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This semester, the Yale Entrepreneurial Society — a student group focused on promoting entrepreneurship at Yale and nationally — plans to debut a new project aimed at building a unified entrepreneurial community at the University.
The initiative, called the YES Startup Incubator, seeks to provide students with the resources needed to build and scale both nonprofit and for-profit ventures. These resources range from free software programs to one-on-one matching with alumni mentors in relevant industries. The project also features a partnership with several Yale alumni entrepreneurship networks — including Accelerate Yale, a global community of alumni engaged in innovation, and the Yale Alumni Nonprofit Alliance, a network of alumni in the nonprofit sector. In addition to the new incubator, YES has expanded upon their existing internship program, launched a new speaker series and adapted their annual events to fit a virtual format.
“We’re really trying to create a sort of self-sustaining ecosystem, a really unified ecosystem of entrepreneurship at Yale,” YES Startup Incubator Lead Clark Klitenic ’24 said. “[Before], there was no centralized location of resources … no clear unified community of Yalies supporting Yalies — which is ultimately what we’re setting out to do.”
Klitenic added that his team plans to connect with the School of Management, Yale Law School and the School of Medicine to reach beyond the undergraduate population and cultivate an entrepreneurial community for the University as a whole.
Although the Startup Incubator was originally designed to be a more exclusive, vetting-based organization, it quickly expanded in scale to include ventures at all stages of development — from potential ideas to late-stage startups. According to Klitenic, the program is meant to be an “all-inclusive community” for anyone passionate about creating a startup.
“We sent out a survey that basically gauges where you are in your process,” Klitenic said. “The questions were basically, ‘Do you have a startup, do you have an idea for a startup or would you like to have an idea for a startup?’. And if you answer yes to any of those, you’re in.”
So far, the survey — which was sent to all Yale College students — has received over 80 responses, with an additional 30 prospective participants from within YES.
The Startup Incubator is starting concurrently with the Yale College Council’s new Incubator, which launched last week with five selected projects.
“One thing that we’re going to be doing is making a very strong effort to make sure that we can collaborate [with the YCC],” YES President Brihu Sundararaman ’23 said. “As much as we can make a unified community, that’s always at the forefront of our minds.”
Sundararaman noted that the Startup Incubator is representative of YES’s three main goals: reducing the entry barrier for student entrepreneurs, providing them with the resources they need and forming a strong, supportive, student-driven community. He emphasized in particular YES’s dedication to establishing entrepreneurship as a “very, very viable pathway” for students from underrepresented groups.
In addition to the Startup Incubator, YES founded their Internship Program last August to connect students with alumni for internship opportunities at startups. According to YES Director of Internships Matthew Nam ’23, the initiative has now expanded to several additional universities and has matched over 100 students with startups from across the world.
“We’re all about just making opportunities more accessible for students,” Nam said. “We know that to break into entrepreneurship, you have to have all these skills … and maybe starting something from scratch, you don’t know where to start. So we’re really equipping students with those tools by connecting them with some alumni who will show them the ropes.”
Nam mentioned that in the process of expanding the internship program, YES was able to collaborate with other student entrepreneurial groups from schools like Harvard and Princeton. Sundararaman commented on the importance of developing these partnerships, noting that YES has been a unifying force in connecting organizations across the country, particularly in the Northeast.
Karina Minanov ’22, YES director of events and design, said that her group is also working with Harvard to organize this year’s pitch competition, an event where students share their startup ideas with judges. For the first time, the competition will be held virtually.
“An important change from previous years is that our pitch competition this year is not only going to focus on awarding funding and prizes to viable ventures but will also serve as kind of an investment networking session as well,” Minanov said. “[We want to] connect them with funding that can continue into the future.”
Minanov said that YES also hosted a new virtual speaker series over the summer in collaboration with several other schools. The series, called Amplify, focused on the stories and achievements of Black entrepreneurs and will return for a second installment with a broadened theme of underrepresented backgrounds in entrepreneurship at large.
Meanwhile, YES’s main speaker series has also adapted to COVID-19. YES Director of Speakers and Podcasts Chris Hladczuk ’21 said that he has been hosting virtual fireside chats with opportunities at the end for audience questions — a change from the PowerPoint format used in past years. This year, the events typically draw between 100 and 300 attendees.
“We changed it to have more of an interactive feel,” Hladczuk said. “We want to show people that there is a path to success from people that went to Yale, and say, ‘Hey, they built these billion dollar businesses.’”
The speaker series — which has featured guests such as Twitch CEO Emmett Shear ’05 and YCombinator CEO Michael Seibel ’05 — is slated to continue twice a month this spring.
Lastly, YES is planning to initiate a new high school fellows program to connect with the next generation of entrepreneurs.
“We don’t consider ourselves a club, we don’t consider ourselves an organization, but we consider ourselves a startup,” Sundararaman said. “And we approach everything that we do with that mentality.”
YES was founded in 1999 by Sean Glass ’03 and Miles Lasater ’01.
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