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Sara Schmitt, MBA ’19, and Andre Bordokan, MBA ’19, pitch their company Ethichain to help large apparel brands adopt an ethical supply chain.

eLab students pitch to NYC business leaders

A packed room of potential mentors and advisers listened to pitches from the newest members of eLab, Cornell’s student business accelerator, Nov. 8 in New York City.

From a peer-to-peer shipping platform to a process to ease nonprofit procurement, the yearly New York City pitch event gave 15 eLab student teams their first chance to share their business ideas in front of a crowd.

The students were selected for the accelerator in September from 50 applicant teams and will continue throughout this academic year, culminating in an end-of-year pitch competition. eLab teams take credit-bearing courses, workshops, mentorship and training programs as they interview customers, test market assumptions and hone business plans. The eLab program also connects students to alumni mentors and other resources.

Elaha Mohammad, MPA ’19, pitches her saffron infused coffee company Bright Citizen.

After completing eLab, many startups go on to launch their businesses and raise funds.

“eLab is one of the most successful student entrepreneurship programs because it remains customer-focused, holds students to extremely high standards and leverages an amazing group of alumni mentors,” said Ken Rother, eLab’s managing director. “Many of the alumni at this year’s pitch event have attended for multiple years in a row because they are so eager to learn about the new companies and meet the student teams.”

Said Serdar Mizrakci, MBA ’17, an eLab alumnus who came to the event to offer advice to the new group of student entrepreneurs: “I pitched here two years ago, and I remember the experience of pitching for the first time in front of an audience. This was our baby. Soon we were pitching in business competitions and winning.”

Barron DuBois ’19, one of the founders of eLab company Noozit, said his team hopes to complete their customer discovery phase and understand the concerns of potential customers by the end of the semester. Noozit provides readers with a cheaper way to read news from multiple publishers.

“We received helpful insights from several entrepreneurs and investors,” DuBois said. “We will continue seeking guidance from field experts in the coming months to help us navigate the complex news industry.”

Elaha Mahboob, MPA ’19, a master’s student in the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs and an eLab member, said she met potential collaborators at the event who showed enthusiasm about her company, Bright Citizen, whose product is coffee infused with saffron. The company plans to donate 50 percent of its profits to empower and educate women in developing countries.

“The highlight for me was meeting with some people who were from the Middle East, where they use saffron on a daily basis,” said Mahboob, who is from Afghanistan and was chosen as one of this year’s Forbes 30 under 30. “They were very interested in trying this type of coffee and even helping with the expansion of my product in their countries.”

Ken Rother, eLab’s managing director, gives a final pep talk to student teams before they pitch their companies in New York City.

eLab students say one of the biggest benefits of membership is the camaraderie of fellow entrepreneurial students.

“The mentorship and guidance provided by eLab’s veteran entrepreneurs have been invaluable in establishing real traction for our startup,” DuBois said, “and the drive and ambition of the current cohort push us every day to be the best that we can be.”

Mahboob said, “Connecting, sharing our experiences and learning from other student’s challenges in this process have been important and valuable lessons.”

eLab students will present their final pitches during the Entrepreneurship at Cornell Celebration event on campus April 11-12.

Kathy Hovis is a writer for Entrepreneurship at Cornell.

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Rebecca Valli