Launched by Brown and RIHub in 2019, Innovations for Urban Living is an accelerator program for early-stage startups with solutions to make cities more intelligent, livable, and sustainable.
Innovations for Urban Living is a new accelerator program for early-stage startups with solutions to make cities more intelligent, livable, and sustainable. Brown University and RIHub have partnered with The CoWrks Foundry to launch this 24-week startup accelerator. IULA is designed to help entrepreneurs improve the urban infrastructure and systems in India and in other emerging economies by leveraging a combination of technology, policy and local ingenuity. Successful teams will receive up to $40,000 in seed capital, engage in an accelerator curriculum experience, and gain access to top Indian and global investors through the CoWrks network, targeted coaching and mentoring; and coworking space at RIHub (Providence, RI) and CoWrks (Bangalore, India). Travel costs to enable time in direct experience, collaboration and network engagement in Bangalore are also covered.
On September 27, 2019, The Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship and Brown EP proudly hosted Riche Holmes Grant ‘99 (pictured above center) for a roundtable discussion as part of the Roundtable Discussion Series moderated by Chuck Isgar ’21 (center in, from the right). In the first roundtable hosted in the new Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship Building on Thayer Street, Grant discussed her experiences and key takeaways from building various entrepreneurial ventures, including BambiniWareand “The Riche Life” web series.
From Columbia Law School to starting an education venture
Following her time at Brown, Grant attended Columbia Law School. She came to the realization that the traditional corporate lawyer track might not be right for her after not receiving an offer from her summer firm to return after graduation. As a result, Grant was pointed in another direction: entrepreneurship. In the grand scheme of things, Grant recognizes that this worked out great as it not only launched her on an exciting path, but also allowed her to establish her resilience of dealing with rejection. In the discussion, Grant stressed the importance of fighting through failure.
Back when Grant was doing test prep while waiting for her bar exam results, she realized it could be done better. She also saw that test prep players, such as Kaplan, weren’t competing in markets such as her hometown of Prince George’s County, Maryland–the most affluent African-American county in the country. There was an opportunity in Grant’s head. In 2003, Grant founded Innovative Study Techniques, an education company focused on test preparation and education counseling. This venture was just the start of Grant’s entrepreneurial career.
Understanding your strengths and identifying who can help you
In 2013, Grant launchedBambiniWare, an innovative baby and mommy accessories brand with patented designs and fun and unique prints, inspired by her experience as a new mom. When developing BambiniWare, Grant was aware that she didn’t know everything that it would take to grow the business. Along these lines, Grant shared with the discussion participants the importance of finding experts and making them your mentors.
As Grant worked on BambiniWare, she learned a major lesson: whoever you go into business with, make sure they are committed. Along these lines, Grant advised the participants to not be afraid to start as a solo founder.
Within one year of launching BambiniWare, Grant had established a partnership with Martha Stewart. Since 2015, she has been a writer forMarthaStewart.com. In addition, she is a Culinary Expert for Williams Sonoma, Inc., writes for Subaru, and serves as a Digital Ambassador for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital – ALSAC.
Starting “The Riche Life:” a lesson in the importance of listening to those around you
At Grant’s core has always been the desire to help people. Over time, Grant heard from multiple people that they thought she should consider sharing some of her thoughts and advice on a video platform. Along these lines, Grant shared an important lesson for the aspiring entrepreneurs in the room: when multiple people tell you the same thing, you need to start thinking about it.
Without even knowing where the record button was on the camera, Grant began her series“The Riche Life.” As usual, Grant was willing to seek advice along the way. Grant shared some advice that was given and believes is important to keep in mind when establishing a media platform: don’t worry about your early numbers, likes, etc. Rather, Grant stressed the importance of creating great content, a principle that has driven her work with “The Riche Life.”
Given that she is not just the show’s host, but also her own makeup artist, production assistant, and more, she has been very careful about the message she is sending. Grant has has placed an emphasis on exploring what makes a person’s life rich — not just money, but also happiness.
Utilizing your resources and advice for the journey ahead
You know the phrase “how can I help you” that you might hear from mentors, peers, and others? Grant has heard it many times before, and you might have also. She encourages people to take advantage of this offer.
Grant remarked that at the end of the day, no matter how well-known someone is, people are just people. There’s no harm in asking for help; the worst-case scenario is someone says “no.”
In the spirit of Grant’s emphasis on continued learning and mentorship, she recommended that you find the best people in your industry and see how you can learn from them, whether through books or other means.
Grant provided many pieces of advice for participants who want to pursue entrepreneurial ventures: you have to have tough skin as most days aren’t rosy and you have to be prepared for bumps in the road.
Another takeaway really stands out: if you’re not afraid, it’s not enough of a challenge for you.
During spring break (March 2019), the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship and BrownConnect took 6 students and 2 staff on an immersive Synapse trip to explore the startup culture in London, as a part of their international collaborative offerings. The five-day, all-expenses-paid trip was made possible through the generosity of a Brown alum. The trip provided students with the opportunity to visit companies that encompass a wide spectrum of entrepreneurial activity, as well as time to explore the city and its rich history.
The trip expanded the students’ professional networks and exposed them to nuanced perspectives from founders, private equity financiers, and CEOs. Max Easton ‘16, co-founder of Willie’s Superbrew, welcomed the cohort over dinner before their immersion days to provide them a unique perspective on the startup scene in London as well as provide the cohort with high tea recommendations. On Monday, the day started by walking through Kensington Garden and the Palace grounds, as they headed to our first stop at the Founders Factory (FF). Winnie Akadjo, Talent Community Manager at FF, guided the group through their mission to work with corporate sponsors and 60 of their own operators to help founders build companies. The group then headed to Leadenhall Market for lunch where the cohort explored the old and new architecture before heading into Lloyds of London to learn about the history of the world’s oldest insurance company and their innovation lab. The group ended the day with the founder of AebeZe Labs, where they discussed the nuances of startups, mental health, and technology.
Tuesday, the cohort’s day started off with an introduction to design thinking through the perspective of founders of Holition Charles Bonas ‘91 and Jonathan Chippindale. Then Rhea Kalogeropoulos ‘06 (pictured above in the center), founder of Prettly, provided the students with her personal narrative of what it means to be an entrepreneur and make entrepreneurship work for you. The students headed to the Net-a-Porter’s London headquarters to meet the president of the company, Alison Loehnis ‘92. She walked the students through her intrapreneurial journey from working in retail to the head of the company. They then headed to the Houses of Parliament to meet the Earl of Erroll for a roundtable discussion on international entrepreneurship. Students got to meet other students and professors from local universities and explore the historical building.
On Wednesday the students had coffee with the founder of Searchlight Capital, Oliver Haarmann ‘90, an open discussion on women and entrepreneurship with Goya Gallagher ‘91 of Malaika Linens, Dafna Bonas of Indie Bay Snacks, Tamara Arbib ‘05 of Rebel Kitchen and Cynthia Kaufmann Gabay ‘92 of the Duet Group. The day ended with an alumni networking event hosted by Alla Bashenko ’98, AM’98 at a beautiful WeWork space, followed by dinner with Robin Doumar ’85, P’20, P’22, P’23 of Park Square Capital.
Our immersive, educational, and life-changing Synapse trips from Barcelona, to London, to SF, are possible due to the generosity of alumni donors. We thank them for continuing to support entrepreneurial endeavors that take students off of College Hill and transport them to new cities and startup ecosystems.
If you are interested in getting involved please email us at email@example.com. Continue reading to learn more from the cohort and their own reflections on the trip.
Applications for London 2020 open in November. Check back here for more info.
Dana Kurniawan ‘22, Environmental Science, I.C. in User Experience Design
If being an entrepreneur is partly determined by how creative and resourceful we can be, going to London and witnessing the startup ecosystem reconceptualized the types of creativity, resourcefulness, and philosophies we can infuse into our work.
Be it hearing from an early stage startup like Prettly, or a scaled organization like Net-a-Porter, London Synapse helped me realize the kind of team I want to work in: multidisciplinary; the work I want to do: interdisciplinary.
As a buzzword, entrepreneurship has connotations of risk, burnout, and an all-consuming nature that eclipses the nuances and diverse personalities that define it. Without a doubt, there is no trend, no consistent relationship, or sure-fire way of charting a path in entrepreneurship. What I took away from the intimate nature of the roundtables we had the privilege of participating in was this — if we do not keep teasing out the meaning for why we do what we do, as you evolve as a person, you will lose the reason for grit and resilience.
Especially in building something from the ground up, the practice of entrepreneurship advocates that you live and breathe your idea. But the co-founders and alums offered an additional nuance, that you will be defined not by the results of your work, but how you do it. In a place where early-stage funding is more difficult to secure and patents require a more rigorous level of definition than the US, there is also the relief of knowing you do not have to start now. Work experience, active listening, and witnessing is integral. In many ways, London Synapse was an opportunity for us to do just that. Xinru Li ‘22, Music and Economics
The London Synapse was a wonderful experience that it is difficult to define the most impactful part for me, but the highlight was definitely the amazing people I got to meet and know — both from our site visits as well as the students and staff in the London Synapse cohort. The memories, advice, and inspiration I received will remain with me for the rest of my life.
Before going on this trip, I had a vision of an entrepreneur as someone starting a business out of their college dorm, perhaps dropping out of college to pursue their passions. This trip really made me rethink what it means to be an entrepreneur.
We met entrepreneurs who started right out of college as well as entrepreneurs who didn’t start a company until they were in their forties. We’d talked to “intrapreneurs” who started their ventures within a larger organization, which was not something I’d thought about before this trip. But even with this diversity in entrepreneurial experiences, a major trend I noticed throughout the visits was that entrepreneurship was a team effort. The myth of a single entrepreneur starting a multi-million dollar company out of their garage was quickly debunked throughout our trip as we spoke to founders or leaders of companies in various industries and spaces, of various sizes, and with various backgrounds.
Apart from all the lessons I learned about entrepreneurship, I also received amazing life advice. I learned it’s okay to not know what you want to do with your life and that it’s okay to pursue your current passions even if it doesn’t seem practical. It really reminded me that not everything I want to get done needs to be done in college, I should embrace spontaneity and really enjoy the remaining three years of my time here at Brown. During our free time in London, I saw Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Part 1 at the Palace Theatre with George and Julian. Watching the beautiful choreography and the magic of the story come to life on stage made London seem like a place of endless creativity and possibilities.
Renny Ma ‘20, Public Health
Being in London was an incredible experience; not only was I in complete awe the entire train ride from the airport to our hotel and nearly every moment afterwards, it was extremely refreshing to meet such a wide range of companies, such kind and welcoming Brown alums, and to spend time with such an insightful and interesting cohort.
I think one of the most important lessons I learned through this experience was echoed by Brown alums Alison Loehnis at Net-A-Porter and Tamara Arbib at Rebel Kitchen — that entrepreneurship is not just limited to starting companies; there is a lot of room for innovation from within organizations as well.
As someone who hasn’t actually started a company, it was encouraging to recognize that there are actually more entry points to entrepreneurship than I expected.
Another memorable moment from the trip took place while eating ramen with the cohort at Kanada-Ya, where I had an opportunity to share about challenges I’d been experiencing in linking my concentration and career interests. Even though we had only met a couple days before, I felt a lot of support from my peers, and was surprised by how easily they helped me pinpoint the things I was most passionate about back on campus, including mental health and working at the CareerLAB. In thinking about the lessons I learned from Alison and Tamara, and in reflecting on the advice I’d received from many of the entrepreneurs and my peers, I was inspired to think about my academic path in a way that was much more open, flexible, and true to my interests and strengths.
I am so grateful to have been a part of London Synapse. Being in such an entrepreneurial city was rejuvenating and eye-opening, and it led me to people I probably never would have met otherwise. I am so excited to channel this energy into the rest of my studies, to keep building upon my relationships, and to continue pursuing my ideas.
Julian Vallyeason ‘20, Chemical Engineering, Applied Math-Economics
The breadth of organizations and people we met – from Brown alums launching small businesses to venture capitalists investing in new ideas – showed me the sheer diversity in the venture community in London. As a college student, I have had a skewed perception of “entrepreneurship.” I had seen other college students building products from their dorm and launching companies immediately after graduation. But over the five-day program, I saw that simply wasn’t always the case. We met Brown alum and private equity financier Oliver Haarmann, who worked in the financial industry for decades launching Searchlight Capital. We met external advisors, like Lmarks, who worked on short-term projects to promote new practices in large, established companies like Lloyds of London. And we met many “textbook” entrepreneurs, who were looking to raise capital and grow their businesses.
It was the conversations and interactions that we had with the people we met and the places they worked, that struck me as fascinating. Many of the founders we spoke to had worked in large companies before entering the venture space; a clear consequence of this was a more measured and practical approach in the way they built companies, as well as a strong air of professionalism in their offices. Many of them shared stories of how their background, both through their prior work and the people they met along the way, helped them grow to where they were now. I hope to take a similarly measured pace as I consider my post-Brown career, rather than rushing toward a goal.
London is a beautiful city, but having the opportunity to experience it with the Synapse cohort added a new dimension to our experience. On the first day, a group of us went to watch Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, followed by an organ recital at Westminster Abbey.
As we walked around the city, we noticed that the city mixed very old, historic architecture, with brand-new 21st-century offices in a seamless way. Walking through the city seemed almost like straddling 1000 years on a timeline.
And of course, walking between companies and exploring the city was made infinitely better by the friendships everyone in the program made with one another.
Natalie Feinstein ‘20, Chemistry
For me, the most impactful moment of London Synapse came when we sat down with Rhea Kalogeropoulos ’06, founder of mobile beauty services startup Prettly. Rhea spoke candidly about having to figure things out as you go, for example when she had to make the difficult decision to end a marketing campaign and sacrifice growth for revenue contrary to the Facebook model of first growth, then profitability. She also shared with us what it was like to pitch to a room full of venture capitalists while visibly pregnant (VCs become uncomfortable to say the least). In other words, Rhea made the life of a founder feel tangible in a way it never has before. It was also eye-opening to hear Rhea say that being a founder is the best possible job for a new mother, a sentiment echoed by the wonderful Brown alumnae we met at the Women-Owned Ventures Luncheon.
Popular wisdom would have it that to be successful, a founder must sacrifice several years of their life, but actually, being a founder allows you to set your own hours and arrange your life alongside your other commitments.
In addition to meeting cool founders, there was London itself. Hyde Park on a sunny spring day is paradise. Even though none of us knew each other before the trip, bumbling around the city together made it feel like we had been friends for years. Thank you to everyone at the Nelson Center, CareerLAB, and beyond who made this trip possible. And finally, thank you to Liz Malone of the Nelson Center and the aforementioned Matt Donato of CareerLAB, our “chaperones”, who with their humor and sense of adventure, made London Synapse what it was.
George Lee ‘21, Computer Science
Without a doubt, the London Synapse Trip has been one of the highlights of my time at Brown so far. In just a short few days, I learned so much about the cultural beauty of London, the various different forms entrepreneurship can take, what it takes to be successful, and just how many different paths one can take in their career. I had the immense pleasure to meet and speak with so many amazing people, not just the entrepreneurs we met, but also the other members of the cohort. Some of my fondest memories were our nightly dinners where we unpacked the day’s events or the small conversations we had on our way from destination to destination.
London was absolutely amazing, a true cultural melding of old and new. Centuries-old taverns stood proudly alongside gleaming skyscrapers while ancient cathedrals sat next to towers of steel and glass. I had a blast visiting ancient wonders in the British Museum, listening to an organ concert in Westminster Abbey, and a true highlight, getting to experience the magic of Harry Potter first hand by catching Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the historic Palace Theatre in London’s West End. I could go on and on about how amazing that play was and how we just showed up with no tickets and managed to snag some right at the door, but alas, as fun as the sight-seeing was, that was not the true purpose of the visit.
Visiting startups and companies from all different stages and industries really opened my eyes to just how many opportunities for innovation there is in the world. Entrepreneurs can come from any background, from any place, with any idea. You can start right here on Brown’s campus-like Max Easton did with Farmer Willie’s or you can start in your 40’s and build a successful private equity firm like Oliver Haarmann. You can decide to move to Egypt, fail to create a magazine company, learn from it, and develop a thriving linen empire like Goya Gallagher or work your way up from the security of a large company and innovate from within like Alison Loehnis of Net-a-Porter. You can find innovation from 300-year-old insurance companies trying to support inventions with an internal incubator like Lloyds or help early-stage startups build from the ground up like Founders Factory.
Entrepreneurship defies definition, and as long as someone wants to make something happen in the world, with enough drive, resilience to failure, and perseverance, they can do it!
Although there is no denying that building a company is hard, extremely hard, the people we visited are proof that it can be done. I felt like I’ve always been interested in entrepreneurship as a possible career move, but after this trip my interest has only grown. So if you have an idea and need a Software Developer or are interested in my Beef Wellington recipe (I was inspired to make it shortly after not being able to actually taste it in London) hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org!
On June 26, 2019, Prof. Banu Ozkazanc-Pan was invited to testify before the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, chaired by Senator Marco Rubio. The hearing focused on the reauthorization of the Small Business Act, which includes the Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) program, where Prof. Ozkazanc-Pan contributed her expertise on women and minority investors and entrepreneurs. Her testimony focused on the ways the program can be restructured to provide on-ramps for more women and minority fund managers, as well as ways that such funds can support women- and minority-led ventures. Watch a recording of her testimony (See her present at 02:12). You can also read more about the hearing here.
In addition to this accomplishment, Prof. Ozkazanc-Pan and her colleague Prof. Susan Clark Muntean of the University of North Carolina, Asheville have recently signed a book contract with Cambridge University Press. Their new book will focus on entrepreneurial ecosystems through a gender perspective and examine the socio-cultural, organizational, and institutional structures that can potentially limit opportunities for women-led businesses. The book will provide policy makers ideas for building ecosystems that can foster inclusive economic development at a time when income inequality is on the rise in the United States. It will be available in 2020 but her recent book, Transnational Migration and the New Subjects of Work: Transmigrants, Hybrids and Cosmopolitans will be available September of this year from Bristol University Press.
This past May, the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship and Brown Entrepreneurship Program (EP) took 9 students on an immersive Synapse trip to explore the startup culture in San Francisco, CA. The five-day, all-expenses-paid trip was made possible through the generosity of Brown alumni. The trip provided students with the opportunity to visit companies that encompass a wide spectrum of entrepreneurial activity, as well as time to explore the city and its rich history.
The goal of the trip is to help students expand their professional networks and learn nuanced perspectives from founders throughout the Bay Area and Silicon Valley. Jonathan Speed ‘84 welcomed the cohort over dinner before their immersion days to provide them a unique perspective on the startup scene in San Francisco. Speed’s career spans decades of innovation in the tech and startup space, from founding a SaaS company to leading companies as a CFO, and of course, advising dozens of startups. He is currently the CFO and VP of Operations at Versal Group, an eLearning technology company. His stories and their discussion helped the cohort gain a better understanding of the day-to-day life of the global center for high technology, innovation, and social media. The students felt prepared to embark the next day, to meet impressive alumni and industry leaders making changes in the SF ecosystem.
On Monday, May 20, students sat down for an intimate discussion on how the world can manage identity and access with Greg Kidd ’81, co-founder and CEO of globaliD and a generous donor for the trip. After, the cohort walked over to Y Combinator and had a conversation with Kat Manalac, a partner at YC, about the support structure they provide for each YC cohort, and learned that 70% of startups that go through Y Combinator succeed! By lunchtime they were riding an elevator with the CEO of Slack on their way to chat with Fareed Mosavat ’01, Director of Product Lifecycle, and Zindzi McCormick ‘09, Group Product Manager, about Slack’s growth and the company’s next steps in this time of rapid growth. The last stop on Monday was Yerdle, co-founded by Adam Werbach ‘95, where they sat down with co-founder Andy Ruben to chat about how Yerdle is redefining the future of retail and how brands can best serve their customers as well as the environment. His story of grit and resilience was not only inspiring but also a truly authentic look into the life of a founder.
They ended the jam-packed day with a lively alumni dinner, filled with stories, laughter, and new friendships. The night served as a powerful reminder of the incredible network of Brown alumni who have used everything they learned on College Hill and beyond to make impactful change in the world.
On Tuesday, the students headed to Palo Alto, where they started the day with Lauren Kolodny ‘08, partner at Aspect Ventures, a venture capital firm started by Theresia Gouw ‘90. Lauren brought along two other colleagues at the firm to discuss venture capital as a career path and provide examples of the type of experience VC firms look for when hiring. The cohort then made its way to Robinhood, a financial services company, where students first met with Alvin Hui, who leads university recruiting and programs. He provided a grand tour of the space and then introduced Nili Moghaddam ‘99, Associate General Counsel and Head of Litigation and Investigations at the company who explained her dynamic career path before Robinhood, and the reasons she was drawn to working at a startup. The group also chatted with her about the recent acquisition of MarketSnacks (now called Robinhood Snacks), co-founded by Nick Martell ’11. Nili was the lawyer who helped launch Robinhood Snacks.
The students ended the trip with a visit to Stanford University, where they discussed identity, social innovation, and representation in the field of entrepreneurship with Fern Mandelbaum ‘84, Lecturer in Management at Stanford’s school of business and Managing Partner at Vista Venture Partners. It was a whirlwind of a trip, but one that the students and alumni will never forget. Our immersive, educational, and life-changing Synapse trips from Barcelona, to London, to SF, are possible due to the generosity of alumni donors. We thank them for continuing to support entrepreneurial endeavors that take students off of College Hill and transport them to new cities and startup ecosystems.
If you are interested in getting involved please email us at email@example.com. Continue reading to learn more from the cohort and their own reflections on the trip.
Karina Bao ‘21, Applied Mathematics/Computer Science
The spirit of Brown alumni in San Francisco is incredible. They don’t accept the status quo. They think about the big picture; the whole system.
Through our conversations, I realized it was more important to build innovatively towards an ideal world than to agonize through every social problem. The conversations with students also helped and encouraged me to believe that sustainable and realistic solutions are possible; it just takes our willpower and teamwork.
At our first meeting with Greg Kidd ‘81, he shared the serendipity of the early days of his startups, Twitter, and his exciting vision for the future through globaliD. It was completely outside the realm of anything I’d ever thought about. And as we continued discussing, although it might seem futuristic, it was completely possible at a large scale. Consequently, my biggest takeaway was his message about solving problems. He said that if you’re solving a big enough problem, there’s no way it won’t be profitable. In other words, don’t necessarily worry about profitability, but focus on understanding the problem, building the solution, and profit will reveal itself.
That afternoon, we visited Yerdle, a clothing recycling company. Andy was extremely open about sharing how the company had 2 major reorganizations while holding the same principles. Now, they had stumbled upon the future for retail and could tell they were ahead of the curve in the service they were providing. It was great to hear about their highs and lows and visit the warehouse to see the inner workings.
During our final stop, Fern Mandelbaum emphasized the importance of bringing people from different backgrounds to the team. She highlighted how every new team member added should be different from the previous members. “If the first 3 people on your team are Brown students, the next should be someone not from Brown or not a student.” Her advice was concrete and straightforward to implement. She pressed that team members should have complementary skill sets instead of similar ones. She also shared stories about her friends who had guest lectured at Stanford like Haben Girma who have taught so much to her students.
Some of my other highlights were saying hello to Michael Seibel in the YCombinator lobby and sharing with him some of the progress I had made since meeting him at HackMIT last fall. Zindzi and Fareed at Slack shared how, “communication is only over when you are heard, not when you are done talking”. And Aerin Lim, an amazing role model from Silicon Valley Bank, shared how excited she was about new tech. Again, I feel enormously optimistic after this trip. The alumni were so warm, welcoming, and eager to share their advice and time. It really makes me excited to become an alum and give back.
Emily Wanderer AM ‘19, Entrepreneurship, Organizations and Social Justice
As a recent master’s graduate of an integrative studies program focused on Entrepreneurship, Organizations and Social Justice, my objective was to understand how I fit into the tech ecosystem in the Bay Area. The stark inequalities amongst San Francisco blocks were palpable. During the trip, I consistently asked about the social impact that the business’ considered. This provided us insight into the city and its inner workings but also how I could position my career to support social equity through tech companies.
A highlight for me was visiting Yerdle Recommerce, who is expanding quickly in their Palo Alto location now employing more than 70 individuals. Meeting the founder gave us a window into the evolution of the business both past and future, from a direct-to-customer reseller to a white label platform. Yerdle has succeeded by using the lean startup approach to find product/market fit before scaling an idea. Now that they’ve validated their idea, they will quickly scale their team and partnerships with brands. It was amazing to see how a small startup could influence an entire industry to shift their assumptions about what creates revenue.
Moving to a new city can be intimidating. I have now moved from Rhode Island to the Bay Area to pursue a career in for-profit social enterprise. As a direct result of the Synapse trip, I already have 7+ meetings set up including with Robinhood, Yerdle, and alumni.
Just this small start in building relationships and networks in a new place eases my fears tremendously. This trip catalyzed so much for my career. I can’t wait to connect all the dots in 6 months-I will keep you updated!
Briana Das ‘21, Psychology
Brown’s San Francisco Synapse trip was a unique opportunity to explore the place I call home. I felt incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to learn about a variety of perspectives from different companies in the area in the realm of entrepreneurship and tech. As someone interested in the intersection of human-centered design, design ethics, and entrepreneurship, there were valuable insights everywhere we went.
Some highlights of the trip included our discussion with Kat at YC, who gave us a look into how YC works to support startups and entrepreneurship networks, particularly seeking ways to scale while maintaining the value of carefully guided mentorship. At Slack, we spoke with Brown graduates and Slack product managers Fareed and Zindzi who gave us insight not just into what it meant to be a product manager at a high growth company like Slack, but also what it means to go out into the world with a Brown degree and how that impacted their path. One of the most impactful people for me was Stanford Business School professor, Fern Mandelbaum. She covered what she teaches, but also discussed identity, social innovation, and the vital importance of representation in the field of entrepreneurship.
Ultimately, the SF Synapse trip left me with this: Every one of us will leave Brown with a unique set of skills and mindsets that we can use wherever we end up. We learned to seek cultures of rapid growth and inclusivity. We learned the value of the relationships we keep, inside and outside of Brown. And the conversations we started along the trip will continue long after we’ve graduated.
Chuck Isgar ‘21, Business, Entrepreneurship and Organizations
While I gained many practical learnings, the clear highlight of the trip for me was the opportunity to connect with and learn from classmates, Brown alumni, and other entrepreneurial figures. Other students and I would discuss our biggest takeaways from each company visit; these conversations allowed me to form relationships with the other entrepreneurial-minded Brown students on the trip.
Various conversations and pieces of practical advice made the trip such an insightful experience. For example, Kat at Y Combinator helped me understand how accelerators and entrepreneurs can balance the many tasks that come up on a daily basis. Our visit to Slack allowed me to realize the importance of continuing to refine my writing skills. At our student-alumni dinner, it was a special opportunity to have a roughly equal number of students and Brown alumni who are working in various entrepreneurial-related roles in the Bay Area.
I found my conversations with Aerin Lim (Silicon Valley Bank) and Olivia Rodriguez (Instacart) to be particularly impactful, especially when hearing their stories of how they ultimately wound up in entrepreneurship-related roles.
The key takeaway was that you should have no fear in pursuing an entrepreneurial-related career from day one, even if that isn’t what many of your classmates are doing.
As well, it was very insightful to hear Lauren Kolodny’s explanation that there are many different paths to VC and to glean other lessons that she has learned in her journey of building Aspect Ventures. These are just a few of the many lessons I learned during the trip. To best put it into perspective, I began the tour with an empty notebook and by the end of our trip it was half-full.
Angela Wang ‘21, Computer Science and Economics
Words like “entrepreneurship” or “startup” excite with their glamorous promise of success and riches. What the Synapse Program did was to help me properly conceptualize the immense amount of work and adaptability that’s required to even come close to making good on that promise.
In this sense, the Synapse Program has been a great learning experience. In the space of a few days we were exposed to every aspect of the entrepreneurship process. Listening and engaging with alums in different stages of their startup journey was incredibly instructive, as it gave us an intimate glimpse into the challenges of succeeding within the startup industry in real-time. The alums were very generous in embracing us into their community, sharing their life stories, and very sincerely opening up about both the adversity as well as the technical struggles they had to confront. Their example demonstrated to me in a tangible and productive way how I should begin to model my career path.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the program was that it changed my entire attitude about what it means to be an entrepreneur. I had always thought of the entrepreneur as someone who strikes gold with a get-rich idea and then works on honing that idea into a company.What I’ve discovered – and this was the most exciting and freeing thing about the program – is that entrepreneurship is much more of a social and fluid process. I will never forget the eureka moment when Greg Kidd of globaliD completely exploded the horizons of my thinking on the entire entrepreneurship concept. His words have inspired me to overhaul and revamp my thinking on what it means to succeed in the world of entrepreneurship. Now, that world feels not only much more expansive but also more promising than ever before.
Tanzina Chowdhury ‘21, Computer Science and Economics
San Francisco Synapse was my first opportunity to experience the Silicon Valley tech ecosystem of startups and meet people full of entrepreneurial spirit. The insights from the alumni dinners and the startup visits were so important for me as a rising junior to think deeply about my ideas and possible ventures, as ideas alone are not effective until we can implement and execute them. The opportunity to conversate with the alumni and tech leaders have given me both motivation and connection to think more critically about my ideas and how to build a roadmap to execute them.
Mostly, it was a great team to travel with and I truly gained a lot of motivation from the ideas and ventures of my fellow peers.
The trip started with the meeting with Greg Kidd in the Digital Garage and I think that was a great introduction for the rest of the trip. Greg not only talked about globaliD and his experience with other ventures such as Twitter and Coinbase, but also discussed the future of the industry by giving us a Silicon Valley cultural overview. I have gained valuable insight from that talk about the future of keeping an electronic identity which seemed really interesting to me to research further into it to explore how it can solve other problems such as corruption. Also, I loved the alumni dinners as I could connect and learn a lot from their stories. Overall, I am really motivated by the Synapse trip and really grateful to be a part of the team of highly motivated individuals to build friendship and mentorship.
Rohan Gupta ‘22, Computer Science
The San Francisco Synapse trip was an amazing experience! The many Brown alumni that we met were all inviting and generous with their advice. It was interesting to learn about all of their various experiences and perspectives, some of which opened my eyes to fundamental changes in our world that I had not previously paid much attention to. Seeing their passion and dedication to their projects and businesses motivated me to follow in their footsteps.
My biggest takeaways from SF Synapse were the importance of relationships, communication, and generosity. Ultimately, business is all about the people – when employees are respected and treated well, companies flourish. Further, just as important as having great ideas is being able to express them clearly to others in both oral and written forms.
And finally, one can’t expect to just keep taking from others without giving in return, so generosity towards others is key.
Overall, I am extremely grateful that I was able to attend this trip because of all the awesome people I met and the helpful advice I received.
Chase McKee ‘21, Business, Entrepreneurship and Organizations
I had heard about the plethora of startups with investors clamoring to find the next greatest company, but I had never been able to experience it firsthand. Through speaking with and visiting both early stage and later stage companies of Brown alumni, I was able to have a truly eye-opening trip in SF. I learned about the hardships of being an entrepreneur, the brilliant moments of success that result from years of hard work and perseverance and developed invaluable alumni connections in the area to allow my learning to continue after the trip.
Additionally, I had the opportunity to learn more about the world of venture capital. Through our visit to Aspect Ventures, I was able to ask many of my most pressing questions about the industry. I appreciated the candid advice that venture capital is a tough business to gain employment in, especially right out of college. While noting the challenge of entering the space, additional advice was given on how to succeed if given the opportunity to get involved.
One thing I will always remember about the trip is the stimulating interaction with the other students which was a valuable learning experience in and of itself.
Each student had an impressively unique background that allowed for differing perspectives. The other students encouraged voicing differing opinions on various matters which led to many fascinating and intellectually probing conversations. Learning from each other was a theme that grew throughout the trip and ultimately provided a pathway for deeper exploration of the entrepreneurial ecosystem.