For its 10-year anniversary, the Yale Entrepreneurial Society will surrender a chunk of its market share. But, according to YES President Joe Walker ’09, student entrepreneurs will be the ones to cash in.
YES, founded in 1999 as a nonprofit 501(c)3 with the stated goal of “harnessing the power of the Yale network” to promote student entrepreneurship has — via its worldwide association of thousands of students, faculty and alumni — done its job, Walker said. But as the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, which grew out of YES two years ago to work specifically on student startups, has matured quickly enough to amass institutional and financial support from the University itself, YES has been relegated to a limb of its former subordinate.
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So starting this year, YEI will serve as an umbrella organization over the entrepreneurial “ecosystem” of Yale and New Haven, said YEI Deputy Director Shana Schneider ’00. YES, she said, will maintain its status as the student arm of the endeavor.
“YES was built with the intention that Yale would eventually institutionalize an entrepreneurial community,” said Matt Brimer ’09, a founder of YEI and mastermind behind online gaming network GoCrossCampus (GXC). “But now, YEI is flourishing … it is exactly what YES intended to be, and the two no longer have to be separate organizations.”
As Walker glanced at the new YEI logo — blue and gray circles connected to form a “Y” — he said he is hopeful the business community at Yale will be made stronger and more effective by the joint partnership.
“We are all one family now,” he said.
And the family has a new home. At the new YEI offices at 282 York St., next to Ashley’s Ice Cream, students who have a vested interest in turning their “dorm room” business idea into a venture with a mailing address now have that opportunity, Schneider said.
Alongside the offices of YEI Director Jim Boyle GRD ’87 ’94 and his right hand, Schneider, is the YEI “incubator space,” where three current ventures have taken root, although more offices are available for rent. In a central common room, bright lime-green couches and orange armchairs are stationed around a big-screen TV. A mess of video game controllers lies tangled on the coffee table. Empty soda cans and beer bottles litter the tables as a large cardboard cutout of William Shatner folds his arms in sly approval.
Brimer said the space is the perfect venue to toss around ideas, mix with other students and forge lasting business partnerships.
The senior, who commutes between GoCrossCampus offices in Manhattan and New Haven, said he spends a lot of time at the YEI headquarters. Last Tuesday, for example, he utilized YEI office space, for which he pays a monthly rent, to hire four new students to join the GoCrossCampus team and later to begin filming an advertisement for the game’s Web site.
“At what other company can you make spoof commercials at 5 a.m.?” Brimer asked.
Bob Casey ’10, who manages his cell-phone-refurbishing company TwigTek, has an office around the corner, as does Victor Wong ’09, the founder of online advertising network PaperG.
“I never know what I am going to find here — sometimes it’s Henry sleeping,” Schneider laughed, referring to Henry Finkelstein ’09, a marketing manager for GXC.
Join the club
At a kickoff event last Friday night, a 90-percent-male crowd of freshmen — Walker boasted that over 280 names had been added to the YES panlist this semester — filled a lecture hall in Linsly-Chittenden Hall to learn more about being a student entrepreneur.
Although many attendees said they hadn’t heard of YEI or YES before and had no experience with small businesses, others said they wanted to join the network to receive more professional guidance for their existing ventures.
Attendees included those such as Alyssa Schaefer ’12, who said she was merely curious what YES and YEI were all about; Kenny Castaneda ’12, a self-confessed disciple of Yale Chief Investment Officer David Swensen; and Jedrzej Choinski ’12, who ran an eBay arbitrage venture over the summer and was looking for professional advice.
As Brimer spoke to the crowd based on notes from his iPhone, he told the students, “This is not just a club; getting involved in a startup is a viable alternative career path. I’ve created my own employment opportunity. And that,” he added as his eyes grew wide, “is one of the coolest things ever.”
Schneider touted a “Startup Meet-up” next Tuesday night at the YEI offices, where interested students are welcome to mingle with YEI and YES vets — a springboard for the networking system pivotal to business success, she said.
Students in the audience took her suggestion to heart.
“I don’t have a good idea,” Leroy Cole ’12 said, “but I like being around people who do.”
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