Lily Dorstewitz, Contributing Photographer

The Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale continues to offer a full slate of opportunities for students, even as its new building remains shuttered. 

Located behind the Becton Center at 17 Prospect Street, Tsai CITY’s new steel and glass building has not opened to students since its completion and opening to staff in August. Supported by a donation from Joseph C. Tsai ’86 YLS ’90, Tsai CITY’s new home is designed to foster an environment of diverse players in the entrepreneurial and creative worlds, working to solve real-world issues, continuing the vision that Tsai CITY was founded upon in 2017. Although current campus policies have delayed the building’s opening, Tsai CITY’s shift to virtual program offerings has been extremely successful, according to Executive Director Clare Leinweber. 

“We have not seen drop-off in student engagement,” Leinweber wrote in an email to the News. “Large events, such as Startup Yale and our fall fireside chats, have had hundreds of people attending — far more than would have been able to join for an in-person event.”

For those seeking guidance and mentorship on new project ideas, Tsai CITY’s offerings this semester are particularly ideal. Leinweber highlighted the center’s brand new Launch Pad program, which aims to support students in the early stages of the venture development process through online interactions and events. More established projects can be a part of Tsai CITY’s existing Accelerator program, which has supported students remotely since the spring. A new fall 2020 cohort of 15 Accelerator teams and 21 Launch Pad teams was confirmed over the weekend.

Barista, a subscription-based coffee service that rewards routine purchases from locally-owned cafes, participated in the accelerator’s spring cohort. Co-founder Jordan Weitz ’20 lauded Tsai CITY’s continued support both before and after the pandemic hit.

“There was a totally seamless transition,” Weitz said, noting that the team especially appreciated guidance from Kristine Ericson GRD ’24, a graduate student who they met through Tsai CITY’s mentorship match.“We met with her about once a week when in-person and we continued to meet in the same capacity as everything went virtual.”

After completing Accelerator’s mentor meetings, workshops and virtual showcase, the Barista team successfully piloted its business model in late August. The team has now launched its next iteration, with roughly 100 students on its current platform being connected with local New Haven businesses including Koffee?, The Jitter Bus and Claire’s Corner Copia. 

Projects involved with Tsai CITY’s programs also have preferential access to the College Street Innovation Fund, which offers investments of up to $100,000 to Yale startups, according to their website. During an information session on Monday, portfolio director and Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Office of Cooperative Research Konstantine Drakonakis explained CSIF’s role in the Yale entrepreneurial environment.

“The fund exists to provide pre-seed funding,” Drakonakis said. “It’s focused on ferreting out the most promising startups at Yale…with a clear path to commercialization and eventual return.”

According to Drakonakis, CSIF is also an extremely effective conduit in building entrepreneurial and investment relationships between Yale students and professional firms. Every dollar that the fund invests in Yale startups is met with $10 in follow-up seed capital from the outside firms to further grow the students’ ventures. 

Leinweber, who also serves on CSIF’s advisory council, emphasized that entrepreneurship and innovation are very much alive at Yale and expressed optimism about Tsai CITY’s activities in the future. 

“We are looking forward to opening as soon as we can do so safely,” Leinweber told the News. “In the meantime, we encourage students to visit our new website to explore all that is available to them remotely.”

The new Tsai CITY building was designed by New York City firm WEISS/MANFREDI Architecture and built by Whiting Turner Construction of New Haven, CT.

Isaac Yu | isaac.yu@yale.edu

ISAAC YU
Isaac Yu writes about transportation, traffic safety and urban planning in New Haven. He is also a production and design staffer for the News. Originally from Garland, Texas, he is a first-year in Berkeley College majoring in English and Urban Studies.