Initiative to boost Eli entrepreneurs

Although Yale College offers few classes about the practical side of business, undergraduates will have a new opportunity to explore entrepreneurship with the debut of the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute.

The YEI — which is sponsored by the Office of Cooperative Research, the Yale Entrepreneurial Society and two recent Yale alumni — will aim to give students the same support that is already offered to faculty who want to start their own business, YEI co-Director and OCR Associate Director James Boyle said. The institute will provide students with the “resources, connections and guidance needed to start new ventures,” according to its Web site, including a Summer Fellowship Program for 10 to 14 budding entrepreneurs in the Yale community.

The 10-week summer program will provide $4,500 per person for a group of undergraduate and graduate Summer Fellows. These students will study entrepreneurship, attend 50 lectures by established entrepreneurs, faculty, venture capitalists and service providers, and brainstorm business ideas in small groups to begin to establish their own ventures, Boyle said. The lectures will also offer students a chance to network with the speakers, he said.

YEI organizers are currently focused on establishing the summer program, which will run from May 29 to Aug. 3, before determining the institute’s role on campus during the academic year, Boyle said.

“We’re going to step back and look at who we can help, how we can help them and what kind of life support the entrepreneurs we find need,” Boyle said.

The formation of the institute and Summer Fellowship is reflective of Yale’s response to increased student interest in entrepreneurship — beginning with the establishment of YES in 1999 — since the tech boom of the 1990s, YEI administrators said.

“There are a number of students who are interested in starting up their own businesses and are inspired by the stories they hear from the faculty and their peers,” Boyle said. “So it’s important to Yale to figure out how to help them be successful. We want everyone’s first success story to take place at Yale.”

In keeping with the group’s mission “to encourage entrepreneurship and economic development in the New Haven community and Yale,” student volunteers at YES have been working on advising and publicizing the program, YES President Brad Hargreaves ’08 said.

While Boyle stressed that the Summer Fellowship program, which is accepting applications online until Feb. 23, is not a business plan competition, organizers said they expect three to four ventures to emerge from the program.

“We want to find people who are movers and shakers, who can execute plans,” Student Coordinator and YES Chief Technology Officer Jeffrey Reitman ’08 said. “Because if we just get the idea people, you can’t get a business running.”

Yale has “no ownership” of the ventures resulting from the Summer Fellowship, Boyle said.

“I think it’s amazing and excellent that Yale is willing to help encourage these ideas that it won’t get any direct money from,” Hargreaves said. “This shows how much of a long-term perspective Yale has about encouraging development in the New Haven area because that’s the only way Yale will benefit from this. When these companies grow, become successful and get established in the area, then they can give back to the Yale community.”

Brad Galiette ’08, chief development officer of YES, who was named one of Business Week’s “25 Best Entrepreneurs Under 25,” said he believes student entrepreneurial efforts are concentrated in the information technology sector because such projects can be conducted within the confines of a dorm room.

Galiette is the director of finance for the News.

Anticipating a high proportion of technologically minded applicants, YEI Summer Fellowship organizers are pursuing a number of outside speakers in the information technology field, said YEI co-Director Richard Madonna, director of finance and administration at OCR.

“We think it’s more likely than not [that] students mulling over business are considering information technology because it doesn’t involve expensive research facilities that they don’t have access to yet this early in their careers,” Madonna said.

In addition to information technology, the summer syllabus — which is loosely modeled on a current course on entrepreneurship at the School of Management — will focus on raising capital, building teams and business models, market research, and business ethics, Boyle said.

Student reaction to the Summer Fellowship was generally positive, although some students said they have reservations about the program.

Faye Zhao ’10, who attended a management program at the University of Pennsylvania in 2005, said the Summer Fellowship sounded like a good way for students to gain experience, but she questioned whether New Haven was the best location for an entrepreneurial program.

“I’m sure there are a lot of students who would appreciate the opportunity,” she said.

Jason Chen ’10 said opportunities for student entrepreneurship are useful, though the fellowship’s goals overlap with existing programs offered by organizations such as YES and AIESEC.

In addition to Boyle and Madonna, YES founders Sean Glass ’03 and Miles Lasater ’01 will serve as founding co-directors of the YEI.

The pair said they are “interested in fostering entrepreneurial spirit at Yale and New Haven” and were looking for ways they “could help foster venture creation” when they thought of the idea for the institute and summer program.

“We had a series of conversations with people at YES and at OCR and it seemed like people were having similar thoughts, so we decided to go ahead and do it,” Lasater said.

While they were students at Yale in 2000, Glass and Lasater founded Higher One, which provides refund management and banking services to higher-education institutions and is now a 100-employee, $16-million-per-year company in New Haven in Science Hill Park.

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