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Accelerator offers student entrepreneurs alternative summer experience

From online yoga teacher certification to a socially equitable real estate development company, the Johnson Summer Startup Accelerator (JSSA), a ten-week summer intensive to propel student entrepreneurs to success, graduated its newest cohort of innovative startup founders this summer.

The mission of the accelerator, which is sponsored by Entrepreneurship at Cornell and the SC Johnson School of Business, is to support students with a passion for entrepreneurship who might otherwise feel pressured to complete a corporate summer internship. Open to any Cornell student, the program empowers student entrepreneurs to build on the momentum of their work in the spring semester.

Throughout the program, participants create business plans, participate in weekly workshops on vital topics like IP protection and securing funding, and build connections through networking events. They also meet regularly with one of Cornell’s Entrepreneurs-in-Residence to receive personalized guidance.

To further support students who choose an alternative route rather than a paid corporate internship, JSSA participants entering their second year in the Cornell MBA program are eligible to apply for a stipend from the Vrinda Kadiyali Student Entrepreneur Fund. Inspired by Nicholas H. Noyes Professor of Management Vrinda Kadiyali and established by Stephen Smith ’91, MBA ’95, the fund enables selected students to stay focused on a full-time startup internship over the summer.

Meet four of the students who participated in this year’s accelerator:

  • Andrew Abaria: Abaria, MBA ‘22, is the founder of Yoga Masterminds, an online 200-hour yoga teacher training certification program. Abaria, who came to Cornell with the intent of participating in JSSA, says the experience has been incredibly valuable.

“I knew that I wanted to use my two years in the MBA program to pivot Yoga Masterminds from the in-person space to the online space. Being a part of the program was my vision from the start,” he said. “JSSA has given me accountability and structure for creating progress over the summer and has allowed me to connect with industry experts in the field as well as Entrepreneurs-in-Residence that provide useful mentorship.”

  • Cody Perez: Perez, MBA ‘22; MPS ‘22, is the founder of Grimm City Investors, a real estate company focused on the development of communities that are socially conscious, economically empowering, and environmentally friendly through multifamily, hospitality, and cannabis investments. Perez is currently focusing on the launch of Grimm City’s proprietary luxury cannabis lifestyle brand High Life Luxury Cannabis, which marries top-quality cannabis and hospitality experiences. As a cannabis-oriented startup, Perez particularly benefited from meetings with his Entrepreneur-in-Residence, which he says aided him in “formulating a strategy to navigate the regulatory, political, and community landscapes successfully.”

“Cornell’s entrepreneurship ecosystem is one of the strongest in the country, and the Johnson Summer Startup Accelerator is an amazing resource for entrepreneurs with early-stage ventures. I knew that by participating in the accelerator, my business would grow exponentially over the summer,” said Perez.

  • Caio Liberato: Liberato, MBA ‘22, is founding a startup in the jewelry industry that highlights his unique Italo-Brazilian style. He’s currently working on customer discovery to find the best market segment for his designs. As a recipient of the Kadiyali Student Entrepreneur Fund, Liberato emphasized the importance of receiving that funding in making his decision to participate in the accelerator.

“I took several courses related directly or indirectly to entrepreneurship to work deeper on some ideas I had, like Designing New Ventures, Digital Platforms Strategy, and Entrepreneurship in Creative Industries. I was encouraged to apply for the Kadiyali Fund, and when my application was accepted, I decided to move forward,” said Liberato. “It is really great to have the support to properly focus on my startup, especially now when the future is so uncertain. The program is helping me to thrive!”

  • Danielle Boris: Boris, Cornell Tech MBA ‘21, is the founder of ConnectFor, a B2B software platform on a mission to ensure every employee is given an equal opportunity to love their work. The company’s inaugural product, ConnectFor Work, gives employees the chance to share their professional interests and raise their hands for projects. The platform also gives managers the tools they need to staff team members based on interests and gain insight into how equitably they are providing opportunities.

“JSSA has provided me with a wonderful, hands-on mentor and enabled me to develop strategies for pushing my business forward. I chose the Cornell Tech MBA because I knew the program would enable me to pursue my entrepreneurial ambitions,” said Boris. “JSSA was the perfect extension of my unique MBA experience, a program where I could continue to work on my company in a trusted setting without sacrificing equity or paying.”

Following their summer of startup success, the entrepreneurs developed plans to continue to strategically grow their businesses while completing their studies. They’ll be moving full steam ahead, with some founders very close to their formal launch — Boris is actively accepting invitations to join ConnectFor, and Abaria intends to run his first 200-hour training in Spring 2022.

“This program granted me an extensive network of people who can help with every aspect of my business, and frameworks to tackle opportunities,” said Boris. “I am extremely glad I decided to pursue the program and grateful to everyone involved for helping me succeed.”

Applications for the Johnson Summer Startup Accelerator open annually during the fall semester and close in March. To learn more about JSSA and the other opportunities in Cornell’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, visit Entrepreneurship at Cornell

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