Big Red investors fire up Empower Equity

Herbert Dwyer, MBA ’19, and Derek LaClair, MBA ’14, like most entrepreneurs, work hard to secure investors who will fund their startup. But they have a leg up on their competition: their Big Red network.

Empower Equity co-founders Derek LaClair, MBA '14, left, president and CFO, and Herbert Dwyer, MBA '19, chief executive officer.

Dwyer, LaClair and their partners raised $575,000 in pre-seed funding last year for their startup, Empower Equity (EMPEQ), which finances energy-efficient equipment for businesses. More than $1 out of every $3 they raised – 37 percent – came from Cornellians, including many of Dwyer’s and LaClair’s classmates. One investor emerged via an introduction from business incubator Rev: Ithaca Startup Works, which is partially funded by Cornell.

“Any university can create an entrepreneurship program,” said Dwyer, who is EMPEQ’s CEO. “But what no one ever talks about is how there are other, possibly more important, benefits to attending Cornell as an entrepreneur – such as how our alumni and students are so supportive of each other.”

EMPEQ sells a subscription service that enables small- and medium-sized organizations to replace their antiquated energy equipment with more efficient options, such as LED lighting and air-source heat pumps, without upfront costs. A software component automates the financing. The company is now raising seed funding.

“It seems like a difficult task for any institution to create this kind of community that supports its entrepreneurs,” Dwyer said. “Yet it clearly exists at Cornell.”

– Susan Kelley

Media Contact

Rebecca Valli