In the eHub space in Collegetown each week during the summer, six teams of students stood in the front of the room with slides and pitched their business ideas to peers. They established a strong bond by the end of eight weeks together; comments and constructive criticism flowed freely.
The students were members of a summer incubator hosted by Life Changing Labs and Student Agencies Foundation and sponsored by Entrepreneurship at Cornell. They came from a variety of schools and colleges at Cornell, with businesses including mechanical shelving, a website portfolio tool targeting students, and a product to foster healthy habits in kids.
“My main goal of the summer was to gain a better understanding of the service I wanted to provide and to gain a lot of feedback on the product we were creating,” said Sam Langer ’17 founder of Merlin’s Media, a company that offers media solutions including meditations to help people “find meaning and magic in their lives.”
Langer, who majored in psychology, said being a part of the summer incubator offered him the accountability, mentors and structure he needed to take his business idea to the next step. Langer won first place in this year’s Big Idea Competition, sponsored by Entrepreneurship at Cornell in April.
“The most rewarding aspect of my work this summer was hearing that our product was hugely transformative for various people,” said Langer, who co-founded the company with Ravi Walsh, a local life coach and consultant. “People reported that after listening to the particular type of meditation we had developed, their perceptions were altered, they gained greater clarity, and they had renewed enthusiasm for various aspects of their life.”
Along with the pitch sessions, weekly community events for members of the incubator included talks by successful entrepreneurs on accounting, copyright, marketing and customer discovery.
The incubator team also connects students to alumni mentors and help them find resources to help with everything from legal issues to financing.
“There’s a ton you learn about entrepreneurship by actually launching a business, and getting feedback from mentors has helped me learn at a much quicker pace than if I was entirely on my own,” said Simeon Videnov ’18, an information science major whose company, Defined, is an online tool for students setting up a portfolio website without knowing how to code.
“The idea for Defined came from my internship last summer at Ernst & Young,” he said. “Everyone was a business student, and so when they found out I knew how to make websites, I got tons of requests to make personal websites.”
Videnov, who will launch his beta product for additional user feedback later this month, said being a part of the incubator helped to eliminate distractions and focus on testing his product.
“I definitely didn't expect how much of a role user-testing plays in the development of a product,” he said. “By constantly talking with users, I've been able to add features and modify the interface so the product is more intuitive.”
Juhwan Park ’18, a physics and music major, decided to apply to be part of the incubator after making it to the final round of the Big Idea Competition with his idea, Puppet Plant, an electronic device that sits on your desk and monitors and encourages sustainability through movement and color.
“People understand that we need to be more sustainable, but when it comes to executing sustainable actions, we often procrastinate,” he said.
The incubator allowed Park to create prototypes for users to test and it also gave him time to think about his motivations for starting a company.
“I learned that it’s not just the idea you want to pursue, it’s about what kinds of interest and passions you have,” he said.
Kathy Hovis is a writer for Entrepreneurship at Cornell.