Nelson Center’s 2020 Year in Review

Even during such an unpredictable and challenging year, 2020 brought many highlights that make us grateful for the work we do. This is all thanks to our entire Nelson Center community, which continues to make the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship the hub for entrepreneurship at Brown where students are engaged, inspired, and empowered to change the world one solution at a time.

To celebrate and wrap up the year, we present a few of our highlights from 2020!

Happy New Year!

– Nelson Center Team

Despite the struggles brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, student and alumni ventures made significant progress. From Jayna Zweiman’s ‘01 Masks for Humanity, to Chuck Isgar ‘21, Megan Kasselberg ‘20 and David Lu’s ‘20 venture Intern From Home, to Max Goldman ‘21, Aidan Reilly ‘21, Ben Collier ‘21, and recent alum, Will Collier’s ‘20 The Farmlink Project, our community continues to develop new solutions for the problems that developed as a result of the pandemic.



We launched our new Entrepreneurship Certificate in May. The certificate provides a curricular structure for undergraduate students who wish to make entrepreneurship an important part of their intellectual journey at Brown. Learn more here.


We had some of our best events ever, including our most attended Founder Friday event “How Founders and Industry Leaders are Taking Action on Climate Change,” a research event “A Historical Perspective on Black & African American Capitalism, Economic Inequalities and the Complex Role of Franchises,” and our B-Lab Virtual Venture Showcase (pictured above). Each was attended by people from around the country and the world!


Student and alumni ventures raised significant funds this year including Alex Zhuk, Jack Roswell, and David Schurman’s Cloud Agronomics (left), which raised $6M from SineWave Ventures as the lead investor, and Robbie Felton ‘21, Alexander Rothberg ‘21, Samuel Prado ‘21, and Evan Jackson’s ‘21 Intus Care (right), which raised a total of $600K in funding over two rounds.

Under the leadership of Chuck Isgar ‘20.5 and Grace Parker ‘21, the Brown Entrepreneurship Program (EP), the Nelson Center’s student-led club, grew larger than ever this year, launched a new partnership with Spelman College, and partnered with the Amplify Speaker Series. Read more about their year here.



Professor Jennifer Nazareno (left) and Professor Don Stanford ‘72 ScM ’77 (right) were this year’s recipients of the Hazeltine Mentoring in Entrepreneurship Award. Over 100 people tuned in from all over the country for the award ceremony. Read more here.


YEP! (Young Entrepreneurs of Providence), the Nelson Center- and EP-sponsored program for Providence high school students, virtually hosted its third cohort. Watch a recording of their 2020 Pitch Night here and read more about their semester here.


Van Wickle Ventures, the Nelson Center’s student-run venture capital fund, announced investments in Projector, co-founded by Trevor O’Brien ‘10, and a company in stealth mode. Read more about Van Wickle Ventures in News from Brown here.


We had exciting updates for our Nelson Center staff including welcoming two new members to our team, with Sheila Haggerty working on major academic programs and Alyssa Trejo as the first-ever Communications Fellow. We are also excited to announce that Abi Durmaz (pictured here), our Events and Operations Coordinator, won Brown’s Staff Excellence Award for Rising Star.




The 2020 Brown Venture Prize friendly competition went virtual! This did not stop students from presenting their best venture pitches, leading to Intus Care winning first place, Intimately winning second place, and Resuscitech winning third place. Read more here.

A Year to Remember for the Brown Entrepreneurship Program (EP)

A Year to Remember for the Brown Entrepreneurship Program (EP)

Happy Holidays! We hope this message finds you staying healthy and doing well. This is Chuck Isgar ‘20.5 and Grace Parker ‘21, your proud co-presidents of Brown’s Entrepreneurship Program (EP) from this past year. It seems out of all years, this is a year to reflect on what makes us grateful. This year, we were honored to lead Brown’s Entrepreneurship Program, and we are so thankful for the experiences and people we have met along the way. It is hard to put into words the commitment and enthusiasm that our 75 members have brought to the club despite the circumstances, and we would like to use this blog post as a way to reflect on our time leading EP and an outlook toward the amazing things ahead. 

We have watched our members adapt and grow into a community that makes us extremely proud. During one of our many strategic planning conversations, we set out a goal: to turn EP into a family. Specifically, we wanted each member of EP to leave every weekly Sunday meeting feeling inspired and ideally feeling like they had begun a new friendship. We knew that getting to this point would require commitment from the team leads of EP’s 11 teams and from our 75 members. To this end, last January we brainstormed with the team leads and had each of them write down their goals for the year. By the end of the meeting, the walls of the Liz Lange Lecture Hall in the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship were covered with poster boards with neon-colored writing, expressing what each team wanted to accomplish. Our journey of leading EP had begun.

With a focus on increasing the transparency of EP, we jump-started the semester with a very successful in-person info session where prospective applicants to EP had the opportunity to meet the team leads and immerse themselves into the Brown entrepreneurial scene. We saw 50+ students attend this info session, and we continued the info session during the application process in September, albeit virtually. EP now has 75 hardworking, inspiring, and determined members. 

Aligned with our goal of making sure the members of EP were learning something new at every EP meeting, we coordinated various guest speakers to join our group. Our first guest speakers were Nick Martell ‘11 and Jack Kramer from Robinhood Snacks. They inspired and captivated EP, and we put the Zoom Room functionality in the Nelson Center to work. Little did we know how important Zoom would soon become. Before Brown transitioned to a fully virtual format due to COVID-19, we held the Women’s Empowerment Conference (WE) conference which would be our very last in-person event. It was a special event that featured a variety of inspiring speakers, a pitch competition, networking, and more. 

EP Makes It Happen, Even During a Pandemic

Soon after the WE Conference, we learned of Brown’s transition to a virtual format. With an understanding that we would be leading our club through a global pandemic, we worked quickly to cancel all in-person events for the remainder of the semester, and most importantly, to be a resource for our 75 members as they determined and navigated their plans for the rest of the semester.

In true EP fashion, our members did not want EP to stop and neither did we. So we pushed onwards and upwards. We hosted virtual events, and in lieu of our speaker meetings, we recorded interviews for our members with alumni such as Olivia Rodriguez ‘11, the Manager for Business Development and Sales Strategy at Instacart. The Finance Team planned our first-ever virtual event hosting a range of different venture capitalists, including Lee Hower, a co-founder of LinkedIn. The Alumni Relations Team hosted the first virtual Roundtable Discussion with Luke Sherwin ‘12, the Co-founder of Casper and Block Renovation.

Partnering with AMPLIFY and Spelman College

We transitioned to the summer which marked the start of our life-long partnership with AMPLIFY and Spelman College. AMPLIFY’s mission is to bring to light underrepresented voices in entrepreneurship and VC. As one of the original participants of the AMPLIFY initiative, EP hosted an event in August with Spelman’s Entrepreneurship Club that featured Austin Martin ‘17, founder of Rhymes with Reason. This started our partnership with Spelman’s Entrepreneurship Club, which we have loved developing this semester. We had a social/networking night with our two programs and also planned a speaker event with John Smothers as our guest.

We brainstormed ways of how EP could become a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable community. Elvia Perez ‘22 has done a masterful job of creating EP’s new Diversity and Inclusion team this fall, and we’re so excited to support her and the team in continuing efforts in this very important priority to EP.

Finishing the Summer Strong and Gearing Up for the Fall

We ended our summer with something really exciting: for the first time in over 20 years, we brought together the past co-presidents of EP for a happy hour. We had over 20 past co-presidents of EP join us, going back to the first EP co-presidents in 1998. These conversations led us to new and renewed engagements with alumni and served as inspiration as we finalized our plans for how we could turn the virtual nature of the fall semester ahead into an opportunity.

As the summer came to an end, we transitioned EP to a completely virtual format for the fall. We told our members that EP would function just as it always has, but virtually. As we planned for what EP would look like in the fall, we decided to rethink the application process with an effort to make the process as transparent and accessible as possible. We decided to interview every single person who applied to EP, as well as expand the number of people who would be accepted. 

Particularly noteworthy is that we opened our application process to first-years at Brown, some of whom have never even stepped foot on campus. We welcomed many of them to our club this fall, and it has been an absolute pleasure to be the first connection point to Brown for some of them.

The Fall Semester: Becoming a Family

As our meetings for the fall began, we learned the magic of Zoom break out rooms and their power to allow us as a club to meet each other and come together as a community. We continued our efforts to ensure our members learned one new thing every Sunday. We hosted a range of speakers, from students to seasoned professionals. Albert Saniger, the co-founder of Nate joined us and shared about his experience building and scaling a technology startup. Robbie Felton ‘21 and Evan Jackson ‘21 shared their experience breaking down barriers as student founders in the healthcare space. Erika Bower ‘09, a former co-president of EP, provided great wisdom about how to navigate work opportunities during challenging economic times. In all speaker events, our guests inspired EP members and pushed us to think.

Every team in EP has done so much over the year, and we want to share a few highlights, but this recap is certainly not exhaustive by any means. The Tech team made our website look fabulous, and created a new workshop series to help students develop tech skills and get their startup ideas off the ground. The Design and Marketing team has worked extremely hard on so many amazing new designs for our events and they redesigned the logo for EP’s Podcast team. They created the new EP innov8 campaign which has inspired not just the EP community, but also those outside of it. They have shown us what it means to commit yourself to what you care about. An example of this is, Kaito Ran ‘22, the co-lead of the Design and Marketing team who joined us for every weekly Zoom from Japan early in the morning.

The Podcast team utilized our virtual space and continued to release one episode a month (Dive In x Brown EP). They have created professional podcasts featuring guests ranging from Austin Martin ‘17, Jane Mosbacher Morris, Jack Roswell ‘20, and Sarah Leary.

Putting Zoom to Great Use for Panels, Conferences, Accelerators, Pitch Nights, Roundtables, and More

The Community team and Diversity and Inclusion team collaborated to host an incredible LGBTQ panel. In addition to providing support for the 25+ active student-run ventures at Brown, the Community team also hosted a phenomenal healthcare panel that featured student founders innovating in the healthcare space, including EP’s own Jack Shaeffer ‘22. The Special Events team hosted the Food in Providence Panel and they have been planning the first-ever virtual NYC Synapse, as well as a virtual East Africa Synapse.

The Alumni Relations team has come in and saved the day with their alumni database, working hard to connect alumni with all teams of EP. They also hosted roundtable discussions featuring Toby Howell ‘19 at the Morning Brew and Margaret Hartigan ‘97, the CEO and Founder of Marstone, Inc. Innovation DOJO, the student-run semester-long accelerator, transitioned the full DOJO experience to a virtual format. In November, they hosted their Demo Day where the teams of students made their pitches in front of an all-star lineup of judges who were left in awe at the pitches and the work the teams had done over the semester. 

The Women’s Empowerment (WE) team hosted their accelerator program and both WE and Startup@Brown are getting ready for their first-ever virtual conferences. We are blown away by all the amazing work that EP’s members have accomplished during such an unprecedented time. We thank all 75 of you for leading EP with passion, hard work, and laughter. It is because of you that EP has not just continued throughout the pandemic but thrived.

 In Appreciation

We remember our very first EP meeting as co-presidents, sitting on the second floor of the Nelson Center, looking at the neon-colored writing stretching from wall to wall. We sat staring at the walls feeling inspired and excited for the future of EP. We actually still have those poster boards with all of EP’s dreams and we are so proud that even through a global pandemic, EP was able to accomplish even more than what was written in those neon colors. That is a true testament to EP and how we really do Make It Happen. 

Our co-presidency has been far from easy. This past year has taught us the true meaning of hard work, resilience, and the importance of community in a time of loneliness and devastation. We have made mistakes and had sleepless nights, but we have become better people and leaders because of these moments. This is a bittersweet moment for us. We are sad that our time leading this club has come to a close, but we feel so lucky that we had this opportunity to lead 75 passionate members and to have met so many amazing people along the way. What makes this transition less difficult for us is the confidence we have in our club going forward and our trust in the new leaders of EP.

We want to thank all the people who make EP as special as it is: our mentors at the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship, faculty, staff, alumni, and most of all, the student members. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for helping make the heartbeat of EP go faster than ever. There is still more work to be done in EP, and it is now time to pass the baton to Isa Espinosa ‘22 and Mike Wang ‘22 who will do a tremendous job continuing to make EP the best it can be. Out of all the accomplishments our members have made over the year, we are most proud to have built a community that truly feels like a family. We feel lucky to be a part of this family, and we will be forever supporters and fans of EP. 

With love and hope for the future, 

Grace Parker ‘21 and Chuck Isgar ‘20.5 – Co-Presidents, Brown EP, 2020

YEP! Reflects On 2020 And Virtual Pitch Night

YEP! Reflects On 2020 And Virtual Pitch Night

YEP! (Young Entrepreneurs of Providence) is a Nelson Center- and EP-sponsored initiative at Brown University that seeks to introduce the entrepreneurial and design-thinking mindset to high school students in the local Providence area. Through expert guest lectures, interactive workshops, individual office hours, and team projects, students learn about the process of entrepreneurship and gain valuable problem-solving skills. YEP! strives to strengthen Brown University’s relationship with the local community.

YEP! was founded upon the principle that you have to think differently to be an entrepreneur. Whether it be age, nationality, race, or gender identity, we are confident that the best entrepreneurs are those among us with a unique perspective on the problems that face our world. While developing our third incubator, we knew we had to think differently as well. As the COVID-19 crisis and the racial unrest in our country illuminated deep systemic issues, we realized how necessary it was to nurture the next generation of changemakers. This semester, we looked beyond just entrepreneurship and into other modes of social change, such as nonprofit organizations and government advocacy, to give students the full set of tools to enact the change they want to see in the world.

On November 23, 2020, we hosted YEP! Pitch Night where twelve students presented groundbreaking new ideas to solve problems that impact our local and global communities. Our students presented their ventures to over fifty members of the Brown community. The panel of judges included Brown University educators, students, and entrepreneurs: Hamzah Ansari ‘09, Alan Harlam, Robbie Felton ‘21, and Elvia Perez ‘22. Click here to watch the recording.

Our students developed a diverse range of initiatives to tackle both small and large-scale issues. One of our students, Rebecca Xu, created a nonprofit organization called Politics for People of Color (PPOC) to provide educational resources and build community among historically underrepresented groups in order to increase the number of BIPOC in government. Rebecca recently hosted her first PPOC event, featuring Rhode Island House of Representative member Anastasia Williams, Providence Councilwoman Sabina Matos, and Central Falls City Councilwoman Jessica Vega. On the other hand, some students pursued for-profit ventures. For example, Sasha Kagan, who cares deeply about the environmental impact of the fashion industry, realized that there were barriers preventing consumers from making informed shopping decisions. Therefore, Sasha created Sustain, a web browser extension that generates a sustainability score so online shoppers know how their products are made and where to find more ethical alternatives. By empowering customers with important information, Sasha hopes to inspire more sustainable fashion production and consumerism. 

We are so incredibly proud of our students and we cannot wait to see what they will continue to accomplish in the future!

Article written by Audrey Shapiro ‘21, Leah Lam ‘21, and Lucia Winton ‘21

Innovation Dojo Demo Day & WE@Brown Pitch Competition Winners

Tephi is the Innovation Dojo Demo Day Winner!










Congratulations to Innovation Dojo Demo Day winners Juliana Lederman ‘23 (left) and Valerie Aguilar Dellisanti ‘23 (right)! They pitched their venture Telphi, an interface designed to streamline the process of deciding what to watch. It matches user viewing preferences with the content of 240+ streaming services, allowing both individuals and groups to discover new movies and shows that they will love. Watch the demo day recording here.


WE@Brown Pitch Competition Winners!











Congratulations to the WE@Brown Pitch Competition winners! First prize went to Tiffany Thomas ‘22 (left) and Neha Mukherjee ‘22 (right) for Infotopia, which seeks to address misinformation and inform communities through technology and outreach campaigns.











Second prize went to Christine Han ‘23, for Asian Diversity Initiative (A.D.I.), a student-led nationwide nonprofit dedicated to equipping Asian American high schoolers with leadership and soft skills with a focus on cultural diversity











Fan Favorite went to Olivia Brokaw ‘22 (left) and Annika Sigfstead ‘22 (right) Glo-X, a subscription and education service that sends out a bi-monthly box with essential vitamins and protein powder for women.

Professor Jennifer Nazareno receives several mentoring & research awards this semester

Professor Jennifer Nazareno receives several mentoring & research awards this semester

We are proud to announce that Jennifer Nazareno, Assistant Professor of Public Health & Entrepreneurship, is the recipient of all the 2019-2020 awards listed below. We congratulate Professor Jennifer Nazareno on all of her success!

The Dean’s Excellence Awards recognizes faculty leaders in the School of Public Health who demonstrate a commitment to excellence in teaching, mentoring, and research collaboration that goes above and beyond the usual call of duty. Professor Nazareno was awarded the 2020 Dean’s Excellence in Teaching Award and she is the first faculty member to win this award in two consecutive years.

The Hazeltine Mentorship in Entrepreneurship Award recognizes someone who embodies the leadership and commitment to entrepreneurship that Professor Hazeltine has exemplified for so many years at Brown. Professor Nazareno and Professor Don Stanford ‘72 ScM ’77 were recipients of the award this year.

The Primary Care-Population Medicine (PC-PM) Research Mentor Award from the Warren Alpert  Medical School at Brown (voted by 4th-year PC-PM medical students). The Primary Care-Population Medicine (PC-PM) program is an innovative, dual-degree curriculum that prepares students for a career in medicine while providing comprehensive, longitudinal training in population medicine. Graduates are awarded both an MD degree and a Master of Science in Population Medicine.


Congratulations to the 2020 Hazeltine Mentoring in Entrepreneurship Award Recipients

Congratulations to the 2020 Hazeltine Mentoring in Entrepreneurship Award Recipients

Professor Barrett Hazeltine has been mentoring and inspiring Brown University students for decades. In honor of his dedication to student mentoring, and in particular, his mentorship of aspiring entrepreneurs, a group of alumni came together to start the Hazeltine Mentoring in Entrepreneurship Award.

We are excited to announce that Professor Jennifer Nazareno (left) and Professor Don Stanford ‘72 ScM ’77 (right) are this year’s recipients. Professor Nazareno has been affiliated with the Nelson Center since we opened in fall 2016. She currently has a dual appointment with the School of Public Health and the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship, where she teaches UNIV 1089: Global Dynamics and Critical Perspectives on Immigrant Entrepreneurship in the United States. The students in her class raved about her generous mentoring, dedication to inclusivity and her steadfast commitment to Brown’s entrepreneurial mission. Outside the classroom, you will find her hosting faculty-led discussions and mentoring student entrepreneurs on their ventures, among many other responsibilities.

Professor Don Stanford has been teaching and mentoring students for decades. Barrett Hazeltine was one of the first members of the faculty that Professor Stanford met when he came to Brown in 1968 as a first-year. And I have been friends ever since. Clearly, Professor Hazeltine’s love and passion for mentorship inspired him. Professor Stanford has been teaching computer science for decades and mentoring student entrepreneurs. He has been on the Breakthrough Lab (B-Lab) selection committee for 4 years, and always volunteers to mentor student applicants. Many of whom have gone on to win the Brown Venture Prize and raise significant capital. They have both been generous with their time mentoring Brown students and have been instrumental in those students’ success.

Join us on Thursday, April 30 at 4:00 PM for a virtual happy hour to celebrate the recipients of the award, as well as get a chance to say hello to Professor Hazeltine. We invite your to join us and raise a glass from your home to honor the winners. RSVP here. A Zoom link will be sent to you.

Read more about the recipients below.

Professor Jennifer Nazareno  is an Assistant Professor of Public Health & Entrepreneurship. She has a dual appointment at the Center and in the Department of Behavioral and Social Sciences in the School of Public Health. Jennifer’s specialty areas include medical sociology and health; qualitative methodology; women’s migration, labor and entrepreneurship. She received her PhD from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) in 2015 and was an AHRQ and Presidential Diversity Post Doctoral Fellow at Brown. Her dissertation won the UCSF Anselm Strauss Award for Most Distinguished Qualitative Dissertation and was the first study to examine the lived experiences of immigrant Filipino women who emerged as owners of health and long-term service-related businesses.

Jennifer is currently completing her book manuscript, Hidden Health Care: Immigrant Filipina Nurses Building Businesses in the Shadows of the U.S. Long-Term Care Industry. It’s the first book to examine the emergence of immigrant Filipino women entrepreneurs in the United States starting as early as the 1970’s.

Jennifer organized the Center’s first one-day conference, “Entrepreneurship at the Intersection of Diversity and Inequality.” Her vision for the conference engaged the intersectionality of race/ethnicity, gender, class, sexuality, differently-abled bodies, and immigrant status, and how these different social statuses shaped the pursuit of entrepreneurship. Jennifer’s peer-reviewed publications can be found in the International Journal of Health Services, Social Science & Medicine, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Medical Care, and the International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research.

She is the 2019 recipient of the prestigious Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. Professor Nazareno’s courses taught through support of the Nelson Center:

– PHP 1680U Intersectionality and Health Inequities
– UNIV 1089 Global Dynamics and Critical Perspectives on Immigrant Entrepreneurship in the United States

Professor Don Stanford ‘72 ScM ’77  is a founding member of GTECH and began working for GTECH’s founders in 1979 as Manager of Software Development. Over 30 years, he has held every technical leadership position, including Vice President of Advanced Development and Chief Technology Officer. Don guided the growth of GTECH’s technology organization from a software staff of four in 1979 to its current worldwide deployment of over 1000 technology professionals. From 1986 until 1989 Don served on the GTECH Corporation Board. Under Don’s leadership GTECH advanced the state of the art in both transaction processing and wireless communications which enabled it to dominate its industry worldwide and install systems on 6 continents. Don earned a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations in 1972 and a Master’s in Computer Science/Applied Mathematics in 1977 from Brown. Don serves on several boards including Times Squared Academy Charter School, Spectra Systems and the Business Innovation Factory. He is also a member of the R.I. Science and Technology Advisory Council.

In 2001 Don was appointed Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Brown and has been teaching undergraduates since 2002. He is also an Adjunct in the School of Engineering and and is an instructor in the Program in Innovation, Management and Entrepreneurship (PRIME). He serves on the Brown advisory councils to the President and the School of Engineering.

In 1999 Don received the Black Engineer of the Year Award for Professional Achievement. In 1999 he also received the Honorable Thurgood Marshall award for community service from the NAACP. In 2002 he received the Brown Graduate School’s Distinguished Graduate award and the R.I. Professional Engineer’s award for Community Service. Don and his wife Jane live in Pawtucket, R.I. and St. Thomas, U.S.V.I.