Eric Wang

Fourteen teams of students are nearing the end of a five-week project development program with the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale.

Called the accelerator, the initiative helps students develop an early-stage idea into an organization or product and is open to Yale students of all levels. Students in the program receive a grant and are expected to work at least five to 10 hours per week on their idea.

“One of the things that makes our accelerator unique is that it is open to students working on for-profit ventures, non-profits but also what we call ‘projects,’ that could be a creative arts program, a community initiative, a social movement,” said Laura Mitchell Tully, Tsai CITY’s Communications & Creative Director. “So we are really open to a broad range of ideas. If students have an idea, we want to give them the tools to build on that idea.”

As part of their participation in the program, students gain access to mentorship to kick-start their idea. Tsai CITY has “Innovation Advisors” who help the teams build a plan for thwweir idea and also connects them to a network of mentors off campus.

“Tsai CITY has done a good job of trying to help entrepreneurs in the very early stages to figure out how best to hit the gas on their ideas and get going,” said Samuel Kitara SOM ’20, a Tsai CITY Innovation Advisor. “Yale is a really exciting space that is very supportive of students, and it is growing its reputation as an entrepreneurship hub, so the resources that are in place — in terms of faculty, alumni and other students — is amazing.”

The teams in this semester’s accelerator cohort represent a wide array of ideas with founders from many different disciplines and schools at Yale.

One example of this is Lillian Childress ’17 FES ’20, who founded Grantas Cosmetics, a sustainable cosmetic company. Childress said the program helped her navigate through the entrepreneurship process.

“When you’re an entrepreneur, you have to wear so many different hats, and there are so many new skills required, so the accelerator program has been really helpful in navigating all of those diverse and important skills,” Childress said. “It can be lonely to be a founder. It can be challenging, so it has been super helpful to get to know other people who are going through this [accelerator] and get advice on how they are dealing with problems and feel that companionship and camaraderie.”

Other examples of projects in the accelerator this round include a criminal justice reform organization, a brand of traditional Chinese beverages and a project working to mitigate climate change by restoring tree cover.

Zoe Hunter, innovation fellow and the accelerator’s project manager, said that she has been inspired this semester by the passion students have brought to solving problems they see around them. And throughout her first semester running the accelerator program, she has seen its impact on Yale students.

“More often than not, people come here for academia: to learn and build skills before they go off to pursue something professionally,” Hunter said. “[The accelerator program] nurtures a different skill: creating innovative solutions in a way that allows students to explore their curiosity and creativity. Each team came to us with something different, so at the end of it all, I hope all teams has found a ‘nugget’ that’s relevant to them going forward.”

The Tsai CITY accelerator program culminates in a “Pitch-off” event where the 14 teams in this cohort will have the opportunity to present their work to the Yale community. The Fall 2019 Tsai City Accelerator Pitch-off will take place Nov. 14 at the School of Management.

Tsai CITY will move into a new, larger building behind the Yale Center for Engineering Innovation & Design in 2020.

Kate Pundyk |