Blog: yale

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.

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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.

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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.”

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May
19
2014

justin kan emmett shear

Yale alums Justin Kan and Emmett Shear first experimented with launching a startup in 2005, during their senior year at Yale. The company was Kiko, an online calendar that they sold on eBay a year later for $258,100. Now the pair are in line to reap much greater rewards for their entrepreneurial efforts. A videogame-streaming company they created called Twitch has reportedly been offered $1 billion from Google’s YouTube. When finalized, it will mark the largest such deal in YouTube’s history. Twitch allows users to watch free live videogaming and has 45 million monthly users and more than 1 million members uploading videos each month. Twitch also covers live professional gaming competitions—otherwise known as “e-sports.”

The duo’s first foray into livestreaming was with the startup justin.tv—a livestreaming site that originally featured Kan as the subject of his own constant reality video. Yale alum Michael Seibel and MIT alum Kyle Vogt were also cofounders of the startup which was developed at the Silicon Valley incubator Y Combinator. In Justin.tv’s incarnation, Kan wore a camera on his head 24 hours a day and garnered a lot of media attention, including a spot on the Today show. A 2007 Yale Daily News article mentions that Kan was known for his free-spiritedness at Yale, even spearheading a racy 2005-2006 “Men of Branford” calendar.

Justin.tv has since expanded to showcase 40,000 broadcasts a day from a diverse group of users—including politicians and entertainers. On a site Kan created called A Really Bad Idea, he writes: “I like thinking about ideas, entrepreneurship, business strategy and execution tactics, but at heart my favorite thing is to get out, get moving, and do stuff. I'm a pretty bad programmer, a decent web developer, and occasionally a great motivator. I love crazy ideas.”

Brita Belli

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