by Jonas Clark | Aug 4, 2022 | Breakthrough Lab, Student Experience
In June, the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship opened its doors to 13 student ventures for Breakthrough Lab (B-Lab) our eight-week summer accelerator program. While founders came to B-Lab from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds most were relatively new to the world of building ventures. Collectively, teams had identified a variety of meaningful challenges to work on in the areas of education, public health, law, civic engagement, and e-commerce.
In eight short weeks, under the leadership of B-Lab Director, Jason Harry, Professor of the Practice of Technology and Entrepreneurship, the program covered many key business topics including customer discovery, value propositions, profit models, diversity and inclusion, marketing, and intellectual property, among others. In addition to support from program staff, our Ventures received regular mentoring from a host of generous alums who dived in to provide critical feedback and guidance. As the program progressed, teams also had the opportunity to take center stage at Slater Sushi, a summer highlight in the Providence entrepreneurial community courtesy of the Slater Technology Fund, where they pitched their ventures and networked.
They followed this with a fantastic Mentor Roundtable event which rallied some of the Nelson Center’s finest mentors, who shared their insights and experience with our ventures. And lastly, we closed the program with a final pitch event aptly named “Bears Lair”, where teams pitched their ventures and their progress to a room full of experienced founders and investors.
But it’s not all work and no play at B-Lab, as some of you may have spotted on our Instagram feed! Our teams took on Lang’s Bowlarama and united to solve a murder mystery on a legendary game night featuring a thrilling scavenger hunt and prowling sleuths. Ventures also posed for a series of elegant photoshoots, courtesy of Estela Westphalen ’24. Peek into their minds in our 73 Questions series on Instagram, where we challenged them to reflect on their journeys as they walked us through their lives.
As we close out our time together, we’re incredibly grateful for all of the lessons and laughs we had along the way.
A special thank you to:
Deedee Chatham at the URI Launch Lab & their special guest Steve Blank, Saron Mechale ‘17, Barbara Tannenbaum, Sharadram Sundaresan and Markus Sherman, Deb Mills-Scofield ‘82, Kris Brown ‘89, Rajiv Kumar ‘05, Michele Berdinis ‘81, Riche Holmes Grant ‘99, Caroline Diamond ‘86, Anastasia Ostrowski, Ted Howell, Annette Tonti, Joe Loberti, and Michael Liou ‘86, Morra Aarons Mele ‘98, Kipp Bradford ‘96, Maggie Bachenberg ‘22, Kristen Craft ‘05, Martin Sinozich, Zubin Irani, Greg Fine ‘20, Don Stanford ‘72 & ‘77, Rob Kagan ‘89, Ezenwayi Amaechi, Andrew Bernstein ‘85, Jackie Shoback, Robbie Felton ‘22, Ella Hood, Claire Hughes Johnson ‘94, Rob Kagan ‘89, Annette Tonti, and Bob Place ‘75.
“During B-Lab I learned the difference between building a product and starting a company. A product is not enough… you need to build a brand. I learned how to delegate. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything and understanding what tasks to give to what person, how to assign tasks, check-in, and give feedback is really important.”
– Tatiana Mandis ‘23 (Cinemates)
“My major takeaway is that targeting a niche market and centering diversity can be advantageous for your venture when your goals and personal story align with your brand strategy and long-term mission and vision.”
– Alexandria Miller PhD ’24 (Strictly Facts)
“I think the biggest takeaway from B-Lab was the mentorship network provided. The advisors we have met have guided our way in product, marketing, and business development. Whether it was just the weekly EIR meetings or the out-house mentors, just having more experienced entrepreneurs to talk to about day-to-day issues really allowed us to focus on our mission.”
– David Chu ’24 (Sift)
“Pivots are all a part of the process. They feel discouraging at times, but usually the result of these pivots is a better idea than the original.”
– David Vojtaskovic ’24 (Bonafide)
“My venture’s most valuable takeaway was the importance of market research and investigating the market’s unmet needs in order to understand what competitors are doing and what they are not doing in order to separate myself from the rest!”
– Muram Bacare RISD ‘22 (Hos-fit-all)
by Katie Calabro | Dec 28, 2020 | News from Nelson, Student Experience
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.
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
by Katie Calabro | Dec 18, 2020 | News from Nelson, Student Experience
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
by Tori Gilbert | Dec 4, 2020 | News from Nelson, Student Experience
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.
by Sheila Haggerty | Apr 8, 2020 | Student Experience
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.
by Tori Gilbert | Apr 1, 2020 | Student Experience
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.