School's Out but the Work of Student Entrepreneurs Keeps Going
School has been out, but student founders are busy building their businesses. Back in May, I asked my students if they wanted to continue connecting on Zoom as a way for students to get feedback and support on their venture ideas over the summer. I proposed a summer community of alumni entrepreneurs, aspiring entrepreneurs, and anyone interested in tinkering with novel solutions. I wasn't sure exactly how it would go, but after 2 months, I'm proud to say our community has been strong and inspiring!
Abrima Erwiah, Co-Founder Studio 189 (BS’02), photo taken in 2015 at Studio189 event <Left>
Josh Sakhai, Co-Founder Ephemeral (BS’21) <right>
Strength Through Community
At each session, we have had students Zoom-in from all across the World. At most of the sessions we've had a student from Australia, Abu Dhabi, the West Coast, and of course the NYC area. Despite being separated by oceans and significant time differences, students have provided global perspectives on each others' ventures---which has helped each venture grow. Thus far, 5 venture teams have pitched their ideas and received feedback from the group. For the Zoom sessions, we adopted an approach that NYU Stern utilizes in its Endless Frontier Labs, where we ask the presenter to stay quiet after sharing their idea so that the entire group is encouraged to provide feedback uninhibited by any founder defenses. Student venture ideas ranged from social enterprises doing community work, to apps to support colleges recruiting international students, to a product that will cure your coffee addiction.
Madat Consulting - Student Venture Pitch
An equally important part of the summer has been getting inspiration from an amazing cohort of Stern undergraduate alumni that have offered to share their stories and provide feedback on the student ventures. Justin Silver (Co-founder of aavrani) kicked off the program sharing his journey from finance to the beauty industry. Students were eager to learn how aavrani was adapting its business during the global pandemic and tips on fundraising. In the second session of the program, Abrima Erwiah (Co-founder of Studio189) shared her career journey from luxury fashion to co-founder of a social enterprise that is using fashion as an agent for social change. She encouraged the students to think deeply about where they could make an impact with their time and energy.
Lisha Davis,Former head of Vanguard Innovation Studio (BS’03) <left, schedule for July 15>
Justin Silver, Co-Founder Aavrani (BS’12) , photo taken during a class visit in January <right>
Disruptive Innovation, from Startup to Innovation Studio
Our last two speakers provided unique contrasts in disruptive innovation. Josh Sakhai (Co-founder Ephemeral), shared his journey from college student winning the NYU Stern 300K challenge to entering the NYC startup scene. His startup, Ephemeral, is on a mission to completely transform what we all assumed might not be possible--having a real inked tattoo that isn't forever but just for a season. As a startup, with a startup budget, Josh described the challenges of the long product development journey over the past several years.
Meanwhile, Lisha Davis, angel investor and former head of Vanguard Innovation Studio, shared with us her experience launching an innovation studio for a company with $6 Trillion in assets under management. Vanguard, known for its role in revolutionizing the investment industry through low cost mutual funds and ETFs, had to develop a separate studio to foster a disruptive culture that might lead the company to its next revolutionary ideas. While Lisha touted the benefits of having tremendous resources, she also spoke about great synergies existing between the scrappy innovativeness of a startup and the resources of big companies.
Each alumni career journey helps to the illustrate that for almost all entrepreneurs, the path is never a straight line. The summer zoom community has been entirely informal and relied on the NYU Stern community coming together to support each other as we navigate new projects in a new and changing world. I'm excited to see where our journey leads.