Breaking Records: 2023 Brown Venture Prize Pitch Night

Last week, over 400 guests entered Sayles Hall for the sixth annual Brown Venture Pitch Prize. This number marks the Nelson Center’s largest audience yet. Designed to highlight and empower Brown startups, the Brown Venture Prize welcomed eight finalists from a pool of over 30.  This year’s top ventures were Codex, Codified Health, Ecoform, Elythea, Marian, Notable Narratives, Sessio, and Uconomy. Collectively, the eight finalists addressed challenges in a diverse range of sectors, from healthcare to automotive manufacturing to post-mortem estate planning. 

Danny Warshay ‘87, Executive Director of the Nelson Center, kicked off the event with a warm welcome.  After their pitches, ventures fielded questions from a panel of seven judges: Evan Jackson ‘21.5, Jessica Murphy ‘00, Lisa Gelobter ‘91, David Wellisch ‘92, Matt Jarvis ‘93, Jayna Zweiman ‘01, and Richard Katzman ‘78 P’14. Judges brought with them a wealth of experience as worldwide leaders and investors.  Their support also highlighted Brown’s vibrant entrepreneurial community and the far-reaching impact of the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship. Jarvis, chairman of global creative agency 72andSunny, cites Brown’s liberal arts education and his participation at the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship as a source of inspiration. Meanwhile, Jackson holds the distinction of being the first judge who was a previous winner himself—his venture, Intus Care, won the Brown Venture Prize in 2020. 

Students, family members, and alumni cheered and celebrated after each startup took the stage. After much deliberation, judges selected Elythea, an ML/DL-Driven platform for obstetricians, as the first-place winner. Elythea, founded by Reetam Ganguli ’23, Dartmouth’s Rishik Lad ’23, and Dr. Stephen Wagner, took home the grand prize of $25,000. Notable Narratives, a mentorship nonprofit matching first-generation/low-income college applicants with current first-generation/low-income college students, scored second place. Founders Cecile Schreidah ‘24 and Brandon Avendano ‘23 took home $15,000. Third place (and $10,000) went to Marian, an automated investment app founded by Aaron Wang ‘23, Luke Primis ‘24, and Eshaan Mangat ‘24. Audience members voted Codified Health, a medical billing software startup, as their Fan Favorite. Codified Health was a member of the Summer ‘22 Breakthrough Lab cohort and counts Sophia Ghauri ‘24, Hailey Chen ‘24, Cindy Zheng ‘24, and Aditya Singh ‘25, as founders. 

Associate Director Jonas Clark notes that past Brown Venture Prize winners from the previous five competitions  have raised over $60 million in funding since their inception. Since the Brown Venture Prize’s inception, multiple finalists have been honored by Forbes 30 Under 30 for their impact. Last year, past winner Perennial was named by Time Magazine as Best Invention of 2022. Other winners have been profiled by Vogue, Business, Insider, the Boston Globe, and more.

 Warshay ‘87 recalls when former students and Casper co-founders Luke Sherwin ‘12 and Neil Parikh ‘11 walked into his office shortly after the Nelson Center launched. Recalling how much of an impact similar competitions had on their own entrepreneurship trajectories, they offered to donate the first funds to support what became the Brown Venture Prize competition. “I’m not sure even Luke and Neil could have envisioned how extraordinary it has become. This year, over 400 attendees packed Sayles Hall and over 300 watched online from around the world.”

He also added, Most of all, I am so impressed by the quality of ventures that our students are launching, addressing consequential problems with solutions that promise to have big impact at scale. And now, thanks to the ongoing generosity of Richard D. Katzman ’78, P’14 and Jane Dray Katzman ’81, P’14, BVP continues to thrive. At the Nelson Center, we motivate our students to learn the entrepreneurial process that we teach in and out of the Brown classroom. Venture support programs like the Brown Venture Prize competition empower them to go do it.” 

This event could not have been possible without the expertise of New England Showtime Productions Inc., and the Brown University Media Services team. Last but not least, we are thankful for the infallible Sheila Haggerty, Tori Gilbert, and Katie Calabro for their organization and leadership. 

Breakthrough Lab 2022: Recap

Breakthrough Lab 2022: Recap

In June, the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship opened its doors to 13 student ventures for Breakthrough Lab (B-Lab) our eight-week summer accelerator program. While founders came to B-Lab from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds most were relatively new to the world of building ventures. Collectively, teams had identified a variety of meaningful challenges to work on in the areas of education, public health, law, civic engagement, and e-commerce.

In eight short weeks, under the leadership of B-Lab Director, Jason Harry, Professor of the Practice of Technology and Entrepreneurship, the program covered many key business topics including customer discovery, value propositions, profit models, diversity and inclusion, marketing, and intellectual property, among others. In addition to support from program staff, our Ventures received regular mentoring from a host of generous alums who dived in to provide critical feedback and guidance. As the program progressed, teams also had the opportunity to take center stage at Slater Sushi, a summer highlight in the Providence entrepreneurial community courtesy of the Slater Technology Fund, where they pitched their ventures and networked.

They followed this with a fantastic Mentor Roundtable event which rallied some of the Nelson Center’s finest mentors, who shared their insights and experience with our ventures. And lastly, we closed the program with a final pitch event aptly named “Bears Lair”, where teams pitched their ventures and their progress to a room full of experienced founders and investors.

But it’s not all work and no play at B-Lab, as some of you may have spotted on our Instagram feed! Our teams took on Lang’s Bowlarama and united to solve a murder mystery on a legendary game night featuring a thrilling scavenger hunt and prowling sleuths. Ventures also posed for a series of elegant photoshoots, courtesy of Estela Westphalen ’24. Peek into their minds in our 73 Questions series on Instagram, where we challenged them to reflect on their journeys as they walked us through their lives.

As we close out our time together, we’re incredibly grateful for all of the lessons and laughs we had along the way.

A special thank you to:

Deedee Chatham at the URI Launch Lab & their special guest Steve Blank, Saron Mechale ‘17, Barbara Tannenbaum, Sharadram Sundaresan and Markus Sherman, Deb Mills-Scofield ‘82, Kris Brown ‘89, Rajiv Kumar ‘05, Michele Berdinis ‘81, Riche Holmes Grant ‘99, Caroline Diamond ‘86, Anastasia Ostrowski, Ted Howell, Annette Tonti, Joe Loberti, and Michael Liou ‘86, Morra Aarons Mele ‘98, Kipp Bradford ‘96, Maggie Bachenberg ‘22, Kristen Craft ‘05, Martin Sinozich, Zubin Irani, Greg Fine ‘20, Don Stanford ‘72 & ‘77, Rob Kagan ‘89, Ezenwayi Amaechi, Andrew Bernstein ‘85, Jackie Shoback, Robbie Felton ‘22, Ella Hood, Claire Hughes Johnson ‘94, Rob Kagan ‘89, Annette Tonti, and Bob Place ‘75.

Memories & Lessons

“During B-Lab I learned the difference between building a product and starting a company. A product is not enough… you need to build a brand. I learned how to delegate. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything and understanding what tasks to give to what person, how to assign tasks, check-in, and give feedback is really important.” 

– Tatiana Mandis ‘23 (Cinemates)

“My major takeaway is that targeting a niche market and centering diversity can be advantageous for your venture when your goals and personal story align with your brand strategy and long-term mission and vision.”

– Alexandria Miller PhD ’24 (Strictly Facts)

“I think the biggest takeaway from B-Lab was the mentorship network provided. The advisors we have met have guided our way in product, marketing, and business development. Whether it was just the weekly EIR meetings or the out-house mentors, just having more experienced entrepreneurs to talk to about day-to-day issues really allowed us to focus on our mission.” 

– David Chu ’24 (Sift)

“Pivots are all a part of the process. They feel discouraging at times, but usually the result of these pivots is a better idea than the original.”

– David Vojtaskovic ’24 (Bonafide)


“My venture’s most valuable takeaway was the importance of market research and investigating the market’s unmet needs in order to understand what competitors are doing and what they are not doing in order to separate myself from the rest!”

– Muram Bacare RISD ‘22 (Hos-fit-all)

Jayna Zweiman ’01 Discusses Pussyhat Project, Welcome Blanket, and Social Entrepreneurship at Family Weekend

Jayna Zweiman ’01 Discusses Pussyhat Project, Welcome Blanket, and Social Entrepreneurship at Family Weekend

Photo courtesy of Dana Kurniawan ’22

“From my own limitations comes inspiration.” Jayna Zweiman ’01 discusses interdisciplinary entrepreneurship through the Pussyhat Project and the Welcome Blanket Project at the Nelson Center’s Oct. 18 event, hosted for Family Weekend.


Jayna Zweiman ’01, co-founder of the Pussyhat Project and founder of the Welcome Blanket, joined Executive Director of the Nelson Center Danny Warshay ’87 in conversation on Oct. 18. The event was the first of two scheduled by the Nelson Center for the University’s annual Family Weekend, welcoming both alums and visiting family members to join our usual audience of students. 

Reflecting on her time on College Hill and unique path as a young post-grad, Zweiman described herself as the “quintessential Brown student,” double concentrating in Economics and Visual Arts and even completing every pre-med requirement (save for physics, which she would have to revisit when applying to architecture school down the road). She went on to embark on a stint as a management consultant, attend architecture school at Harvard, do campaign and inauguration work for Bill Clinton’s reelection, work as a game designer at a startup, and eventually work full-time in architecture while also curating exhibitions about women in architecture and serving as a visiting professor of architecture for six months at the Monterrey Center for Higher Learning of Design in Mexico (CEDIM). 

However, in 2013, Zweiman sustained a head injury that led to a long recovery process, putting her out of work for years until the start of the Pussyhat Project in 2016, her most recognizable work to date. She described the frustration of watching movements like Black Lives Matter gain traction in that time while being unable to support and participate in activism as fully as she’d like. This feeling, specifically in response to being unable to travel to the Women’s March happening in Washington, D.C. that January, drove Zweiman to begin brainstorming the Pussyhat Project with co-founder Krista Suh, whom she’d grown closer to through a knitting and crocheting group — a “healing modality” for Zweiman during her recovery. 

Zweiman had two goals for the initiative: to create a large visual impact (greatly inspired by the 1987 AIDS Quilt, which was also displayed at the National Mall in D.C.) and to create an impactful distribution pattern where people could easily participate in the March despite barriers to access. It granted agency to those who might feel unable to contribute for a myriad of reasons, said Zweiman. The Pussyhat Project became a viral success, uniting people through social media and partnering with 175 local yarn stores across the country. The total duration of the project from launch to the Women’s March was 59 days. 

Despite the virality of the initiative, Zweiman credits the project’s success with years of experience and thoughtful consideration, reflective of her interdisciplinary approach fostered at Brown. “The Pussyhat Project happened very, very fast, but I had been working on projects for a really long time,” Zweiman emphasized. “Even though this looks like some overnight boom … there had been years of testing different things.” 

She discussed elements of the project she’d actually tinkered with across many roles and disciplines. The concept of knitting a hat and passing it on with a personal note to a stranger attending the March developed with the same approach Zweiman took to analyzing how text in art exhibitions becomes meaningful to viewers. Her time in consulting aided her consideration of distribution patterns. Above all, core concepts of architecture — “building something out of nothing” — aided Zweiman throughout the entrepreneurial process: How would the Pussyhat Project serve as an accessible point of activism for the Women’s March? Like architectural conceptions of extended time and space, the individual’s experience was not limited to the March: “It was all the time and space leading up to the March.” 

As for what came after the Pussyhat Project, Zweiman once again found herself called to a creative, social entrepreneurial venture, in response to an urgent political climate. In 2017, she began the Welcome Blanket Project based on the proposed 2,000-mile-long wall along the Mexico/U.S. border. The distance of the proposed border wall was reimagined as 2,000 miles of yarn used to make individual “welcome blankets” for new refugees. Makers were also invited to share their own immigration, migration, and/or relocation story, “because we all have one.” The Welcome Blanket continues to thrive, moving well past 2,000 miles of yarn, as well as limitations Zweiman observed with the Pussyhat Project and has accounted for and integrated into recent work. 

“Not all pussies are pink,” remarked Zweiman, speaking frankly of critiques of the Pussyhat later factored into Welcome Blanket development. “And not all women have pussies.” Furthermore, Zweiman characterized Welcome Blanket not as a single reactive moment, but potentially a “new American tradition,” laying the groundwork for a more pluralistic society. 

During the Q&A portion of the event, two guests’ remarks did well to summarize what exactly makes Zweiman’s practice of entrepreneurship infused with artistry and social good so unique to witness. “I’m excited to hear about entrepreneurship that’s not an app,” said a visiting family guest from San Francisco, while a parent stated, “Everything Brown does seems more empathetic.” 

Nelson Center Receives “Outstanding Emerging Entrepreneurship Center” Award at 2019 GCEC Conference

Nelson Center Receives “Outstanding Emerging Entrepreneurship Center” Award at 2019 GCEC Conference

The Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship received the award for Outstanding Emerging Entrepreneurship Center on Sept. 28, 2019, at the annual conference for The Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers.


The Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers is a “global conference gathering the world’s leading minds in entrepreneurship,” its membership comprising over 225 university-based entrepreneurship centers. This year’s GCEC conference was hosted by the Stockholm School of Entrepreneurship from Sept. 26-28 in Stockholm, Sweden. Over 300 representatives attended from institutions such as Harvard University, Yale University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, according to Associate Director of the Nelson Center Jonas Clark, who represented the Center at this year’s conference.

GCEC recognizes top university programs in entrepreneurship across eight categories, including Outstanding Emerging Entrepreneurship Center, which honors an entrepreneurship center that has been active for under five years. Centers self-nominate during a thorough application process and go through a selection committee of past winners. The Nelson Center was chosen for the award based on outstanding performance of selection criteria, including “campus and community engagement, [a] program portfolio, and metrics to date.”

Clark accepted the award on behalf of the Nelson Center in Stockholm on the last day of the conference. “The scale and scope of entrepreneurship education being taught around the world was much larger and more significant than I anticipated,” commented Clark. “To be a part of that group and to be specifically recognized for all of our hard work during the Nelson Center’s first three years was particularly gratifying. I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but I came back even more convinced that we have something special here at Brown, and I’m more energized than ever to take our efforts to the next level.”

Prof. Barbara Tannenbaum Discusses Communication and Identity for Entrepreneurs

Prof. Barbara Tannenbaum Discusses Communication and Identity for Entrepreneurs

From a student’s perspective, Barbara Tannenbaum is something of a celebrity professor here at Brown. Her course TAPS 0220: “Persuasive Communication” is famously overenrolled each semester; the classroom is flooded with students eager to snag a spot and even the top of the waitlist seems reserved for seniors. It’s not hard to decipher why. As a communication and public speaking consultant, Tannenbaum has coached high-powered executives and officials across all domains (technology companies, judicial bodies, and art museums to name a few) and on six continents. (Antarctica remains elusive.) 

With all this in mind, it’s a no-brainer that Tannenbaum has been a recurring guest speaker for our Breakthrough Lab cohorts here at the Nelson Center to provide the fundamentals of efficient communication as a young entrepreneur. Afterward, many members of this summer’s B-Lab cohort named Tannenbaum’s as their favorite, most useful presentation. “Yesterday’s talk with Barbara Tannenbaum: life-changing,” said Ben Gershuny ’21, one B-Lab student. “I’ve heard her name. She’s pretty special and everyone says that, and then you really have to see it and feel it to believe it. She got up there and held your attention like my attention’s never been held before. I’m seeing communication in a whole new light now.” 

One of the most striking aspects of Tannenbaum’s guest lecture was her reflection on how various identities can impact an entrepreneur’s public performance and reception. I sat down with her hoping to elaborate on these themes, and discovered that aside from her mastery of everyday communication, Tannenbaum has long been conscientious of how her own identities and society’s reactions to them has shaped her professional work. She’s in the business of perception, presentation, and self-identification. Being anything less than tuned in to the complicated nature of identity politics and dynamics in social settings was never an option. 

This interview was conducted in July 2019 and has been condensed and edited for clarity.



Interviewer: How do you navigate not wanting to seem “too political” in your work? 

Tannenbaum: It’s interesting because I did a lecture for a couple of hours [on science communication at URI]. The last question was, “Do you always get so political?” I think she asked a fair question. 

There’s no reason to alienate people who could still learn from me. And what I often say in class is, “There’s a difference between compromise and being compromised.” So the metaphor I like to use is: “At what point am I willing to change the key of my song so it’s less shrill and more people can hear it? Versus, at what point am I now singing somebody else’s song?” 

You’ve discussed growing up in an environment of activism during the 1960s and 70s. How does that remain with you in your work? 

After the civil rights movement, I was involved with the women’s movement. And I began to understand that the same things that had been said about people of color were exactly the same that was said about women. “You’re too angry. You have no sense of humor. You’re too emotional. You need to be more patient. You’re too aggressive.” When I heard the commonality, I realized that there was a power language. And what better way for people in control to stay in control than to have the power language, and when anyone else learns to speak it, to say – “Doesn’t sound so good on you, honey.” 

During your presentation to our B-Lab cohort, you described yourself as being a “nice girl in recovery.” Can you elaborate on that? 

To be clear, I don’t want people to be less nice. The “nice girl” was just so into pleasing everyone. Most of the time it is great. But sometimes you need to set boundaries, and I think my version of the nice girl had a hard time setting boundaries. Part of that was of course in the delivery: looking down, looking askance, not wanting to be fully present in a number of ways. It can be an abdication of power.

In that vein, you spoke about standing taller, speaking louder, not being afraid to take up space – especially relating to all the physical images of women we’re fed as being small, petite. Would you be willing to delve more into your personal experience with learning to reclaim your space? 

I may have mentioned [in B-Lab] that I was adopted by a family who is quite short and don’t look anything like me. My parents said, “Don’t ever tell anyone you’re adopted.” So I wanted to hide difference – I did that sometimes by trying to seem smaller so my difference might be less noticeable… We really didn’t look anything alike. So rather than saying I’m adopted, sometimes I say I was adapted. 

I also have always felt that being adopted allows me to better identify with more people because if the next family had picked me up, I’d have a different name and a different so-called heritage and different values, likely. So I’ve often been interested in what’s innate and what’s not. I do think it’s allowed me to be more of a world citizen because you realize how arbitrary a lot of this is – what you’re named, what your heritage is, where you live. It could’ve been easily the next family who took me. Eventually, I came to understand that the world interpreted me as me, not as an extension of my family, and that I was in control of many aspects of their interpretation – including how I take up space.

How does this all tie in specifically for people like our B-Lab cohort – young, college-aged startup founders learning to sell both their work and themselves as a team? 

The number one thing is to remember to be audience-centered and make the “what’s in it for me?” explicit. Some startup founders think only about the features they want to get across – “The product can do this and this and this.” Rather than what the audience wants to hear, which has to include the benefits. 

I have been involved with some of the startups at Brown. I remember being an early taster for Sir Kensington’s ketchup. We had five bottles in our kitchen of different recipes. And who was Sir Kensington? They made him up! Because they thought if they wanted to charge more for ketchup, they needed to have a higher sounding brand. Of course, there are data that say if you sell a product for too little, you don’t get necessarily the audience you want. So part of our appeal to any audience has to include the specific ways we use words and language to convey our value.