Collab — cofounded by two Yale alumni — is launching local startups
Caroline Tanbee Smith ’14 B.S. says she fell in love with New Haven while she was a sophomore at Yale. “I love building stuff,” she says, sitting in a meeting room at the Grove, an eclectic coworking space on Chapel Street that has the look of a converted brick mansion, complete with a wide, curved staircase, generous windows, and tucked away classrooms and meeting spaces. “In New Haven, people will challenge and support you.”
Smith and Margaret Lee ’14 B.A. met at a campus entrepreneurship event called the Yale Innovation & Entrepreneurship Bazaar (happening on Aug. 28 this year), and they bonded over a shared desire to bring the Yale and New Haven entrepreneurship ecosystems closer together. “We knew there was a deep hunger for engagement with residents and students,” says Lee, “and we thought, ‘How do we make that happen?’”
After presenting a series of successful workshops focused on addressing community needs, they decided to formalize an early-stage accelerator called Collab that could serve as a support network for promising, diverse entrepreneurs from across New Haven and the rest of the state. Their model is unique in that they’ve included resources specifically designed to support working mothers and those with a limited income. Their 10-week accelerator offers would-be entrepreneurs $1,000, a mentor, legal and marketing services, co-working space, child care, and interpretation and transportation services.
“Before we started, we talked to tons of people about their barriers,” says Smith, “and that informed the operational parts of our programming.”
For working moms, the inclusion of child care may be critical for them to pursue a side business, but even women who don’t need the service appreciate that Collab offers it, Lee says, because it indicates “an underlying shared value.”
They’ve completed two rounds of their Collab Accelerator, and are accepting applications for their latest cohort now, with applications due Sept. 4. Anyone is eligible to apply, including Yale students. The startup Homecooked — a platform that lets people book meals in chefs’ homes, and includes a humorous YouTube channel — is cofounded by Kevin Zhen ’20 B.A. and Eric Duong ’20 B.S. with Hojung Kim. The venture received formal support and $15,000 from the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale, but the Collab Accelerator also gave the team crucial connections to city chefs and diners so they could expand their reach. The startup recently won a $50,000 prize from the Marquette Tech District Foundation.
Collab launched with funding from Innovation Places, a program from CTNext that provided $30M to winning cities — New Haven, Hartford, Stamford, and Thames River — to support catalytic projects that can turn those cities into entrepreneurship and innovation hubs. Smith adds that Collab is also fundraising to “offer deeper programming to serve more people.” The cofounders say they are particularly interested in participating in economic development strategies that are more inclusive, and thinking about how they might grow Collab beyond New Haven.
“There’s a need for accessible entrepreneurship support everywhere,” Smith says. “We want to make some more connective tissue.”
Lee says she didn’t begin really exploring New Haven until after she graduated, but now she’s become an evangelist, encouraging other Yale students to stay and make an impact. “New Haven is a great place to spend your 20s,” she says. “It’s close to other cities, and you meet people who are so committed and passionate about making it better. This is what a city can feel like — it’s an amazing place to build something.”