Nearly five years have passed since our 2016 launch following a generous founding gift from Jonathan M. Nelson ’77 P’07 P’09. In the coming months, we are excited to catch up with alumni, students, faculty, staff, and friends to share and reflect through a Nelson@5 video series commemorating highlights and milestones.
ENTREPRENEURSHIP AND THE OPEN CURRICULUM
To kick off the celebration, we chatted with folks like Elvia Perez ’22, current Peer Entrepreneur in Residence, and Christian Anthony ’96, a member of our President’s Advisory Council on Entrepreneurship, and others. They share how the Nelson Center’s support of new entrepreneurship courses and of cutting-edge entrepreneurship research have enhanced and expanded the Brown community’s understanding of how entrepreneurship can solve significant problems.
Our curricular efforts continue to evolve and reflect critical trends in entrepreneurship. Students can take new courses like Jennifer Nazareno’s Global Dynamics and Critical Perspectives on Immigrant Entrepreneurship in the United States, Linda Scott’s Gender, Women and Enterprise, Howard Anderson’s Entrepreneurial Management in Adversity, and Alice Nichols’ Eco-Entrepreneurship, among many others. In addition to teaching Leadership in Organizations, Banu Ozkazanc-Pan launched the Venture Capital Inclusion Lab, a cutting-edge research group that investigates issues of equity in entrepreneurship and access to capital. Both Nazareno and Ozkazanc-Pan hosted our second academic research conference on June 21, 2021—a forum in which to discuss and examine entrepreneurship at the intersection of women, refugees, immigrants, allyship, and anti-Black racism. And of course, we have launched the Certificate Program in Entrepreneurship which provides curricular structure for undergraduate students who want to make entrepreneurship an important part of their intellectual journey.
BIG PROBLEMS, BIG SOLUTIONS
This second video installment focuses on how our students leverage the Nelson Center’s venture support programs, like the Breakthrough Lab (B-Lab) accelerator, to solve big problems. We spoke with the director of B-Lab, Jason Harry, along with a few B-Lab alumni including Robbie Felton ‘21, co-founder of Intus Care, and Elvia Perez ‘22, founder of EmpowerU. We also spoke with Scott Friend ‘87 P‘22, a member of the President’s Advisory Council on Entrepreneurship, who explains why programs that support early-stage ventures are so valuable.
When it comes to venture support, we have a variety of paths students can take. We offer a diverse list of grant opportunities including Explore & Expand Grants, Grants for Addressing Anti-Black and Systemic Racism, Climate Change Grants, and Hazeltine Grants focused on encouraging more students to design and build technology-related projects. Students can also apply to take part in the Brown Venture Prize Pitch Competition, a competition where Brown’s most advanced ventures pitch to a select group of judges for the chance to win prize money, critical mentorship, and access to leaders in the Brown entrepreneurial community and beyond. We run a coworking space in our building called Community Lab (Co-Lab), where a community of Brown and RISD student entrepreneurs develops new ventures that are creating high-impact and scalable solutions to a diverse range of problems. We also support Van Wickle Ventures (VWV), a student-run venture fund through which its student leaders learn about venture capital firsthand by investing a pool of funds in Brown and RISD-affiliated companies.
PEOPLE, PLACES, PRIORITIES
Our third video highlights the people behind the Nelson Center, our state-of-the-art building, and specific priority areas including addressing issues that stem from anti-Black and systemic racism and the problems that arise as a result of climate change. We hear from Danny Warshay ’87, P’20, P’23, Executive Director of the Nelson Center; Jonathan M. Nelson ’77 P’07 P’09, Founder and Executive Chairman of Providence Equity Partners; Lorine Pendleton ’91, Venture Investor and 2021 Entrepreneurship in Residence (EIR); and Jack Roswell ’20, co-founder of Cloud Agronomics. Each provides insight into how our building enables people to work together to identify problems and develop solutions with impact.
Entrepreneurial thinking goes hand-in-hand with Brown’s emphasis on interdisciplinary study, pushing students to consider the different avenues they can take when approaching a topic. Similarly, the Nelson Center teaches a structured entrepreneurship practice that can be learned and applied in a variety of contexts. By embracing this interdisciplinary thinking and applying the structured entrepreneurship process, we serve as a resource for all students on campus who identify a problem and see an opportunity to work toward a sustainable solution. One important resource we offer students is our building on Thayer St. which, with the generous support of donors, opened in May of 2019. Since then, it continues to serve as a center for teaching, collaboration, mentorship, events, and much more. As a result of students looking to entrepreneurship to solve problems and having a dedicated space to come together, we have built an enthusiastic and dedicated entrepreneurship community here at Brown.
As a community, we have come together to highlight two priorities in particular: anti-Black and systemic racism and climate change. Among our Venture Support resources, we offer two focused grants: Venture Grants for Innovative Solutions to Anti-Black and Systemic Racism and Climate Change Grants. Our intention is for these grants to help Brown students use entrepreneurial tools to address these critical issues.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE LAST FIVE YEARS AT THE NELSON CENTER
To reflect on the many milestones from the last five years, we have compiled a timeline of a few highlights that show how far we have come since our launch in 2016. Although this is not an exhaustive list, we hope that as you scroll through the timeline you see the hard work of our team, the passion of our students, the growth of our entrepreneurship community at Brown, and the bright future to come as we look forward to the next five years.
$25 Million Gift from Jonathan M. Nelson '77 P'07 P'09
Due to the generosity of Jonathan M. Nelson ’77 P’07 P’09, Founder and Executive Chairman of Providence Equity Partners, Brown announced the gift that would launch the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship with the goal to have an interdisciplinary student-focused center for entrepreneurship learning and research. Read the announcement here and here.
Danny Warshay ‘87 Named the Inaugural Executive Director
Danny Warshay ‘87, a talented educator and successful career entrepreneur, was named as the inaugural Executive Director of the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship.
Launch of The Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship in the temporary home of Hillel
Ten months after the transformative $25 million gift, we opened our center’s doors on the third floor of Hillel, with a small, but mighty staff, and a diverse lineup of partnerships, initiatives, and events underway. Read more here.
Launched the Peer Entrepreneurship In Residence Program (PEIR) to expand mentoring capacity
In the Peer Entrepreneur-In-Residence (PEIR) program, students serve as mentors and additional resources for their fellow students. Whether exploring an unmet need, designing a value proposition, or developing a sustainability model, PEIRs work with founders to clarify and sharpen their ideas.
First Academic Research Conference
“Entrepreneurship at the Intersection of Diversity and Inequality” was our first academic research conference. The conference provided critical perspectives on how entrepreneurship has served as a potential pathway toward inclusion and socioeconomic mobility, particularly in times of exclusion and marginalization. Read this News from Brown feature on the event.
Launched collaboration with Community Partner Practico Innovation
Our collaboration with Practico helped to support its work with “invisible communities” of underrepresented entrepreneurs throughout Rhode Island.
First Annual Women's Empowerment Conference featuring Melanie Whalen ‘99
The Women’s Empowerment branch of EP (WE@Brown) hosted a day-long conference dedicated to empowering the next generation of women entrepreneurs.
Breakthrough Lab (B-Lab)
Now under the auspices of the Center, we supported 30 student entrepreneurs through the 2017 B-Lab program. Through B-Lab, students gain access to custom mentoring, a peer cohort of dedicated founders, and a co-working space. Watch the sold-out 2017 B-Lab Pitch Night and learn about the cohort here.
Launched our Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan Committee
Fostering a diverse and inclusive entrepreneurial community involves partnering with key stakeholders from the Undocumented, First-Generation College, and Low-Income Student Center (UFli), to local high schools. It also includes providing essential funds to provide access to opportunities, particularly for Brown students who have limited economic means and Brown students from historically underrepresented groups. Read more here.
Launched Climate Change Venture Grants in partnership with IBES
In conjunction with the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society (IBES), we provide dedicated support for sustainability-focused ventures. These early-stage venture grants are for undergraduate and graduate students interested in developing entrepreneurial solutions to environmental problems and come with dedicated advising along with funding. Click here to learn more.
Launched additional Entrepreneurship Courses
We collaborated with Institutional Equity and Diversity, Engineering, and Economics to launch courses such as Building Entrepreneurial Ecosystems for Economic Inclusion, Entrepreneurial Management in Adversity, Venture Capital, Private Equity, and Entrepreneurship, and Designing Internet Marketplaces.
Launch of EP’s WE@Brown Incubator
WE@Brown launched its first-ever incubator, created for women-identifying founders, the incubator takes entrepreneurial students deeper into the problem they are solving or hope to solve with their seed of an idea or full-fledged venture.
Launched the $50k Brown Venture Prize Competition
Through the generous donation from the Founders of Casper, Luke Sherwin ‘12 and Neil Parikh ‘12, we launched our first Brown Venture Prize Competition and hosted our first-ever Pitch Night, which included eight student ventures and was a sold-out event.
Held first international Synapse trip to Barcelona
In conjunction with BrownConnect and other partners, we offer students the chance to join our Startup Synapse programs, which support students exploring entrepreneurship from Barcelona to Silicon Valley. By traveling beyond Brown, students are able to experience the global reach of entrepreneurship. Learn more about the first cohort’s experience here. Later, Synapse returned to Barcelona and we took our first cohort to London during Spring Break in 2019. Now we are planning to add Tokyo to our list of future Synapse trips.
Danny Warshay ‘87 Lead a Bottom Up Research Workshop in Jamaica/University of West Indies
Danny flew down to Jamaica not to catch some rays, but more importantly, to provide critical entrepreneurship training to over 250+ students and faculty at the University of West Indies and entrepreneurs and local business owners. You can learn more about Danny’s trip in this print and tv coverage.
Established the Entrepreneur In Residence Program
We launched with our inaugural Entrepreneur in Residence, Jessica Kim ‘00, founder of Ianacare. For 2019 to 2020, we welcomed our new Entrepreneurs In Residence Laura Thompson ‘09, and local entrepreneur Arnell Milhouse. Read about it here. In 2021, we welcomed our new Entrepreneurs In Residence Riche Holmes Grant ’99, Ben Chesler ‘15, and Lorine Pendleton ’91.
Hired Dr. Jennifer Nazareno, Assistant Professor of Public Health and Entrepreneurship
Assistant Professor Jennifer Nazzareno joins the Nelson Center team and the School of Public Health for a dual appointment, offering new courses for students.
Launched the Venture Capital Inclusion Lab through a $360k Kauffman Grant
Launched under Visiting Professor Banu Ozkazanc-Pan’s leadership, the Venture Capital Inclusion Lab strives to understand how the geographic context of VC firms and their decision-making practices affect funding outcomes for women, minorities, and LGBTQIA entrepreneurs.
Launched Van Wickle Ventures
Bob Place ‘75 and Erna Place ‘76 generously donated $150K to launch Van Wickle Ventures, a student-run venture fund investing in Brown-affiliated ventures.
Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship Building Opens on Thayer Street
We opened our new building! Read more about this exciting new milestone here.
Students Launch YEP!, High School Program
Young Entrepreneurs of Providence (YEP!) launched its fall 2019 incubator for local high school students. YEP! is a completely free program for Providence high school students led by Brown University undergrads that provides students with the tools they need to create change in their communities through a series of workshops, hands-on activities, and mentor relationships.
Launched Community Lab (Co-Lab)
We launched the Community Lab (Co-Lab) program with 13 teams in our venture spaces on the 3rd floor. Co-Lab is a community of Brown and RISD student entrepreneurs developing new ventures that are creating high-impact and scalable solutions to a diverse range of problems.
Van Wickle Ventures Makes First Investment
Van Wickle Ventures makes its first investment in 305 Fitness founded by Sadie Kurzban ‘12. Later investments include Projector, founded by Trevor O’Brien ‘10; Minded, founded by David Ronick ‘89; and Intus Care, founded by Robbie Felton ‘21, Evan Jackson ‘21, Sam Prado ‘21, and Alex Rothberg ‘21.
Hazeltine Mentoring in Entrepreneurship Award
Like the rest of the world and the University, we transitioned all of our events and programs to Zoom. In April, we awarded Professor Jennifer Nazareno and Don Stanford ‘‘72 ScM ’77 with the Hazeltine Mentoring Award. Over 100+ people tuned in all over the country, a record-breaking number for this event that we typically host in person.
Launch of Certificate Program in Entrepreneurship
The Nelson Center’s certificate program in entrepreneurship provides curricular structure for undergraduate students who wish to make entrepreneurship an important part of their intellectual journey at Brown.
Collaboration with Spelman College
Our student-run club Brown EP formed a partnership with AMPLIFY and Spelman College. AMPLIFY’s mission is to bring to light underrepresented voices in entrepreneurship and VC.
Hired Alice Nichols as Adjunct Lecturer for New Eco-Entrepreneurship Course
We sponsored a new course that gives students the opportunity to learn how to use entrepreneurship tools to tackle challenges in the sustainability space. Taught by Alice Nichols, students learned to develop an eco-entrepreneurship idea and put it on the path to becoming a real, viable venture.
Mentoring in Focus Training Series
We launched our Mentoring in Focus training series focused on inclusive mentoring practices for faculty and center mentors.
Grants to address Anti-Black and Systemic Racism
We collaborated with the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America (CSREA) to create venture grants to address anti-Black and systemic racism. Learn more here.
Nelson Technology Fellows
We piloted the Nelson Technology Fellows program in conjunction with Brown Technology Innovations.
Brown EP Launched New Virtual Synapse Trips
In addition to New York and San Francisco, Brown EP led virtual Synapse trips in East Africa (Kenya, Ethiopia, Somaliland), and Southeast Asia.
Second Academic Research Conference
“The Entrepreneurship you Don’t See: Bringing Visibility to New Majority Founders” was our second entrepreneurship research conference. Here we awarded the first-ever lifetime achievement award to Dr. Juliet E. K. Walker and the emerging scholar award in entrepreneurship to Dr. Courtney McCluney.
$10 million in Funding Raised by Nelson Center Ventures
Ventures supported by the Nelson Center have now raised approximately $10 million in funding and many others have gone on to national accelerator programs such as Y Combinator, Techstars, etc.