse parts of the rocket engine and increase overall efficiency.”

Their latest hybrid rocket motor—called the M2—uses a hollowed out PVC rod (a polyethylene rod was also tested) as the solid fuel and nitrous oxide as the oxidizer. Not only is it more efficient and reusable, but Meyerowitz says their motor design is safer as well. The team tested their motor in September at Yale’s West Campus Rocket Facility. They placed the motor in a stand, surrounded by concrete blocks, sent fuel in and watched as it ignited and flames shot out leaving a trail of black smoke. They captured the excitement in a series of videos on YouTube.

“In the upcoming weeks and months, I am hoping to perform a test of the system with a completely self-contained rocket motor,” Meyerowitz says. “This means the nitrous oxide will first fill a tank designed and built by us. This system will simulate actual performance of the motor, and a successful test here will indicate that the system is flight ready. I am also looking to expand the capabilities of the static test stand so that it can measure more variables than we are currently measuring.” 

If he can help facilitate space travel for more people, Meyerowitz is on board. “I would be extremely interested in traveling into space,” he says.

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By Cynthia Hua

109 design

Teens who have to wear back braces to correct the problematic spinal curves of adolescent scoliosis may soon have an easier time due to the 109 Design team, one of many teams participating in the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute’s Venture Creation Program (VCP).

Undergraduates Levi DeLuke, Sebastian Monzon and Ellen Su developed the Intellistrap device for better scoliosis treatment system and are now accelerating their technology with funding and guidance from the VCP. The VCP provides early-stage student startups with up to $2,500, a mentor, expert advice and dedicated space in the YEI Incubator.

The 109 Design team kicked off their venture through a fellowship with the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design at Yale this past summer. CEID sponsors the summer fellowship annually to offer student projects funding and equipment as well as mentorship.

Existing scoliosis monitoring products rely on outdated technology and are not able to provide patients and doctors with reliable, quality feedback or real-time data on the treatment’s progress. The Intellistrap device, prototypes of which were recently completed, comes as a strap that can be fitted onto existing braces.

109 design

“Our feedback device aims to improve current treatment methods by increasing the effectiveness of bracing,” DeLuke says. “Our device attaches to existing scoliosis braces and gathers data on the quality and hours of brace wear.”

Around 10% of the population suffers from adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS), abnormal spinal curvature without an identifiable cause, and 1% of those cases need treatment. Children and teens between eight and 14 are most likely to be effected, particularly girls. The Intellistrap is meant to reduce the likelihood of surgery for these scoliosis patients, a condition which can be mentally and physically scarring as well as highly costly, DeLuke says.

Braces are often not worn for the time prescribed by a doctor and even when braces are worn, they are often not tight enough to be fully effective. In order to take full advantage of their treatment, patients need reliable feedback. The Intellistrap device will provide that feedback and help to reduce the progression of spine curvature, leaving the patient with a straighter spin at the end of treatment, DeLuke adds.

“We hope to improve the bracing experience for patients by allowing them to understand their treatment and to become involved in the treatment process,” he says.

The appearance and technology of the product have been designed to be unobtrusive and low-profile in order to integrate into current treatment methods seamlessly, according to Su. The device is a “natural addition” to the existing braces, Su says.

At the moment, the Intellistrap is targeted to parents and doctors to help them better understand their children and patients’ treatment, Su says. However, a priority for the company will be making the bracing experience more positive for young patients. During the design process, the team visited clinics to talk with patients and doctors and met with members of Curvy Girls, a national scoliosis support group.

“We intend to be a design company that focuses on solving meaningful problems using the design process, but we also want to bring creativity to these serious issues,” Su says.

The team is currently implementing a pilot study.

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By Cynthia Hua

Three students who had almost no technical background only four months ago may soon be launching a restaurant recommendations app after spending 10 weeks this summer in Tech Bootcamp, the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute’s immersive programming instruction course.

jordan jefferson

Tastiii — a “virtual concierge” for dining and delivery options — was developed by undergraduates April Koh, Jacob Williams and Jordan Jefferson in July as their final project for Tech Bootcamp. With Tastiii, users will be able to view local dining options based on a mood or craving such as “hot date,” “no time” or “post-workout.” The project is now being incubated through YEI's Venture Creation Program (VCP), which provides guidance and financial support to early-stage student startups.

“It’s a really simple process based on how recommendations are really done,” Jefferson says of the app. “Instead of going to Google to get options, you pick a mood or a craving.”

As a VCP team, Tastiii is given up to $2,500 to develop their prototype. The three students are also receiving access to YEI Consultants and corporate partners, and given workspace in the YEI Incubator. Koh, Jefferson and Williams meet with a VC Advisor — a select group of graduate and professional students with relevant business experience — around every other week to track their progress.

The students intend to launch the app for New Haven initially and gradually expand to other cities depending on its success. They were able to compile a long list of local restaurants during Tech Bootcamp and are currently refining an algorithm to automatically match places to mood and situations based on existing online descriptions.

Tastiii intends to offer a more aesthetic, streamlined experience than existing apps such as Yelp, Koh says. The speakers that visited during Tech Bootcamp encouraged them to aim high, she added, and the team believes they can compete with big companies by identifying areas of need.

The team spent the last three weeks of Tech Bootcamp working continuously on the project, the students said.

“I came to this program and it opened my eyes to this whole world of entrepreneurship and it was really inspiring,” Koh says. “I’m definitely really interested in entrepreneurship in the tech space and that’s what I want to pursue after I graduate.”


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