Despite the challenges we all faced this past year, we are grateful that through the support of the Nelson Center community we can look back and find many moments of joy, learning, and growth. Whether virtually or in person, the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship brought us together so we could continue to work toward providing Brown students with the necessary tools to solve problems and make an impact. Even against all of the challenges we faced, we successfully hosted more events and programs than ever before, engaging our community from all over the world. Thank you to all who supported our work this past year and we look forward to what the next year will bring.
To celebrate and wrap up the year, here are a few of our highlights from 2021! You can also visit our YouTube channel to revisit some of our events and celebrations.
Happy New Year!
– Nelson Center Team
We celebrated our five-year anniversary! As part of that celebration, we launched the Nelson@5 short video series which provides a closer look at the Nelson Center’s first five years through the words and experiences of students, alums, and members of the Nelson team. And to top it off we also put together a fun timeline looking back on some of our biggest milestones.
Under the leadership of Michael Wang ‘22 and Isabella (Isa) Espinosa ‘22, the Brown Entrepreneurship Program (EP), welcomed 80+ students to the Nelson Center’s student-led club, hosted the fourth annual WE@Brown Conference and Pitch Competition, and launched the first-ever virtual EP Synapse trips to East Asia and East Africa to learn more about their entrepreneurial ecosystems.
Over 470 people from all over the world tuned in this year to participate virtually in the Brown Venture Prize (BVP) and Breakthrough Lab (B-Lab) programs, which continue to provide critical education and venture support for student founders. The first place 2021 BVP winner MediCircle, for example, founded by Eliza Sternlicht ’22 and Jack Schaeffer ’22, recently raised a $1.2 million pre-seed round on the heels of their first place victory. The virtual B-Lab Showcase featured all 15 student ventures that participated in this summer’s B-Lab venture accelerator program. B-Lab teams ranged from an e-commerce platform for small businesses in sub-Saharan Africa, a hand-held electricity generator for use in remote areas, to a reimagined mentoring platform for BIPOC students. We look forward to seeing everyone back in-person in 2022 for both BVP and B-Lab!
In collaboration with the Center for Race and Ethnicity (CSREA), we launched Venture Grants for Innovative Solutions: Addressing Anti-Black and Systemic Racism to bring together students from across the University to create solutions that address anti-Black and systemic racism. Together, we have funded teams working on a range of solutions, from giving educators better tools to discuss systemic racism with their students, to building better medical devices that provide more accurate readings across a range of skin tones. Learn more and apply here.
Through both curricular and venture support, we continue to support students who want to use entrepreneurship tools to address the challenge of Climate Change. This year we welcomed Alice Nichols to our instructional team, and she taught a new course Eco-Entrepreneurship, which gave students the opportunity to develop an eco-entrepreneurship idea and put it on the path to becoming a real, viable venture. And of course we continue to support these teams outside of the classroom as well, including those like Cloud Agronomics (2018 BVP Alum), one of the recipients of our dedicated Climate Change Grants. Now, the Boulder, Colorado-based company has raised $6M from SineWave Ventures as the lead investor. We also hosted sustainability focused events such as, How Brown Alumni Are Creating Sustainable Solutions in the Fashion & Retail Industry, and we supported the Echoing Green Social Entrepreneurship Internships in conjunction with BrownConnect.
We were thrilled to welcome new Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIRs) and Peer Entrepreneurs in Residence (PEIRs) to the Nelson Center. Our EIRs are Ben Chesler ’15, Riche Holmes Grant ’99, and Lorine Pendleton ’91. Our new PEIRs included Justin Kim ‘21, Maggie Bachenberg ’22, Ally Zhu ’22, Jack Schaeffer ’22, and Robbie Felton ’22. Learn more about the EIRs here and all the PEIRs here.
Van Wickle Ventures continued its amazing momentum by raising $200,000 through the Van Wickle Ventures Challenge. This Challenge, created and supported by the Place family (Robert Place ’75 and Erna Place ’76) matched up to $100,000 in funding for all gifts of $20,000 or more to support VWV. This educational venture fund, started and run by Brown students, helps give members first-hand knowledge of early-stage venture financing. We want to send a huge thank you to all of those who worked hard to put this Challenge together and to the generosity of the Place family and our tremendous alumni donors who contributed.
We welcomed Tori Gilbert to our Nelson Center team as our Events & Operations Coordinator! Tori is an alum of Johnson & Wales University, where she studied Event Management and completed her Master’s in Business Administration. With ten years of experience in the nonprofit sector, she has been involved with planning events, customer engagement, and day-to-day operations. Meet Tori and the entire Nelson team here.
In June, our virtual research conference The Entrepreneurship You Don’t See: Bringing Visibility to New Majority Founders welcomed scholars from around the world to examine entrepreneurship at the intersection of women, refugees, immigrants, allyship, and anti-Black racism. The 2020-21 Hazeltine Graduate Research Grant recipients, Ashley Gomez, Ph.D. candidate in Public Health, and Ieva Zumbyte, Ph.D. candidate in Sociology, also presented their research. Two inaugural scholarly awards were presented at the conference. The Emerging Scholar in Entrepreneurship Award was conferred to Courtney McCluney, Ph.D. and The Lifetime Achievement Award was awarded to Juliet E.K. Walker, Ph.D.
In honor of Professor Barrett Hazeltine’s dedication to mentoring aspiring entrepreneurs, a group of alumni came together in 2018 to start the Hazeltine Mentoring in Entrepreneurship Award. This year we raised a glass from home to honor the recipients of the Hazeltine Mentoring in Entrepreneurship Award, Hamzah Ansari PRIME ‘09 and Troy Henikoff ‘86.