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Student-led companies spend summer incubating ideas

Media Contact

Lindsey Hadlock

Eight companies and 30 students who worked on their startup businesses in Ithaca over the summer shared their progress and next steps during a pitch competition as part of the final Pitch Day for the Life Changing Labs Incubator Aug. 3.

In its sixth year, LCL’s eight-week incubator offers students mentorship, weekly workshops and networking events, as well as technical and professional resources such as legal help, software and prototyping equipment. LCL students could be found day and night working in eHub Collegetown, at 409 College Ave.

Eight companies and 30 students who worked on their startup businesses in Ithaca over the summer shared their progress and next steps during a pitch competition Aug. 3.

Student business founders presented in front of judges for a $1,000 prize and feedback. Judges for the pitch competition included Ryoko Nozawa of Cayuga Venture Fund; Bill Greener of law firm Bond, Schoeneck & King; Michael Gibson and Danielle Strachman of the 1517 Fund; and entrepreneur Mark Hurwitz, Ph.D. ’96.

Winner of the contest was Response, a company founded by Keivan Shahida ’20 and Kais Baillargeon ’20. Response provides an automated way for nonprofits to acquire supplies so they can respond more quickly and efficiently to emergencies such as natural disasters. The students used the example of World Vision, one of the organizations that responded to the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, as they explained the impact of their product.

Currently, nonprofits request goods through a process known as open tender. Suppliers send in their bids by email, which the nonprofit must review by hand before choosing its vendor. “In Puerto Rico, the process took 30 days and people who needed help didn’t get it in time,” Shahida said.

Response software opens a marketplace for vendors to bid to provide the supplies the nonprofit needs. The nonprofit can evaluate the bids online, technically and financially, then manage the procurement digitally.

“We already have 30 partners signed up to demo our system,” Baillargeon said, adding that the summer incubator gave them time to conduct interviews and prepare their product for field testing. They are also applying to be a part of the Student Agencies eLab accelerator, Shahida said.

Another business presenting was Suna Breakfast, which offers a hot breakfast to students delivered to their door before their first class. Founded by Pedrow Bobrow ’20 and Chistophe Gerlach ’20, the business asks customers to order the night before so that Suna can map a path for its drivers in the morning. In beta tests this spring, the team delivered more than 130 breakfasts in four days, partnering with Ithaca’s Lincoln Street Diner. Over the summer they’ve made many refinements and plan to serve campus and the Ithaca community starting in the fall.

“We are all working hard to make this a reality,” said Bobrow.

Christine Mbaye Muchemu, MBA ’19, co-founder of Rasanak, explained how she and her sisters developed a deep conditioner that saves women with textured hair hours of time on their hair care. She spent the summer acting on advice from mentors and professors while working on customer development.

“It took us seven years to reach this formula,” she said. “Now that we have it, we want to share it with the world because we know it can make a real difference.”

Life Changing Labs is a nonprofit founded in 2012 to support entrepreneurial students at Cornell. Along with the summer incubator, the organization runs a summer program for high school students, manages the Cornell Entrepreneurship Kickoff Event and Big Idea Competition, and offers events during the year for entrepreneurial and interested students.

Kathy Hovis is a writer for Entrepreneurship at Cornell.