YEI expands programs, sees app increase

Six years after the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute was created, two business projects that began as part of the institute’s summer fellowship program have recently been sold to large companies — an achievement YEI staff said is symbolic of the institute’s upward trajectory.

Stage Grade, which YEI Program Director Alena Gribskov ’09 described as a “Rotten Tomatoes for theater in New York,” and YouRenew, a platform for recycling electronics, were acquired by Davenport Media Enterprises and Clover Wireless, respectively, in December 2012. Gribskov said the acquisitions are a sign that YEI is growing, and she added that applications for the summer fellowship program — which provides funding and mentorship for students or teams of students to launch startups — have risen to an all-time high of 85 this year, a 20 percent increase over last year’s appplication count. YEI Director James Boyle GRD ’94 said the fellowship has started drawing better-qualified students than it was able to in 2007, when the program began.

“When we first got started in 2007, what we saw more often than not were students with very raw ideas but no proof that their ideas would address a defined problem or fill a defined opportunity,” Boyle said. “Now we can count on teams to put ideas together and de-risk them before they come to us, which is a good situation for us.”

In addition to drawing greater numbers of students to the summer fellowship program, YEI began a workshop series in September called Start Something for people unsure of how to launch a new venture, Gribskov said. Boyle said YEI hopes to expand its programs to include more faculty in the coming months, adding that professors can currently take advantage of YEI’s year-round mentorship services and participate in the Start Something workshops.

Boyle added that the institute has also been expanding its staff to include graduate students, who he said make up “an important cog in the YEI strategy.” He said the staff now includes School of Management students to help summer fellows plan market strategy and School of Engineering students to brainstorm solutions to technological problems.

Gribskov said YEI’s growing program offerings cater to people with a variety of entrepreneurial backgrounds, ranging from students who have had their minds set on careers in business to students who have only just started contemplating entrepreneurship.

Siddharth Banerjee ’13, a former YEI summer fellow who created the Guide Finder, a platform for the online reservation of hunting and fishing guides, said he was not particularly interested in entrepreneurship when he joined YEI in summer 2011. The experience “definitely changed my inclination,” he said, adding that he now naturally tends to evaluate ideas in terms of startup potential.

Xan Tanner ’13, who worked on the elementary and high school teacher evaluation platform called Panorama Education during the summer program in 2012, said fellows who are further along in the process of developing their businesses can also benefit from the resources provided by YEI. Panorama Education continued to expand after the summer fellowship and now serves over 800 schools in six different states, said co-founder Aaron Feuer ’13.

Feuer added that he attributes Panorama’s success partly to what he and others working on Panorama Education learned during its YEI experience. Hearing speeches from successful entrepreneurs, having advisors for every aspect of the team’s business model and having a structured schedule to work with were all helpful in developing Panorama Education into a full-fledged company, he said.

“It’s easy to underestimate how many questions you’ll have, and it was great to have an office near other companies going through the same process,” Feuer said.

YEI will select between 10 and 12 teams from its 85 applications for the 2013 summer fellowship program.

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