Summit shows taking risks drives success for entrepreneurs

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Melissa Osgood
Robert Langer
Jason Koski/University Photography
Robert Langer ‘70, the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT and 2015 Cornell Entrepreneur of the Year, speaks at the 2015 Cornell Entrepreneurship Summit Nov. 6.

Cornell President Elizabeth Garrett made it clear Nov. 6 how excited the university and she are about Cornell’s expanding commitment to new business startups and entrepreneurship in Ithaca and in New York City.

She spoke near the conclusion of a daylong “Erase the Edge” Cornell Entrepreneurship Summit at The TimesCenter Gallery in Manhattan at which CEOs presented and students pitched business ideas. Approximately 450 people attended the daylong event, hosted annually by Entrepreneurship at Cornell.

Cornell was founded by an entrepreneur, and the university has always been entrepreneurial, Garrett said, citing more than a dozen active, collaborative and innovation projects on and off campus that have been spawned by student- and faculty-led startup companies. Overlooked due to heightened attention on high-tech advances, she added, are the popular natural inventions by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences: namely, more than 279 new varieties of fruit. 

In addition, three of Cornell’s colleges offer concentrations in entrepreneurship, she said, and this fall Cornell Law School and Cornell Tech launched a new master’s degree program focusing on law in technology/entrepreneurship.

Garrett also plugged upstate New York “as a terrific place to start a business.”

She went on to honor Cornell alumnus and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Robert Langer ’70 as the 2015 Cornell Entrepreneur of the Year.

In his talk, inventor and serial entrepreneur Langer left no one wondering how he’s managed to found more than 25 companies and secure or apply for more than 1,100 patents worldwide for research licenses leading to breakthroughs in pharmaceuticals, chemicals, biotechnology, medicine, engineering and medical device companies – while working with student teams at the MIT’s Langer Lab. Three of his students are now faculty members at Cornell, he said with a huge smile.

Langer underscored how important Cornell was to launching him into a lifetime of experimentation, risks, some failures, but more often lifesaving discoveries. He also said he’s proud that both his children enrolled at Cornell: his daughter, Susan ’13, a science and technology studies graduate now working at Biogen, and his son, Sam ’17. “I’m so proud of what I’ve seen Cornell do,” Langer said.

Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT, described how his lab’s research often stumbled upon what traditional scientists considered outrageous theories – that got shot down in scientific journals – and eventually proved the original premises. Sometimes it was as simple as “reading the literature,” Langer said, sparking laughter among Cornell students attending the summit.

Throughout the day, student-developed startup companies – three from Cornell Tech and three from New York University – pitched their ideas to a panel of judges. Cornell Tech’s DogStar, which is bringing to market a device that signals the emotional happiness of pet dogs, won the $5,000 competition.

Jon Craig ’80 is a journalist based in Westchester County, New York.


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