Students spend summer incubating their business ideas

David Na and Landice Gao
Jason Koski/University Photography
David Na, left, MBA '15, CEO and founder of Pursuit, talks with Landice Gao, '17 , CEO and founder of Navo at Cornell's PopShop.

Jason Koski/University Photography
Peter Cortle ’11, is the founder and director of Life Changing Labs summer incubator.

While most Cornell students headed home for the summer – off to internships, work or play – a group of entrepreneurial undergrads and graduate students are staying in Ithaca for intensive business development as part of the new Life Changing Labs (LCL) summer incubator.

Six student teams are working on their businesses in apartments and offices, meeting together at least three times a week in the PopShop space in Collegetown. They are supported by the LCL management team, internal mentors and a group of 10 student interns – so called “Life Changers,” who help with everything from customer research to programming.

The six companies were chosen from 100 applicants to join the incubator, said Michael Raspuzzi ’16, president of Life Changing Labs, an organization of students and alumni that helps entrepreneurial students gain hands-on experience in early ventures. Each company came in with an end goal in mind for the summer, and LCL mentors and interns have been working weekly to help them plan their sprints, track their key performance indicators and, ultimately, push their progress.

Other leaders of the incubator include Peter Cortle ’11, LCL founder and director, who has managed Cornell’s eLab accelerator for the past two years and has mentored hundreds of students; and Haroon Ismail ’13, LCL partner, founder of AkibaH and past participant in various other professional accelerator programs, including Techstars. The triad brings together a myriad of background experience including business, software, hardware and design. The incubator is supported in part by Entrepreneurship at Cornell, and students are receiving free resources from partners such as Google Cloud, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Bizspark, Github, Braintree, and Invision.

Kirk Samaroo, Ph.D. ’14 in mechanical engineering, applied to the program to incubate his business creating a treatment for arthritis, which has shown promising results in the lab. He’s at work licensing the technology and developing a plan for financing.

“We’ve met companies who’ve gone through this before, and they say the process is really long but not necessarily arduous,” Samaroo said.

Aditya Agashe ’17, a computer science major in the College of Engineering, and Michelle Jang ’17, an industrial and labor relations major, are working on an app named Belle, a peer-to-peer food delivery service, where students would be paid to visit restaurants or groceries and pick up items for other students. They have launched the business already, with more than 100 beta testers and a goal of 200 weekly orders by the end of the summer.

As companies work to meet their weekly goals, they post small projects on sticky notes on a giant white wall for LCL interns to pick up and tackle.

“I’m interested in entrepreneurship and wanted some experience,” said Wisler Charles, a doctoral student in the field of immunology and infectious disease who is interning part time with LCL while conducting summer research work at the College of Veterinary Medicine. “I’d like to start a video game based on the immune system, and this experience helps me find out what that would take.”

“Designing as an architect is very much like the work of an entrepreneur – both involve systems thinking,” said Peta Feng ’17, an architecture student who’s also an LCL intern.

Lauren Stechschulte ’17, a computer science student in the College of Arts and Sciences, wanted to join the intern program to learn more about startups in case she decides to have her own business someday. So far, she’s helped a company create an algorithm for its product and worked on legal research for another team.

“This has been a great way to bring together people who are passionate about creating their companies with people who are willing to help out,” said Ryan Kishore ’17, an engineering physics student and vice president of LCL.

The eight-week program runs through July 31. To find out more, visit

Kathy Hovis is a writer for Entrepreneurship at Cornell.

Jason Koski/University Photography
Peter Cortle ’11, is the founder and director of Life Changing Labs summer incubator.

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