On Friday, April 21, 2023, we had the opportunity to host Synapse Boston, a trip that had not taken place since 2018. Our day started at 8:45 AM at the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship, where we all gathered. We then boarded the 9:15 AM train to the Back Bay station, where we were greeted by Mike Cummins, the CEO of Percy, a Boston-based recruiting automation platform that leverages artificial intelligence to help companies find and hire top talent. Percy’s clients range from startups to large enterprises, and the company has raised several million dollars in funding from investors. Mike, who is a Brown Class ‘08 alumnus, has a background in education and shared his passion for teaching entrepreneurship to students with us. After getting to know each one of us, we discussed current AI trends, future predictions for job markets with the increasing use of AI, renewable energy, and solutions to environmental issues. Mike emphasized the benefits of working for a startup and being heavily involved in its success. His kindness and passion were an inspiration to all of us.
Next, we walked to Maggiano’s Little Italy, where we had lunch with both Mike and Ben Karlin, co-founder and director of Q Mixers, and a Brown Class of ‘98 alumnus. Q Mixers is a premium mixer brand that enhances the flavors of spirits and cocktails. Unlike conventional mixers, which are often made with artificial ingredients and high fructose corn syrup, Q Mixers are made with high-quality ingredients such as agave, ginger, and citrus. Ben shared the story of how Q Mixers became such a successful company, earning over 100 million in sales annually. He talked about the challenges he faced during the company’s development, the ins and outs of manufacturing, and current trends in the beverage industry. Ben’s main message was about redefining risk and pursuing your passions, even if others discourage you. He encouraged us to break out of the mold and follow our dreams, despite societal expectations.
Our last stop of the day was at Veson Nautical, a Boston-based company with offices in Japan, Singapore, London, and Houston. John Veson, a Brown Class of ‘96 alumnus and CEO of Veson Nautical, gave us a tour of their office and explained how they use technology to increase the efficiency and sustainability of freight voyages. Veson Nautical’s platform helps shipping companies plan their trips, manage their finances, and monitor their voyages. They have around 350 clients worldwide, including various shipping companies and workers in the maritime industry. One interesting technology they have developed measures emissions and the amount of time ships spend in restricted areas for wildlife protection. This software helps companies reduce the costs of emissions and operate more sustainably. John’s advice to us was not to be afraid to make mistakes or take unexpected paths, just like a boat on a voyage.
Overall, we had an informative and inspiring day, learning from successful entrepreneurs and traveling through Boston. We are looking forward to hosting more Synapse trips in the near future!
We are pleased to host Yasuhiro Yamakawa, Ph.D., President Cambridge Innovation Center, CIC Japan as part of our Japan Synapse | Tuesdays in Tokyo series. CIC was founded in Cambridge, MA, and globally runs innovation centers, which support entrepreneurs and startups. CIC Tokyo is one of the largest innovations centers in Japan.
The Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship, in collaboration with our student club, Brown EP, is bringing students the opportunity to learn more about the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Tokyo, Japan in our new Tuesdays in Tokyo series. (Note: when it is Tuesday in Tokyo at 9 am, it is Monday in Providence at 7 pm).
Japan Synapse: Tuesdays In Tokyo Series is open to a cohort of students who were accepted by application. Recordings of the events will be made public to the Brown Community on our YouTube channel.
On Tuesday, April 27, I presented my senior policy thesis, a program evaluation on Young Entrepreneurs of Providence (YEP!). YEP! is a completely free entrepreneurship incubator program for Providence public high school students hosted at the Nelson Center. Every week, Brown professors, entrepreneurs, and social impact leaders teach YEP! students key entrepreneurial concepts that they apply to a venture they develop. Over the past two and a half years, YEP! has worked with 100 brilliant students from 11 different schools throughout Rhode Island.
YEP! was developed with two missions:
The first aim of YEP! is to develop capable entrepreneurs that will grow the prosperity of their respective communities. The current imbalances in wealth in the United States make it critical that we develop innovative solutions to stimulate wealth in low-income communities. By creating an early entrepreneurial education program, YEP! hopes to develop innovative entrepreneurs that will grow the wealth of communities with high poverty rates like Providence.
YEP! ‘s second aim is to improve the relationship between college campuses and their surrounding communities. The extreme imbalance of wealth in this nation is reflected in the resource discrepancy between elite universities and their surrounding communities. Every Ivy League university except for Harvard and Dartmouth is surrounded by a town with a poverty rate higher than the national average, 14%. Through developing a program that invites Providence public school students onto Brown’s campus, YEP! strives to create a more bilateral relationship between Providence and Brown.
In order to assess whether YEP! is able to achieve its two goals of producing capable entrepreneurs and strengthening Brown’s relationship with Providence, I conducted interviews with 80% of our alumni. The results of the study conclude that YEP! has demonstrable gains on both fronts.
Entrepreneurial Knowledge and Capability
In terms of YEP! ‘s potential to produce capable entrepreneurs, the results of the study found that after the incubator:
83% of YEP! ‘s participants believed they had sufficient knowledge to start a venture despite having no prior exposure to entrepreneurship
83% of the participants interviewed have launched or are in the process of launching their own venture in Providence
One participant shared that before YEP! they “did not know how to spell entrepreneurship.” But, they said, “Every night I would watch my parents come home late at night, and they were exhausted and sad. I wanted to create a better life for them and myself. I knew I wanted to create my own business, so I applied for YEP!” This student has currently made this dream a reality as they are on a gap year from college to start their own cosmetics business.
The advanced level of entrepreneurial knowledge that YEP! participants gained in the program suggests that it may be a meaningful tool to develop capable entrepreneurs in people with little to no exposure to entrepreneurship. Additionally, the high degree of entrepreneurial activity from participants suggests that YEP! has the potential to stimulate entrepreneurship in low-income communities.
The results from the study also suggest that YEP! has the potential to improve town-gown relations. 75% of our participants’ perception of Brown changed from unwelcoming to welcoming after the incubator.
Many students shared that before YEP! they were too afraid to even walk down Thayer Street. After YEP!, though, their perception of Brown changed drastically. By coming to campus, the majority of participants started to see Brown as a place that was welcome to them and that they could utilize. Our students frequently use Brown’s public resources and can be found nearby campus even after the incubator.
An unexpected result was that inviting Providence students on to campus not only changed their perception of Brown University, it changed their perception of what they could achieve. One student spoke about this experience by saying; “I would have never imagined that Brown would invite me or students at my school on to campus. We don’t have millionaire parents. The fact that you all wanted us. It changed things for me.”
This student, along with 50% of the students interviewed, said that they decided to apply to more academically rigorous universities after YEP!. In fact, two of the alumni interviewed are applying to transfer to Brown.
The results from this study suggest that a program like YEP! has the potential to make elite universities feel less insular and more welcoming to the local community. In doing so, YEP! is able to foster better town-gown relations and impact the trajectories of its participants.
Overall, the results of this thesis conclude that YEP! has the potential to both develop entrepreneurs in low-income communities and improve town-gown relations. At the end of the day, though, it is not our program that has done this; it is our students. If there is one thing that you take away from this blog post, I hope you see the power of Providence students. Our future depends on these students and other students throughout America- and we are in good hands- but only if we give them the opportunities, they need to flourish.
After Patrick’s first year at the University of Rhode Island (URI), he was struggling to find a way to support himself through college. He started doing odd jobs around the area but it still wasn’t enough. This lead to the creation of his first company, Aqua.
Aqua created water shows and special effects for concerts across the country. Patrick saw quick success with Aqua. During his senior year at URI, he “interned” for himself and went on tour with one of the biggest DJ’s in the U.S.
Aqua continued to see huge success but the concert lifestyle quickly grew old. It didn’t bring the fulfillment that Patrick was searching for in his life, so he quit. He left his own company in search of a more well-rounded lifestyle.
He started thinking about how to live a full life. As he searched, he realized that he found meaning in community. That is when he had the idea for Surv.
Surv is comprised of diverse, multi-talented young adults with a passion for making a positive impact in other people’s lives. The platform connects “neighbors” to “sons or daughters”. Neighbors can pay “sons or daughters” to do odd jobs such as landscaping, painting, shoveling, etc.
Surv officially launched in May 2017 and they now have 70 sons and daughters in RI & Boston, with 1,600 neighbors currently on the platform. The venture is fully self-funded and is growing at 4X rate.
“We have kids growing up who are so attached to their phones that they have a hard time navigating life. We are passionate about teaching people that life is meant for thriving, not just surviving.”
Surv is focusing on growing the upcoming youth and helping connect communities.
Advice from Patrick
“Your biggest dreams are just a handshake away.”
Go to the top of a mountain with nothing and
dream your biggest dreams and just do that!