By Kathy Hovis
To celebrate the end of a year of hard work on their businesses, students from five companies involved in the eLab business accelerator will present their work during a virtual event open to the public Tuesday, April 28.
eLab Virtual Demo Day will take place from 3-4 p.m. ET, hosted by the Cornell Entrepreneur Network and Entrepreneurship at Cornell. Register for the event at this link.
The student teams have been continuing to work from their homes and will pitch their businesses and respond to questions and comments live during the virtual event. Pitches from the 13 other eLab companies will also be up for viewing on the eLab website.
“This year’s Demo Day may be virtual, but our eLab students are still putting in the hard work of perfecting their business pitches and prepping for feedback from our audience at home,” said eLab Director Ken Rother, “We’re all looking forward to next week’s event, for the student entrepeneurs this is one more step in their journey.”
eLab is a student accelerator that’s a collaboration of Student Agencies Foundation and Entrepreneurship at Cornell. It empowers and trains student participants to launch scalable businesses. Student teams spend one year evolving their business plans, speaking with potential customers, pitching to investors and preparing for launch.
Milik Dawkins ’20 came up with the idea for VeriBuy after losing $1,200 purchasing a pair of counterfeit shoes online. His website helps consumers make sure they are buying authentic merchandise.
“I had saved up money for months and worked hard, then found out they were fake,” her said. “I didn’t want that to happen to anyone else.”
eLab students take part in two semesters of classes, earning up to 5.5. credits. They also receive a $5,000 investment, full-day bootcamp experiences, legal consultation services, one-on-one mentorship from successful entrepreneurs, access to software, guidance on applying for business competitions and pitch events, a coworking space in Cornell’s eHub and access to Cornell’s vast network of alumni entrepreneurs.
Dawkins said the eLab process helped him to refine and change his business to react to what customers need. “It happened through lots of conversations critiquing the business and the model with my friends, peers and eLab mentors,” he said, adding that the biggest benefits came from “learning from actual successful entrepreneurs who are going to be brutally honest with you.”
VeriBuy team members also include Brandon Womack ’20, Janice Hahn ’22, Charles Tucker ’20, Tavonga Tafuma ’23 and Thompson Liu ’21.
Delia Hughes ’14 MBA ’20, who is also a member of the Big Red Venture Fund, said she and cofounder Lindsay Simon ’14, wanted to create a healthier product people could use to satisfy their sweet tooth, coming up with the idea for their Tazzy candy brand, which is starting by producing a better-for-you lollipop.
Their advice to other entrepreneurs?
“Be ready to adapt and listen to the consumer,” Hughes said. “Just because you think you have an idea, doesn’t mean that is what is right for the consumer. Also, don’t be afraid to test and learn.”
Bloom is a mobile application that rewards college students for meeting up with their peers on campus to create meaningful, in-person connections.
“We originally wanted to build a community development platform for underrepresented students because each one of our founding members at some point in our college careers felt a lack of community and disconnectedness,” said Rami Abdou ’20. “And once we began talking to other college students, we realized that we weren’t the only ones. Our goal was to help students transcend surface-level/internet interactions.”
Since the whole point of their business is to foster in-person connection, the switch to a world of remote learning has been a challenge for the company, Abdou said.
“But, the pandemic has inspired new innovation for us,” he said. “We’re still matching people based on their similarities, but instead of connecting them for an in-person lunch or coffee chat, now we’re connecting them via Zoom.” Other team members include co-founder Jalil Evans ’21 and product designer Grace Okunubi ’20.
Abdou said the bootcamps were particularly helpful to his team.
“There is a special type of motivation that you walk out with after every eLab bootcamp,” he said. “When you throw 30 hungry entrepreneurs into the same room for an eight-hour day of learning and brainstorming, you best believe that something special will come out of it.”
The student team behind Zing created a product that helps professors connect their students, whether they’re attending classes in person or in the new remote learning environment.
“After speaking with many professors and students, we realized that the lecture hall environment is not that conducive to collaboration between students, resulting in many students feeling alone and isolated in their classes,” said Jordyn Goldzweig ’21, who created the company with Sam Brickman ’21 and Alisa Lai ’22. “As a result of the COVID-19 outbreak and classes moving to the online environment, the problem we are trying to solve has only gotten worse since students no longer have an outlet to meet their classmates in person.”
Goldzweig said she is grateful for Cornell’s supportive entrepreneurial community. She and Brickman are also part of the Kessler Fellowship. “Between the teaching team and countless programs and opportunities that Cornell has to offer, we have been able to grow our business to where it is today,” she said. “Everyone goes above and beyond to help fellow members of the eship community here.”