At ‘Startup Showcase,’ wide array of Yale entrepreneurial talent and opportunities on display

The Yale alumni association’s annual assembly in 2014 focused on “The Entrepreneurial Spirit at Yale.” The morning sessions included introductory remarks by Darcy Troy Pollack ’87, chair of the assembly; Linda Koch Lorimer ’77 J.D., vice president for global and strategic initiatives at Yale; and Victor Wong ’11, co-founder of the Yale Entrepreneurs and Investors Network; as well as a showcase of current campus entrepreneurial activity introduced and moderated by Jim Boyle, ’94 Ph.D., managing director of the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute.

Jim Boyle, managing director of the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute (YEI), opened the “Startup Showcase” at the Association of Yale Alumni Assembly on Nov. 13 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.

Read more about the AYA Assembly LXXIV

These groups and others on campus are working together to expand entrepreneurship opportunities for both students and faculty and to create a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem at Yale. Martin Klein, director of InnovateHealth Yale (IHY), noted that they would offer a course on health and innovation next year in conjunction with SOM.

“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 to makie connections and advance their ideas both inside and outside of 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 was hosting Startup Weekend New Haven Nov. 14–16; the event was designed to connect 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 its mentor network. “I want to compete with MIT and other institutions to solve global challenges,” DeCew said.

Olivia Pavco-Giaccia ’16, founder of LabCandy, modeled one of the company’s colorful lab coats. (Photo by Michael Marsland)

Former and current Yale students took to the podium to share their startup stories, including Olivia Pavco-Giaccia ’16, founder of LabCandy, which is dedicated to getting young girls excited about science through storybooks with relatable female characters, and fun, stylish lab goggles and lab coats. LabCandy launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter in October and surpassed its fundraising goal of $20,000, raising $31,035. (See related story.) SOM student Andy Lebwohl, founder of the 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 the only superhero-themed one) in the region. Another SOM student, Chris Fleming, said he 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.

Turning to the social side of entrepreneurship, Ruchit Nagar ‘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. Last year Kushi Baby won the $25,000 Thorne Prize for Social Innovation in Health, run by IHY. (See related story.) The startup StoryTime also has a bigger mission: to provide stories and related activities to underprivileged kids via smartphones. Founder Phil Esterman ’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 described how his app could turn smartphones into a tool to bring families together, even for parents who struggle to read themselves.

Two undergrads, Patrick Casey ’15 and Benjamin Burke ’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 last summer during the YEI Tech Bootcamp, a 10-week intensive coding program run by YEI and the Student Tech Collaborative.

Numaan Akram, co-founder — with Siheun Song ’15 — of Rally Bus, gave the final presentation. 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.