Like many Yale students, Benjamin Burke ’15 and Patrick Casey ’15 find the high prices and inefficiencies of local transportation services to Connecticut airports frustrating. But instead of accepting this reality, the two students spent this past summer at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute (YEI) developing an app to connect Yalies travelling to and from the airport.
Burke and Casey are among the growing body of student entrepreneurs developing projects in New Haven. Although Yale is consistently ranked as one of the top five Universities in the country, it isn’t usually considered one of the most friendly to entrepreneurship. According to Forbes 2014 “Most Entrepreneurial University” list, Yale ranks 12th, behind other Ivy League schools like Harvard and Princeton. This ranking may soon change, however. Over the past five to seven years, Yale has redoubled its efforts to promote entrepreneurship both by supporting enterprising Yale students and by promoting economic growth in New Haven.
In his inaugural address last October, President Peter Salovey said the University should foster economic growth in New Haven “by putting our innovative, entrepreneurial inclinations to work.” Helping students develop startups in the city, Salovey explained, also creates employment opportunities in the Elm City.
Many student entrepreneurship efforts are focused in the YEI: a University-funded institution founded in 2007 to support student ventures. YEI allows students with business ideas to apply for up to $100,000 from the the YEI Investment Fund, co-invested by Yale, Connecticut Innovations and First Niagara Bank.
Since YEI’s inception, its student ventures have raised a total of $121 million in investment funds and have created over 480 jobs, said Venture Creation Program Director Margaret Lee ’14. According to YEI co-founder and managing director Jim Boyle, the Institute has experienced tremendous growth over the past few years. In 2007, only a few dozen students were involved with YEI. Now that number is in the hundreds, he said.
Although YEI is not exclusively for New Haven business ventures, Boyle said it does track how many ventures remain in New Haven and tries to encourage students to remain in New Haven post graduation.
“It does seem like there’s a growing trend of students staying here to start businesses,” said University spokesperson Mike Morand ’87 DIV ’93. “People recognize that the cost of doing business here compared to New York City is incredibly competitive, but at the same time New Haven has quick access to the capital in New York City.”
Some, like Yong Zhao GRD ’14, are already preparing to call New Haven home. Zhao is a YEI alum and one of four co-founders of Junzi Kitchen, a high-end Chinese restaurant chain whose aim is to produce healthy, affordable food. With the first Junzi Kitchen set to open in New Haven in spring 2015, Yong said he has found the perfect location for his business.
“I love New Haven because of its balance, style and size. The city fosters a strong environment for entrepreneurs like me.”
Still, the Elm City faces a dearth of tech talent compared to other cities, Boyle said. He explained the YEI is working to grow a larger technology program so that new ventures have a talented pool of people to choose from when looking to hire more employees.
Starling Winston Childs III FES ’14, YEI alum and founder of Citiesense, a web-based platform with information about the real estate market, said that he shares these concerns. While Childs greatly appreciates the resources New Haven provides, he said he has had trouble finding local technology staff.
Alexandra Beautyman ’11, who now works for New Haven based startup ActualFood, said that this tech-talent problem is not unique to New Haven but is instead reflective of the overall lack of software developers who are in high demand at any startup company.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of software developers is projected to grow 22 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average of 11 percent for all occupations.
Correction: Sept. 17