May 12, 2016

Students promote new entrepreneur resource

Blackstone launchpad
Jason Koski/University Photography
Managing Director Felix Litvinsky with the 2016 Blackstone LaunchPad fellows Tiffany St. Bernard, left, Kenny Sang and Tatiana Cherne.

Three student fellows recently joined the staff of Blackstone LaunchPad (BLP) and are already offering innovative programming for entrepreneurial Cornell students.

Tiffany St. Bernard, a graduate student in the field of biomedical engineering, and undergrads Tatiana Cherne ’16 and Kenny Sang ’17, have been working to spread the word about BLP, which provides mentoring, coaching and resources for entrepreneurial students, faculty, staff and alumni.

They helped organize the regional New York Business Plan Competition at Cornell April 9. Seven Cornell teams advanced to a statewide event April 29 in Albany, with one team, XBoard, taking top honors in the tech category.

The students also spearheaded Cornell’s participation in BLP’s national “Solve a Campus Challenge” competition that encouraged student teams to tackle a campus problem and send their solution in a one-minute video.

This summer, BLP fellows will take mentorship roles in a summer hardware accelerator at Rev, the downtown Ithaca business incubator, and also at a summer incubator for Cornell student startups in Kennedy Hall. BLP is also working on initiatives for the 2016-17 academic year, including greater collaboration with other BLP organizations in New York state and beyond.

“A lot of students have great ideas but they’re not sure what to do with them,” said Cherne, who has started businesses as diverse as a costume rental company and a tutoring service.

Other students don’t want to start their own company but want to learn how they can apply entrepreneurial skills within a larger company. “Entrepreneurship is also a mindset and a lot of companies value that entrepreneurial spirit,” Cherne said.

Sang is one of those students. He envisions a career in a larger company but realizes the benefits of the startup mindset.

“My parents, first-generation immigrants, inspired me to apply entrepreneurship to my finance-oriented career, after witnessing firsthand how useful it was to combine foresight, ambition, passion, imagination, communication and coordination in a career in sales and trading,” Sang said.

BLP student fellows are working to connect students to alumni as well as to many entrepreneurial Cornell programs, including Life Changing Labs, the Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training program, and resources at Cornell Tech and Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City.

St. Bernard is on her second startup, a nonprofit called ManyMentors that encourages and supports underrepresented students’ interest in pursuing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

Kathryn Boor, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said the number of students interested in entrepreneurship continues to grow.

“Students are seeking experiential learning opportunities and programmatic activities and events to help them take action on their great ideas,” Boor said. “BLP’s resources can help all of them, whether they dream of working in a small startup, a large business, a nonprofit or a government agency.”

Mary Opperman, Cornell vice president and chief human resources officer, said Blackstone LaunchPad is quickly strengthening Cornell’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“BLP has been working with creative, motivated students and alumni and encouraging them to launch their business ventures in the region because this is a great area for small enterprises to start and to grow,” said Opperman. “In just three months, the Blackstone LaunchPad program has helped hundreds of students and alumni from every school test their business ideas, learn about entrepreneurship and innovation, and get access to resources.”

Already 500 Cornell students have signed up for BLP, which offers free and confidential mentorship for individuals and startups at any stage in any industry, as well as access to a global network and other resources. It operates at 17 campuses across the country and in Ireland. Cornell’s managing director is Felix Litvinsky, a seasoned international technology entrepreneur and a member of various investor groups.

BLP will ultimately live in a new eHub space in Kennedy Hall, which will also be the home to Entrepreneurship at Cornell and offer meeting and classroom space for students and faculty.