YEI initiatives find funding

Despite the recession, the number of student initiatives funded by the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute has held firm, staff members said.

With few career opportunities on the market, more students are interested in starting their own businesses, YEI staff members said. Because the average student venture is cheap to fund, they said, these ventures have become more attractive to investors looking to spend as little as possible on high-risk deals.

“Students have a much lower overhead and are able to bootstrap more efficiently at an earlier stage,” YEI deputy director Shana Schenider ’00 said. “[They] don’t have the same type of bills as someone 30, 40 or 50 with a family, house and mortgage.”

At least seven new ventures have been started under YEI’s watch this year, director Jim Boyle GRD ’94 said.

Two of the ventures started this summer, Grilled Cheese to Go and the Green Bride Guide, have already raised significant amounts of funding, Schneider said.

Grilled Cheese to Go founder Michael Inwald SOM ’10, who participated in YEI’s fellowship program this summer, has received a first round of financial support from Hyatt Hotel heiress Karen Pritzker and her husband Michael Vlock.

Inwald said about 15 Yalies are working as consultants to help him launch his fast-food franchise, which will sell grilled cheeses and soup. Inwald said an average franchise location would cost between $250,000 and $600,000.

A self-professed grilled cheese addict, Inwald is taking time off from classes to manage Grilled Cheese to Go. The company will open its first store by Nov. 22 at the Connecticut Post mall in Milford, Conn. He plans to hire seven or eight employees.

He said he hopes to open 100 locations in four years and 1,000 locations with a decade.

Inwald, whose parents were both self-employed, said starting his own company was part of his American dream.

“You don’t rent a apartment for the rest of your life,” Inwald said. “Why rent my career?”

Kate Harrison FES ’09, the founder of Green Bride Guide, which advises couples about environmentally-friendly weddings, has five full-time workers and five interns.

Harrison, who found it difficult to make her own wedding environmentally friendly, wrote a book by the same name in 2008. The book’s success led Harrison to create an advice blog and then a comprehensive Web site. She became involved with YEI this past summer, she added.

While Harrison originally wanted to pursue a career in environmental law, she now spends 50 to 60 hours a week on her company, she said.

Harrison said she has raised about half of funding she needs to expand her Web site.

YEI was founded in 2007 to provide grants, training and contacts for Yale students wanting to start new companies. The 25 student venture teams supported by YEI have raised over $15 million in outside funding.

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