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W.E. Cornell program takes on inequity in entrepreneurship

The W.E. Cornell program, which aims to improve gender representation in entrepreneurship, is launching its spring cohort as industries reckon with the inequities exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In our third year, we have trained over 100 STEM women to expose them to entrepreneurship to build the next generation of transformations that can impact society,” said program director and Cornell Engineering lecturer, Andrea Ippolito ’06, M.Eng. ’07.

“Women represent 50% of society and we need to do a better job of engaging half of our population to fuel and propel the economy forward,” she said. “We know from data that the greatest job growth in the U.S. is occurring from startups and small businesses, so this program helps drive economic growth.”

W.E. Cornell’s spring curriculum provides students who participated in interactive workshops and networking activities in the fall with more intensive opportunities to further their ventures. The spring cohort participates in a National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (I-Corps) regional course to determine whether their business ideas provide solutions for real-world problems with sizable market opportunities. In addition, they practice pitching with mentors and conclude the program with a presentation to the advisory board.

The program has given a start to businesses such as Invictus BCI, where founder Vini Tripathii ’19, M.Eng. ’20 is creating an affordable, noninvasive neuroprosthetic brain control interface that will allow amputees to use prosthetics as though they were real limbs. The company is in the pre-seed stage and has earned funding and several awards from Cornell and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The International Forum on Advancements in Healthcare named Tripathii one of its Top 100 Healthcare Leaders.

Another program alumna, Erika LaCasse ’20, founded CassCaps, a patented cap and jar set that measures spices and powdered ingredients from the bottle allowing for quick, easy and mess-free cooking. The business raised more than $65,000 in sales in one month on Kickstarter and is now accepting pre-orders for its product.

“W.E. Cornell equipped me with an incredible support network, from Andrea’s continuous guidance, to my mentor’s extensive advice, to the inspiration I received from surrounding members,” said LaCasse. “There is no doubt that the program’s workshops, pitch sessions and network helped me bring CassCaps one step closer from an idea to a reality.”

This year, Ippolito is engaging students in a “mentor circles” initiative. Entrepreneurs are grouped into sector areas, such as clean tech, health tech and education tech, and are aligned with appropriate mentors. Students learn from mentors and from fellow women entrepreneurs operating in a similar space.

Doctoral student Emily Urban joined W.E. Cornell this spring. She is pursuing agriculture-based climate solutions, including activities related to soil carbon sequestration.

“W.E. Cornell has completely opened new avenues for me in the area of entrepreneurship,” she said. “So far, it has given me the confidence (as well as some great basic skills) to think big! I am starting to see how my research could truly make a positive global impact through entrepreneurship pathways.”

Those wishing to advance opportunities for women entrepreneurs to continue reaching important milestones can make a monetary contribution to W.E. Cornell on March 11, Cornell’s Giving Day. The program has a Giving Day goal of securing 63 donors in recognition of the fact that female entrepreneurs are 63% less likely to receive venture capital funding.

The 19 students in this spring’s W.E. Cornell cohort include:

  • Linda Alvarez ’21 and Stephanie Schrauth ’21 are developing a sports nutrition products company tailored to female endurance athletes.
  • Julia Angelos ’22 is the founder of Boyd’s Antiques, an online platform connecting authenticators and appraisers with individuals hoping to value their merchandise.
  • Cathy Bartell ’21, Astride Charles ’21 and Amritha Sannabhadti ’21 are creating a company with the motto: “If you are going to live your best life, you have to live your best life at the end too.”
  • Sonny Carlton ’21 is making health care more accessible for LGBTQ individuals.
  • Viktoria Catalan ’22 is working on a health literacy platform that directly connects type-2 diabetic patients to both their private health insurers and physicians.
  • Vanessa Di Frances ’22 is developing a platform for women- and minority- owned technology companies (late-stage) that provides network and investment opportunities.
  • Brooke Filanoski ’24 is developing a cost-effective hand-held instrument that routinely monitors the progression or regression of breast cancer tumors.
  • Anabella Maria Galang ’23 founded The Steminist Movement, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to mitigating the STEM gender gap for middle school girls.
  • Sharon Heung ’25 is creating a toy that supports children of all abilities to learn how to identify, convey, and cope with their emotions.
  • Jacquelyn Linevsky ’26 is developing terrestrial astronomy tours for hotels and cruise lines.
  • Louise Loyst ’22 is working to bring Beyond Delicious GF Dessert to grocery stores.
  • Sabah Mohammed ’21 is developing a connected care loop for women experiencing moderate-to-high risk pregnancy in medically underserved areas in the U.S.
  • Amy Murro ’23 is focusing on sleep education and an app to help customers maintain healthy sleep routines.
  • Jeannie Szomstein ’21 is the founder of Bulletin, a digital platform linking college students in need of resources with fellow students who can meet that need.
  • Dora Tan ’21 is creating an alternative to single-use plastic food packaging by exploring the potential to repurpose agricultural byproducts.
  • Emily Urban ’24 is working on technology that improves pathways for agriculture-derived, sustainable sourcing to help companies meet their scope 3 emissions targets.

Casey Verderosa is a writer for the Center for Regional Economic Advancement.

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