Brown University’s Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship’s second research conference, The Entrepreneurship You Don’t See: Bringing Visibility to New Majority Founders, brought together over three hundred and fifty interdisciplinary scholars alongside policymakers and practitioners from around the world who research, practice, or engage in policymaking around entrepreneurship that brings to the forefront the intersections of anti-Black racism, women, refugees, immigrants, and allyship. A major part of the conference engaged in critical discussions on these issues, and in particular, anti-Black and structural racism.
The journal Gender, Work and Organization (GWO) (Prof. Banu Ozkazanc-Pan, co-editor-in-chief), will sponsor a special issue based on the conference theme in order to create and support knowledge production on this domain to be published in 2022. Check back with us for details.
On Tuesday, April 27, I presented my senior policy thesis, a program evaluation on Young Entrepreneurs of Providence (YEP!). YEP! is a completely free entrepreneurship incubator program for Providence public high school students hosted at the Nelson Center. Every week, Brown professors, entrepreneurs, and social impact leaders teach YEP! students key entrepreneurial concepts that they apply to a venture they develop. Over the past two and a half years, YEP! has worked with 100 brilliant students from 11 different schools throughout Rhode Island.
YEP! was developed with two missions:
The first aim of YEP! is to develop capable entrepreneurs that will grow the prosperity of their respective communities. The current imbalances in wealth in the United States make it critical that we develop innovative solutions to stimulate wealth in low-income communities. By creating an early entrepreneurial education program, YEP! hopes to develop innovative entrepreneurs that will grow the wealth of communities with high poverty rates like Providence.
YEP! ‘s second aim is to improve the relationship between college campuses and their surrounding communities. The extreme imbalance of wealth in this nation is reflected in the resource discrepancy between elite universities and their surrounding communities. Every Ivy League university except for Harvard and Dartmouth is surrounded by a town with a poverty rate higher than the national average, 14%. Through developing a program that invites Providence public school students onto Brown’s campus, YEP! strives to create a more bilateral relationship between Providence and Brown.
In order to assess whether YEP! is able to achieve its two goals of producing capable entrepreneurs and strengthening Brown’s relationship with Providence, I conducted interviews with 80% of our alumni. The results of the study conclude that YEP! has demonstrable gains on both fronts.
Entrepreneurial Knowledge and Capability
In terms of YEP! ‘s potential to produce capable entrepreneurs, the results of the study found that after the incubator:
83% of YEP! ‘s participants believed they had sufficient knowledge to start a venture despite having no prior exposure to entrepreneurship
83% of the participants interviewed have launched or are in the process of launching their own venture in Providence
One participant shared that before YEP! they “did not know how to spell entrepreneurship.” But, they said, “Every night I would watch my parents come home late at night, and they were exhausted and sad. I wanted to create a better life for them and myself. I knew I wanted to create my own business, so I applied for YEP!” This student has currently made this dream a reality as they are on a gap year from college to start their own cosmetics business.
The advanced level of entrepreneurial knowledge that YEP! participants gained in the program suggests that it may be a meaningful tool to develop capable entrepreneurs in people with little to no exposure to entrepreneurship. Additionally, the high degree of entrepreneurial activity from participants suggests that YEP! has the potential to stimulate entrepreneurship in low-income communities.
The results from the study also suggest that YEP! has the potential to improve town-gown relations. 75% of our participants’ perception of Brown changed from unwelcoming to welcoming after the incubator.
Many students shared that before YEP! they were too afraid to even walk down Thayer Street. After YEP!, though, their perception of Brown changed drastically. By coming to campus, the majority of participants started to see Brown as a place that was welcome to them and that they could utilize. Our students frequently use Brown’s public resources and can be found nearby campus even after the incubator.
An unexpected result was that inviting Providence students on to campus not only changed their perception of Brown University, it changed their perception of what they could achieve. One student spoke about this experience by saying; “I would have never imagined that Brown would invite me or students at my school on to campus. We don’t have millionaire parents. The fact that you all wanted us. It changed things for me.”
This student, along with 50% of the students interviewed, said that they decided to apply to more academically rigorous universities after YEP!. In fact, two of the alumni interviewed are applying to transfer to Brown.
The results from this study suggest that a program like YEP! has the potential to make elite universities feel less insular and more welcoming to the local community. In doing so, YEP! is able to foster better town-gown relations and impact the trajectories of its participants.
Overall, the results of this thesis conclude that YEP! has the potential to both develop entrepreneurs in low-income communities and improve town-gown relations. At the end of the day, though, it is not our program that has done this; it is our students. If there is one thing that you take away from this blog post, I hope you see the power of Providence students. Our future depends on these students and other students throughout America- and we are in good hands- but only if we give them the opportunities, they need to flourish.
The last two and a half years have been an exciting, challenging, and extremely rewarding journey for the Van Wickle Ventures team. Van Wickle Ventures is a student-run venture capital fund under the auspices of the Nelson Center that invests in companies across all different industries and stages, with one common thread: at least one member of the founding team has to have some Brown or RISD affiliation. As soon as we started sourcing companies, we realized that there is no shortage of opportunities within this ecosystem. Not only is there ample opportunity, but Brown-founded companies actually have the highest average exit valuation of any American university.¹Today, our team consists of eleven associates and six associates in training. The training we provide at VWV is the cornerstone of our philosophy: educating students on how to become effective venture capitalists. Along with this educational mentality, the evergreen structure of our fund, in which we reinvest returns back into the fund, ensures that we can support entrepreneurship on College Hill and beyond.
To date, we have invested in four companies: 305 Fitness, founded by Sadie Kurzban ‘12; Projector, founded by Trevor O’Brien ‘10; Minded, founded by David Ronick ‘89; and Intus Care, founded by Robbie Felton ‘21, Evan Jackson ‘21, Sam Prado ‘21, and Alex Rothberg ‘21. Each of these investments has awarded us the opportunity to dig into different industries, dissect financials, and develop our own theses, opinions, and conviction. Beyond the companies we have invested in, we have diligenced ten more deals and sourced over four hundred deals to date. The best part of VWV is connecting with Brown alums who are building exciting new products and ventures and who we have so much to learn from. On almost every call we have with a founder, the refrain is the same: “I wish VWV had existed when I was a student at Brown.”
Now, looking ahead. Van Wickle Ventures has no intention of stopping or slowing down. With six new associates about to join the team, we anticipate deal flow to continue to be robust and for the opportunities to learn and grow as investors continue to be available to us. In order to do this, we need to raise more capital. Back in 2019, Bob Place ‘75 and Erna Place ‘76 generously donated $150K to fund our first pilot program. Today, with only $50K left in the fund, the Places have again generously offered to invest another $100K of capital into VWV under the condition that we raise another $100K to match that donation through a Fundraising Challenge.* We are so grateful to Bob, all of our past and present Investment Committee members, everyone who serves on our advisory board, and the folks at the Nelson Center who continue to support us. Without all of these people, VWV would not be able to flourish as it has.
We are so honored to be a part of the amazing Brown entrepreneurship community and we cannot wait to see what is in store for us in the future.
Brown Innovation for Health was established in 2016 with the goal of promoting collaboration in the realms of healthcare, business, and technology. To that end, our student organization hosted an annual hackathon ‘Brown Hack Health’ to develop healthcare solutions. However, in 2020, sticking to the event plan we had followed for the last four years did not seem feasible or suitable anymore.
For starters, the COVID-19 pandemic meant hosting a 48-hour hackathon would induce major ‘Zoom fatigue’. But, more broadly, healthcare innovation requires a much larger uplift than other industries because it is a field riddled with regulatory barriers and complex stakeholders. This meant that a 48-hour program fell short of the long-term impact it could create and the support it could provide. This motivated us––Madison Frye ‘21, Trisha Thacker ‘21, along with the two other BIH Co-Presidents, Jolie Ren ‘21.5 and Laila Gamaleldin ‘22––to launch Brown’s first-ever healthcare incubator: a 9-week program called ‘Brown Hatch Health’.
Here are some of our key takeaways:
1. Ensure that the goals of your incubator align with those of your cohort
Before you develop a curriculum, you need to establish clear and achievable goals for your program. The goals for Hatch Health included developing a community of passionate healthcare enthusiasts, providing structure and resources for early-stage venture development, and promoting healthcare entrepreneurship at Brown. These goals guided us through challenges, for example, we developed a Fellowship Program, made up of students passionate about healthcare who did not have a fully-formed venture idea, to get a taste of what the entrepreneurial process within healthcare looks like. We also asked all our participants to submit three goals they hoped to achieve during the incubator, and tried to facilitate those throughout the program.
2. Start advertising before you even think you need to by hosting ‘taster’ (value-add) events
In year 0, we were bogged down with trying to figure out how to create a curriculum from scratch and who our sponsors and partners would be. One of the first things you can do is to start hosting ‘taster’ events such as Ask Me Anything (AMA) sessions with healthcare leaders in your community to raise brand awareness of the value-add your incubator will provide.
3. Think critically about whether your community is clustered into teams already, or if you want to facilitate that
One mistake we made was to not think about the logistics of individuals applying versus teams. We did not expect this, but most of our applicants had already formed teams, and had much stronger applicants than solo applications, putting individuals at a disadvantage.
Our take is that unless the incubator is solely for individuals, with matchmaking built into the incubator plan, it’s a better idea to accept teams. Our solution––we realized this a few days before applications were set to close––was to host a quick match-making session for individuals, trying to give them a fair shot at incubator spots. However, one hour is a short amount of time to decide who your startup spouse(s) should be.
In hindsight, hosting a series of matchmaking and casual networking sessions alongside our value-add taster events in the months leading up to the incubator is a great way to help individuals find teams to apply with, as well as build community and advertise the event.
4. Envision the end to determine the middle
In creating your incubator curriculum, decide what you want teams to achieve at the end of the program, in order to determine the length and content of the incubator. We decided we wanted the teams to present at a final showcase to receive financial support and feedback that could propel their ventures further. However, we didn’t want it to be high-enough stakes to breed stiff competition and put too much emphasis on ‘winning’, since our ultimate goal was to support earlier-stage builders whether they continued with their venture or not.
On the subject of curriculum development, Jonas Clark, the Associate Director of the Nelson Center recommended that we think about “learning goals” i.e., look at why a certain topic matters or will matter to your cohort. If you can’t think of a learning goal, it may be a sign that the topic isn’t relevant to your incubator.
5. Build in milestones to key elements of the program
One key decision we made was to have every team submit their planned Q&A as a ‘milestone’ before meeting with industry mentors. This a) helped us ensure teams were well prepared for meetings (so that we preserved strong relationships with mentors) b) allowed us to look over and suggest other questions that might be relevant to their conversations (from our additional knowledge about the mentors and their work) and c) helped teams stay accountable to submitting milestones along with their progress.
We also had more broad milestones such as making a budget, writing venture descriptions, and completing a short online course on startup development. However, as the teams dove deeper into their ideas or pivoted, it became difficult to have uniform milestones that were applicable to everyone. Milestones look vastly different for healthcare hardware vs. healthcare software vs. healthcare services, so pairing broad milestones for the entire cohort (e.g. create an ICP – ideal customer profile) with very specific milestones per team (e.g. write a survey for orthopedic physician interviews) might be more useful.
6. Make all talks as personalized as possible
Before every workshop, every talk, every AMA, we sent the teams’ venture descriptions (which we made sure to update every few weeks as teams pivoted!) to speakers, so that they could personalize their talks to whatever individual ventures were focusing on.
Our final keynote speaker, Karthik, incorporated this personalization the best. He gave his address on broader topics of advancing home healthcare through digital health, however, with each point and example, he found a way to relate it back to the problems or solutions each team was tackling. This is a great way to keep audience members and teams engaged, as well as make the overall experience far more intimate and personalized.
Another way to guarantee personalization is to limit the cohort size. Even though we had a very strong applicant pool, we only selected four teams – Parami, Medicircle, Ponto, and DocuHealth. We were very transparent about the time commitment required and prioritized creating a tight-knit and dedicated cohort over making the incubator as large as possible.
Looking forward, we’re excited to see how Hatch Health can increase Brown students’ interest in healthcare development, as well as bridge the gap between healthcare ideas and sustainable ventures. We’re grateful for all the support from Brown–Lifespan Center for Digital Health, New England Medical Innovation Center, Adler Pollock & Sheehan, and of course––The Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship. See you next year, Brown Hatch Health!
WE@Brown is an organization dedicated to building an empowering foundation of inspirational dialogue, external mentorship, and entrepreneurial experience. It provides opportunities such as events and partnerships that stem from the female perspective in order to build a supportive community in the entrepreneurial field and beyond! One of these opportunities that WE@Brown offers is the WE@Brown Conference. The annual conference brings together a wide range of femme-identifying founders and thought leaders for a weekend of conversation and connection to propel thinking and prove the power and potential of femme-identifying new businesses. At the 2021 WE@Brown Conference, speakers included Beau Wangtrakuldee, Judith Martinez, Haley Hoffman Smith ’18, Alexandra Kim ’17, Valerie Elefante, and more. Through this experience, WE@Brown creates a space that supports and empowers women in a way that lasts beyond our one-day conference.
The WE@Brown Pitch Competition took place during the conference, which invited six different teams to pitch their ventures for the chance to earn a $1000 grand prize or a $500 fan favorite award. The grand prize winner was Castyr, an amateur-podcast platform that allows for greater user engagement, and the fan-favorite was NutriNett, an organization that recycles unused food from restaurants to food banks. Other ventures included a medical compression device for reducing blood clots (EasyLegs), a collegiate second-hand marketplace (Zaar), a redistribution service for unused cancer treatments (Medicircle), and a redesigned tutoring program (Teaching Buddies). It was our honor to showcase these amazing teams, and we want to extend a huge thank you to our wonderful judges Riche Holmes ’99, Julie Penner ’04, and Emma Butler ’20.