Alumnae-co-founded Collab supports New Haven entrepreneurs

Yale brought Caroline Tanbee Smith ’14 B.S. and Margaret Lee ’14 B.A. to New Haven from their respective Kentucky homes, but it was the city and the community that enticed them to stay long after graduation. “One of the reasons we go to school is to receive a holistic education,” says Tanbee Smith, who co-founded the community accelerator Collab with Lee not long after they graduated. “It’s an opportunity to be a part of a of a larger city.”

Lee got involved in entrepreneurship on campus while working with student ventures at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute — now the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale — and she saw a need for similar early-stage resources and support for New Haven community members with business ideas. Collab aims to make entrepreneurship more accessible by providing access, confidence building, and pathways to additional resources.

Margaret Lee and Caroline Tanbee Smith
Margaret Lee ’14 B.A., left, and Caroline Tanbee Smith ’14 B.S., the co-founders of Collab.

In terms of access, Lee says: “We provide entrepreneurship to underrepresented entrepreneurs — people of color, women, and immigrants who historically haven't had access to a lot of the resources and education around entrepreneurship.” The co-founders have reduced barriers to entry by providing child care, transportation, and interpretation services at no cost to participants. Accepted entrepreneurs also receive a small stipend that’s supported in part by grants from the Elm City Innovation Collaborative, CT Next, and the Economic Development Corporation of New Haven.

Collab helps entrepreneurs build confidence with dedicated panels and workshops featuring entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds, and they point entrepreneurs to a coalition of supporters and service providers, Lee says, “to make sure that these entrepreneurs have a place to go” after the 10-week accelerator has ended.

New Haven, the co-founders say, is full of community members with professional skills who are invested in the city and passionate about their ideas. Entrepreneurs who have launched local startups with support from Collab include Domingo Mendino, founder of Peels & Wheels Composting, which provides composting pickup and delivery in the city by bicycle. “What's exciting about Domingo is he's an immigrant to America who has dedicated his life to New Haven — the city he loves — and to a real environmental justice mission,” says Tanbee Smith. “He believes that that starts at a local level.”

A group of seven men and women, together with a young boy.
Members of the most recent accelerator hosted by Collab.

Pascale Jean-Jacques, founder of Pascale’s Body Care, sells organic body care products designed for women of color. “She went through a journey of seeing herself as a real entrepreneur,” Lee says, “where this product can be on the shelves of not just Elm City Market here in New Haven but nationwide.” And Jumai-Shefau Dabre-Rufus, a New Haven teacher, founded Zen Zilla Yoga & Wellness, offering health and wellness classes that incorporate black music, yoga, and mindful meditation to city schools.

Collab has offered accelerators, along with year-round mentorship and office hours, for the past two years, and the co-founders have become deeply invested in New Haven in the process. They often hold office hours and events at the New Haven Free Public Library, which now boasts a connected co-working space and café called Ives Squared.

It was only after I got a job here in New Haven that I was able to really explore the different neighborhoods,” Lee says. “I realized that this is a city of passionate activists. It's a city of amazing community builders who are so engaged, and so welcoming, and it challenges you in really rigorous ways.”

This is part of a series of stories and videos featuring Yale alumni living and working in New Haven. #NewHavenYalies

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Media Contact

Brita Belli: brita.belli@yale.edu, 203-804-1911