Yalies say ‘YES’ to business

Entrepreneurs and innovators from across the country congregated at the Yale Innovation Summit this weekend to discuss the latest trends in technology, both on campus and beyond.

Hosted by the Yale Entrepreneurial Society, the seventh annual Innovation Summit featured two days of speeches and panels on a range of topics surrounding the field of entrepreneurship. The summit was organized around the final round of the Y50K competition, an event sponsored by YES in which teams consisting of Yale students, staff and faculty write business plans and vie for a grand prize of $50,000. The winning proposals in each of the three categories — biotech, for-profit and social entrepreneurship — were announced Saturday afternoon: TinyFi, a medical device developer that aims to enable hospital-wide monitoring, Smooth-Easy, which develops freshly-blended smoothie machines and EcoInsure, which insures organizations involved in land conservation.

YES board members said the event this year was especially successful, in part because of the recent growing interest among Yale undergraduates in entrepreneurship. The creation of the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute has boosted campus activity in the field over the last few years, they said.

“It’s a really exciting field that’s starting to catch on here a lot more, even in just the past couple months,” YES President Brad Hargreaves ’08 said. “It’s a way to blend creativity with practicality — it’s really an art in many ways.”

But Sean Mehra ’08, YES chief technology officer, said the entrepreneurship community at Yale still lags far behind the communities at its peer institutions, such as Harvard, Stanford and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He said it is important for Yale to catch up in entrepreneurship, especially for the sake of New Haven’s economic development.

Mehra said the competition draws a lot of attention both from students and local investors. Financiers often come to the summit to network with student teams, particularly with the winning groups, he said.

Although the summit was originally centered around the competition, Hargreaves said, in recent years the event has grown beyond the contest, becoming more focused on features such as panels — this year, on alternative energy and the future of the Internet — and the keynote address.

Jeffrey Citron, chief executive officer of Internet phone company Vonage, delivered the keynote address to about 60 students, entrepreneurs and senior executives in Woolsey Hall on Friday afternoon, focusing on the role of entrepreneurs in commerce.

Although Citron’s speech went smoothly, Hargreaves said, last minute management tumult at Vonage had left YES worrying about whether or not the keynote speaker would show up. Late last week, Michael Snyder, Vonage’s chief executive, stepped down and was replaced by founder and former CEO Citron. Given Citron’s recently taking office, YES board members said they did not think he would have time to honor his predecessor’s commitment to the summit.

“We were sweating it for a few days,” Hargreaves said. “But Citron followed up and came out here, and it went really well in the end.”

Other winning entries in the Y50K competition included La Bonne Sante, a physician house call service, and SeroLogic, a biotech start-up that will sell easy-to-use blood kits to detect ovarian cancer.

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