The Brown Arts Initiative (BAI) and the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship (NCE) collaborated early in April 2020 to launch a new pilot program: the Pop–Up Challenge, a creative initiative for Brown students to come together to connect, collaborate and have some fun. As our lives temporarily shift to a virtual world, that doesn’t mean we have to stop making art or innovating on everyday challenges! BAI and NCE aim to provide an outlet for artists and entrepreneurs to continue working together creatively, while we are away from Brown’s campus.
The first Pop–Up Challenge was April 2-3. A prompt was announced on April 2 and students had 24 hours to come up with a submission or proposed solution. The virtual event concluded with a Pop–up Challenge Debrief, moderated by Deb Mills-Scofield ’82, Mentoring Maven with the NCE, on Friday, April 3. Over 50 students expressed interest in joining the challenge. A total of 14 students ended up submitting 6 projects. Continue reading below to learn more about the submissions and visit the Google Slide submission link here to watch videos that show the creative process and strategy behind the student projects.
Woo Nam Song is the artist behind the submission “Mis U”. “Mis U” is an acrylic painting with a base of spray paint in gold, silver, and red. This work features a hand on the left ‘hand’ side with text accompanied on the right.
“Social distancing has been a difficult change in lifestyle for myself. Regardless, through this work, I wanted to convey a sense of normality that of which I can look forward to as well as an optimistic view towards seclusion from society.”
We randomly assigned students to optional groups. Emma Butler, Diana Perkins, Jack Schaeffer, and Jie Zhou submitted VRtual, a basic virtual reality viewer made from a cardboard box supporting both Android and iOS that features VR map where people can “go out together”(e.g. walk on the Main Green or participate in a virtual commencement). Emma and Diana were acquainted with each other but the team collectively had not worked together before!
Grace Winburne submitted her project entitled: “Isolating without a Home”, examining the intersection of coronavirus and homelessness. Her concept is a contained home-environment with an adaptable base to accommodate existing hostile architecture
“I wanted to explore the overcrowding in homeless shelters and, given a loss of jobs due to shut-downs, how people are dealing with sudden homelessness during a health crisis. By combatting hostile architecture, the need to limit the number of people in a location is alleviated by creating temporary “homes” outside. Thus, people are allowed to maintain social distance while also having a place to live.
Mollie Redman, Steph Rempe, and Leyton Ho came together to create Bizzi, a website that acts as a centralizing force for free online activities. These include Zoom and Instagram Live activities like cooking and working out. Events can easily be added to personal google calendars. The main target demographic is ages 18-25, most likely to spread the virus by not following social distancing due to boredom or believing COVID-19 will not seriously harm them. Providing this group with a centralized reference full of at-home activities would incentivize them to practice social distancing.
Jessica Zhu, China Ang, Renny Ma formed a team to bring “Can’t Touch This”, a shirt design to help enforce social distancing. “To encourage social distancing, we designed a shirt that helps individuals understand how close is “too close.” The minimum font size for text viewed from 6 feet away is 16pt (Andy Brown Design, The Print Handbook). The text on our shirt is 15pt, indicating to viewers that if they can read the text, they are not abiding the “six feet apart” rule. The shirt serves both as a practical tool as well as a humorous reminder for people to practice social distancing.”
Dana Lee and Connie Liu formed a team to create “CAN Touch This”, a medium through which one may experience the replication of physical contact with loved ones; i.e. experience hugs, kisses, and hand-holding. Students brainstormed the idea to create accessories with haptic sensors, an attachment to phones or laptops for ease of access (i.e. for holding hands). The student group thought of solutions to expand off of the “thinking of you” watch/button project that already exists.
On March 7, 2020, over 100 young professionals gathered for the fourth annual WE@Brown conference, organized by the Women’s Empowerment team within the Brown Entrepreneurship Program (Brown EP) to celebrate and empower women in entrepreneurship. The theme of this year’s conference was Uplift, and the day began with keynote speaker Kristen Ransom, Boston Magazine’s Top 30 Rising Tech Star and founder of IncluDe Innovation, captivating the audience with her message of “dream big, be ambitious, and follow your purpose.” (See her on stage below).
Following the keynote speaker was the female founder pitch competition, where six student-founded ventures pitched their big ideas to attendees and a panel of judges to win $500 and $250 respectively to go towards their ventures. At the end of the day, the winners were announced. The first-place winner was LapSnap, co-founded by Diana Perkins ’20, Hannah Mintz ’20, and Chloe Rosenberg ’20. And the second-place winner was ResusciTech, co-founded by Abigail Kohler ’20 and Greg Fine ’20.
LapSnap has designed a grocery shopping bag for wheelchair users. Currently, shopping for food is a major hassle for people who use wheelchairs, and there is no affordable solution that works for all chairs. The LapSnap bag was designed in collaboration with real wheelchair users, and the hope is that it will improve lives by giving people a tool for greater independence.
ResusciTech has created a real-time CPR feedback app to help responders perform higher quality compressions and save more lives. There are 400,000 out of hospital cardiac arrests annually, and 90% of those result in death. The ResusciTech app will give people the confidence and capability to act in these emergencies by giving real-time feedback on the rate and depth of chest compressions, allowing people to adjust to proper CPR protocols.
During lunch, attendees were joined by 19 inspiring female-identifying entrepreneurs and industry professionals, who hosted roundtable discussions to further uplift and connect the attendees through the topics they are most passionate about.
The afternoon workshops this year were led by senior IDEO Co-Lab designer Shuya Gong on “Designing the Unseeable”, CEO and founder of Cheryl Overton Communications, Cheryl Overton on “Beyonce Taught Me: Five Killer Business Lessons from the Queen Bee Herself”, Brown Persuasive Communication professor Barbara Tannenbaum on “Powerful Communication”, and founder of The Art of Fate Jackelyn Decanay on “How to Make Space for All Womxn – In Business & Beyond”.
The day ended with the announcement of the pitch competition winners, as wells as an ice-cream social + startup fair.
WE@Brown 2020 is brought to you by the Women’s Empowerment Team at Brown EP, led by Maggie Bachenberg, Xinru Li, Claire Heiden, Emily Kompelien, Mali Dandridge, Thin Su San, Karolyn Lee, Liz Wells, Kerry Harrington, Serena McDermott, Trisha Ballakur, Amanda Levy, and Ashley Chon. This year our sponsors included: 305 Fitness, Yerba Mate, Health-Ade Kombucha, Gracie’s, Hint, Shake Shack, Ceremony, Canva, Kabob and Curry, Brown University Bookstore, PVDonuts, Chobani, Sticker Giant, Blue State Coffee, Avon Theatre, and The Flex Company. Supported by the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship and Brown EP.
Written by Lauren Brown ’22
On February 23, the Brown Black Hairitage group hosted its first annual Black Hair Show. Club leaders Alexis Newell ’20, Pauline Wakudumo ’20, Lauren Brown ’22, Abigail Wesson ’23, and Kira Dubose ’22 invited students, faculty, stylists, and community members to celebrate the societal impact of Black hair. The five hour show featured roundtable discussions with local hair influencers, stylist demonstrations, and personal hair consultations for students.
Brown Black Hairitage was founded in 2017 by Alexis Newell ’20. The organization’s mission was and is to create space for discussion and collaboration around the topics of how Black hair is integrated into the fabric of the workplace, academia, and popular culture. The group meets twice a month to hold roundtable discussions, hair workshops, and screenings for media centered around hair.
The roundtable discussion featured Shahidah Ali, Rodlyne Louis, and Kerlyne Jean-Baptiste ’16. Ali is the former owner of Mixx Beauty hair salon which now focuses its efforts on producing various hair and beard products for salons and individuals. Louis runs the BeauEssence salon on North Main Street, catering to natural hair. Along with the salon, BeauEssence has hair products for natural, textured hair. Jean-Baptiste ’16 is the founder of KerlyGirl: a hair care line that aims to make plant based products for natural hair more accessible and affordable. During the session, these hair entrepreneurs discussed their own journeys through the business side of the beauty industry. Attendees asked these hair experts for advice regarding their own hair during the Q&A portion of the discussion.
The remainder of the event featured Kyle Pereira from DaPoint barber shop and Miguelina Liberato from 1263 Salon. Students received complimentary haircuts and blowout styles from these stylists and Jasmine Cardichon ’22 provided students with cornrow styles as well. Attendees left the event with a bundle of free samples from natural haircare brands including the Traces Ellis-Ross ’94 line Pattern Beauty.
To learn more about Brown Black Hairitage read this Brown Alumni Magazine’s article and fill out this interest form to see what you can do to expand BBH’s impact on campus and around in the world!
Van Wickle Ventures (VWV), Brown’s first student run-venture fund, is excited to announce their first investment in 305 Fitness. 305 Fitness is a dance-cardio fitness brand founded by Sadie Kurzban ‘12, who began teaching the classes out of the OMAC here at Brown. She won the Brown Entrepreneurship Program’s Venture Pitch competition in 2008 and launched 305 in New York with the $25K cash earnings from the competition. Today, 305 Fitness offers over 500 classes a week across 6 studios and 3 pop-ups in major U.S. cities.
Sadie’s story is the perfect example of the kind of founder VWV was created to support – one who follows the entrepreneurship process and had close ties to the Brown community. VWV will be participating in 305’s Series A alongside world-class investors such as Founders Fund, RiverPark VC, and Healthyish Ventures, as well as earlier angels including Tiesto and Kevin Durant.
VWV is also delighted to announce the students comprising the second cohort. Chosen from over one hundred applicants, there were nine that blew the team away with their curiosity, intellect, and creativity. The group includes founders of 3 non-profits in addition to sports tech and hair care ventures, crypto enthusiasts, and a medical school student – and ask them about their gap years! You can learn more about the team here. If you know a Brown- or RISD-affiliated founder, please send them to email@example.com.
We are excited to announce that the WE@Brown incubator winner was Lucia Tian ‘23 (picture above, top) with her venture FortePiezo and the runner-up was Alexandria Miller Ph.D. ‘24 (picture above, bottom). Alexandre Wurzmann ‘23 and Kia Uusitalo ‘24 (pictured below), co-founders of Trim, won at the Dojo pitch night. Both programs are offered through the Brown Entrepreneurship Program (EP), the Nelson Center’s student club.
The WE@Brown Incubator is a semester-long program that supports women-identifying founders on their early-stage ideas, through lectures and workshops. This semester’s judges included Kim Anderson, co-founder of EverHope Capital; Kerlyne Jean-Baptiste ‘16, founder of KerlyGirl; Sophie Starck ‘20 VC at Van Wickle Ventures, and Joyce Sunday M.S. ‘18, co-founder of Eat Fresh Prep. Lucia’s winning idea, FortePiezo, is a device that makes it easier for blind and visually impaired folks to learn music. Runner-up Alexandria Miller Ph.D. ‘24 in Africana Studies, who started Bad Gyal U, a podcast focused on educating the Caribbean diaspora of their heritage, especially looking at how featuring Carribean women that have impacted history.
Innovation Dojo is a semester-long student-led workshop series designed to challenge first- and second-year students at Brown and RISD to think differently about entrepreneurship through weekly classes and design workshops. This year’s winner, Trim, is software for hair salons to ensure that they provide the hair services their customers want. This fall’s pitch judges were Charlie Kroll ’01, co-founder/COO of Ellevest; Stephen Siegel ScM ’83 PhD ’85, Managing Partner at CIV Consulting; Don Stanford ’72, MS ’77, Technology Fellow at IGT; and Karina Wood, Executive Director at Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses RI.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 email@example.com!