How To Navigate Cornell's Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

Adam Kirsch (MBA '16)

     It’s no secret that entrepreneurship is one of Cornell’s strengths as a university. Entrepreneurship@Cornell, the

umbrella organization for entrepreneurship programming, involves all colleges at Cornell. After, Forbes described

the school as the “Silicon Ivy” in 2014, and the two annual entrepreneurship conferences, Summit (held each fall in

New York) and Celebration (every April in Ithaca), attract hundreds of students and alumni interested in startups,

venture capital and innovation.  

     Johnson, of course, offers numerous resources for the aspiring entrepreneur.  While academic offerings like

Entrepreneurship and Business Ownership and Startup Learning Series are useful and popular electives, plenty of

additional opportunities exist for students to participate in Cornell’s startup scene.  For students just looking to

learn more about entrepreneurship, the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute and Entrepreneurship and

Venture Capital Club are good places to start. Outside of Sage Hall, Life Changing Labs, a local nonprofit, supports

Cornell’s entrepreneurs. The organization coordinates a summer incubator, connects students with startups and

hosts guest speakers.  Prior guests include successful founders and venture investors. Visiting the Popshop,

Cornell’s co-working space in Collegetown, serves as a great way to build one’s entrepreneurial network. Visitors

can also learn about the businesses current students are building. These include fiber optic Internet networks

(Fiberspark), online rental tools (Yorango), artisan granola (Cayuga Crunch) and more. Soon, Popshop will be

merged into eHub, a space for Cornell students to do entrepreneurship.  Stay tuned for more information on this

new location.

     For students who are serious about launching a company, Cornell’s selective eLab accelerator is perhaps the

most coveted program.  eLab teaches student-entrepreneurs how to build a company from the ground up,

beginning with customer development and initial business model generation. Through close collaboration with

faculty mentors, students refine their concepts while engaging with entrepreneurial alumni.  Lasting a full

academic year, eLab culminates in Demo Day each spring. At this event, student CEOs take the stage at Statler Hall

to pitch their businesses to Celebration attendees. Having taken my business, Yorango, through the program, I can

speak to its immense impact.  A bonus?  eLab offers 5.5 Johnson credits to students building businesses.

     When it comes time to raise funds, Cornell founders should begin by pitching the Big Red Venture Fund.  BRV is

Johnson’s student-run venture fund, and holds $2 million in assets under management. With the ability to write

checks of up to $250,000, BRV exists to bring Cornell businesses to life.  Eight MBAs manage the fund, and dozens

more serve as associates.

     While there are many more ways to get involved in Cornell’s startup scene, the above classes, programs, organizations and

locations offer a great start for students who think they have what it takes to start a company.  We attend a university with

tremendous startup resources, and every Johnson student should use the enormous resources available when they are struck

with an entrepreneurial idea they would like to pursue.