BLOG: Before February 2014


By Brita Belli

anne macdonald YEI Mentor Anne MacDonald has worked in marketing for the past 33 years, leading Fortune 100 companies through significant shifts in strategy and positioning. The experience she gained as Chief Marketing Officer for Citigroup she brought to Macy’s, where MacDonald says that as President and Chief Marketing Officer she “led the team to created a true national brand,” after Macy’s increased their footprint from 250 stores to 850 stores across the country. She also helped grow Macdonald next took on the challenge of building out a direct-to-consumer business for Travelers Insurance companies as their Chief Marketing Officer.

Her path to YEI started with a chance encounter at her rowing club. She began talking with fellow member Rob Bettigole, managing partner at Elm Street Ventures and member of the YEI Operating Board, about some of the student businesses in development at YEI. “He taught me a lot about venture capital and small companies,” MacDonald says. She’d always worked in large corporations and was interested in going to the opposite side and learning about and working with entrepreneurial startups.

Soon she was brought into the YEI mentor fold and has helped teams navigate difficulties and to focus on critical questions of building not only a great product—but a solid communications plan.

“It’s more challenging in a digital world, because the audience is fragmented,” MacDonald says. It’s a struggle to create awareness and trial of your brand, she adds, noting that “forced tweets” are not going to win over supporters.

Rather, MacDonald stresses the importance of building a tribe. “Initial users may not come back,” she says, “the tribe stays. They want to be a member of something worthwhile, that meets a need or fills a desire, something that makes a difference. What has never changed is the importance of the quality of the product or service you put out there.”

She notes that most of the teams she’s met with spend the majority of their time on building their technology and preparing to pitch to investors. “I encourage them to spend even more time on whether they’ve perfected what they’ve gone into business to do.”

MacDonald adds that her ability to help teams is directly related to teams’ showing initiative and reaching out to her for advice and connections. She mentioned one team that discovered she was on the board of a media company who asked her to present their idea before a particular executive on that board with extensive experience in data gathering and analysis.

“I was not formally assigned to that team. That was bold and ambitious,” she says. And it worked. The media executive was intrigued and is arranging to meet the students in New York. 

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michael inwald

Name: Michael Inwald

Startup: Cheeseboy

Industry: Food service / franchise

Summer Fellowship Year: 2009

Michael Inwald (SOM '10) opened his first Cheeseboy: Grilled Cheese to Go joint — offering grilled-cheese takeout — in Milford, Connecticut, in 2009. Cheeseboy was selected for the YEI Summer Fellowship in 2009, while Inwald was an SOM student.


  • Started by using $20,000 of his own funds to operate grilled cheese stands at county fairs around Connecticut.
  • Named “Generation Next Entrepreneur to Watch” by CNNMoney.
  • Has sold more than $5 million in grilled cheese sandwiches to date.
  • Named by Nation’s Restaurant News in 2013 as a top 50 “Breakout Brand.”
  • Currently has 11 locations across New England, employing over 130 people.
  • Has given away over 40,000 sandwiches through a charity project with Paul Newman’s Serious Fun Network.
  • Sold its 1 millionth sandwich in July 2013.

**Remember: Applications for this year’s Summer Fellowship are due on Wed., Jan. 22 at midnight. Think you could be the next YEI Success Story? Learn more and apply here!

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By Brita Belli

yei holiday party 2013

Earlier this month, the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute hosted some of its mentors, supporters and student startups for a holiday party that included an update from three promising just-launched companies from the most recent Summer Fellowship as well as a mini pitch competition featuring four startups-in-development from the Venture Creation Program.

Showcasing their latest accomplishments were TummyZen, makers of an antacid based on Yale-patented zinc technology; Spylight, designers of a website and app to purchase clothing and goods seen on TV programs in real time; and Dextro, a team that has designed an algorithm to allow computers to recognize and identify images and videos as textual summaries.

For the pitch competition, the top prize ($1,500) went to Play2Prevent, a startup being formed around a high-impact mobile game designed by Yale professor Lynn Fiellin, a specialist in drug abuse, addication and HIV, with business assistance from Olivia Zhao (SOM '15). The engaging game teaches high-risk kids to make better decisions regarding their health and well-being through cause and effect scenarios.


Hasan Ansari (SOM '14) tells the attendees about the benefits of TummyZen.


Aly Moore (BA '14, MPH '15) shares the Spylight story.
See more of the YEI Holiday Photos on our Flickr page. All photos taken by Cynthia Hua.
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max uhlenhuth

Name: Max Uhlenhuth

Startup: SilviaTerra

Industry: Forest Management

Summer Fellowship Year: 2010

Max Uhlenhuth (YC '12) was one of the founders of SilviaTerra, which created technology to collect forestry data from satellites, cutting out the need for traditional on-the-ground methods that were highly time consuming, inefficient and expensive. The patent-pending program is able to analyze millions of acres of forest inventory at unprecedented speeds.


  • Max started the company in 2009 as an undergraduate at Yale with Zack Parisa (FES '11) and Chad Oliver, Yale forestry professor and director of Yale's Global Institute of Sustainable Forestry.
  • He was the former president of Yale Entrepreneurial Society and a web startup founder.
  • SilviaTerra won the $25,000 Sabin Envirosummer nmental Venture Prize in 2010.
  • By 2012, SilviaTerra had earned revenue upwards of $200,000 from five different timber company clients.
  • The startup was a finalist in the $25,000 Lippman Prize in 2012.
  • SilviaTerra won a $5,000 Best Technology Business Plan prize from Connecticut Innovations in 2010.
  • In 2012, Forbes named Max one of America’s top college entrepreneurs.

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By Brita Belli

yei funding talk

In startup lingo, it’s called the “Valley of Death,” the time after a startup has left the academic bubble and before it has reached commercialization. As the name makes clear, it’s a difficult time to find funding. For investors, says YEI Deputy Director Erika Smith, it’s all about risk. “At every stage, investing is about trying to reduce risk,” Smith told an audience gathered at YEI’s incubator on Nov. 22 for an early stage funding talk. “What are they willing to take on in terms of uncertainty?”

Panelists Kyp Sirinakis, managing partner at Rock Spring Ventures, and Adrian Horotan, principal of Elm Street Ventures, discussed how they make decisions about who to fund and offered advice on how to approach funders and hold their interest.

“We’re investing in people,” Sirinakis said. Rock Spring primarily works with technologies emerging from universities that have typically already received seed funding. For her to take a potential investee seriously she says they must come armed with a business plan and deck. “We know the business plan will change,” she said, “but it shows that you’ve thought through the steps and have discipline.”

Approximately half of the companies Elm Street funds come from Yale, and they are very active in the seed stage. He stressed the importance of face-to-face meetings. “The best way to get a meeting is to get introduced,” Horotan said, adding that phone is a distant second and email is a very distant third.

Sirinakis concurred, adding that Rock Spring receives 1,000 business summaries a year. “The ones that make it to the top have a trusted advisor or know someone in our network,” she said.

Once a meeting has been secured, the panelists advised dressing professionally (and in keeping with the company culture); telling a story; having other investors at the table; and grabbing the investor’s curiosity early on. For a crash course in pitching, Horotan recommended watching David Rose’s talk “Ten Things to Know Before You Pitch a VC.”

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