Terri Cohen Alpert ’85
Mentor and Hazeltine Mentorship Award Winner 2023
Terri’s journey into entrepreneurship began long before that was a word commonly used at Brown or elsewhere. While an undergrad at Brown she launched the Brown Flying Club, technically known as Brown Soaring Inc., finding a path that kept the university insulated from liability so that an independent corporation owned and operated the Cessna 150, but the Student Activities provided funds for the club. At an early age, she learned that growth comes from discomfort, Terri got used to putting herself in uncomfortable situations. She chose Physics as her concentration, despite being the only woman in her class or either of the adjacent classes. Her classmates looked at her as odd, perhaps less for her gender than because of her clearly stated plans to go from college into the business world rather than getting an advanced degree in the sciences. “Why Physics?” people would ask Terri and she’d respond, “for the challenge, for the mental training, and because like real life it is open book. It isn’t about memory, it is about reasoning your way through a problem unlike any you’ve ever seen before.”
From Brown, she went to Wall Street, spending seven years developing tech for Morgan Stanley where she created the applications for the Interest Rate and Currency Swaps group first, and then the global Foreign Exchange group. Leaving Morgan Stanley when her first daughter was born in 1992, she viewed maternity leave as safe resume cover for sowing her entrepreneurial oats. (This was long before the world would understand why anyone would leave a high paying career to create a startup.) Knowing that for all she learned about finance, and project and people management, she knew absolutely nothing about sales or marketing for sourcing products, and she knew she had much to learn. Determined to learn lessons on the cheap, she set herself the challenge of seeing if she could grow a “real” company from $10,000 or less, using internally generated cash flow as her only source of financing. Professional Cutlery Direct was born and a few years later it was near the top of the Inc 500 list, having boot strapped profitably to $10 million in revenues and nearly 50 employees – but as Terri will tell you, it was a shitty business model with absolutely nothing protectable.
And so began the first of many pivots as Terri would reinvent her organization, launching Uno Alla Volta in 2003, starting business model first, and evolving into the creation of an emotional brand with proprietary products. A series of external events and terrible internal self inflicted mistakes (especially around leadership and team building), called for reinvention time and again.
As eager as Terri is to always be learning, she is to share her knowledge to help others. When a group of Brown students created the Entrepreneurship Program and asked for her help, she dove into mentoring. She served on the board of EP from 2000 to 2010 and guided the annual business plan competition. Following her long awaited liquidity event in 2019, Terri returned to campus to once again share her wisdom with a new generation of Brown entrepreneurs.
She is also pouring her passion into helping to develop the entrepreneurial ecosystem of the Negev region of Israel. She serves as an entrepreneur in residence at Ben Gurion University where she also serves on the Board of Governors. She is very excited that she has been able to bring these two innovative Universities together creating joint academic programming. For the last three years, Brown’s PRIME program and BGU’s LEADERS programs have pitched to one another, critiqued one another and learned from one another. And, this summer Brown students in Neuroscience, computer science, engineering and more will join their counterparts at BGU in BeerSheva, Israel for an interdisciplinary class in Neurotechnology in which they will create their own solutions to today’s problems.