eLab students deliver pitches at Demo Day
By Jesse Osbourne
Eighteen student teams spent hours researching, refining and rehearsing their pitches for eLab Demo Day on April 28 at Alice Statler Auditorium. As part of Cornell’s annual Entrepreneurship Celebration, the teams participating in Demo Day showcased their businesses in the hope of attracting potential investors, advisors and team members; others aimed to raise their profiles and build a customer base.
The event gave student-run businesses fostered in Cornell’s student accelerator, eLab, a chance to present their work in public in five-minute pitches. eLab launches more than 15 businesses each year.
Jonah Helmer ’22, co-founder of Fresh Alternative Farms, said it took more than 50 hours to build the company’s pitch deck and practice the pitch. “Dozens of customer discovery interviews and real customer feedback informed our presentation,” Helmer said.
Fresh Alternative Farms was founded by Helmer, a senior majoring in plant sciences, and Jacob Tannenbaum ’21, who earned a master’s in real estate and minor in agriculture, to help build socially responsible, sustainable agriculture systems. They met in a hydroponic food production class and worked together the following summer in a greenhouse-based start-up. Helmer said they created Fresh Alternative Farms as a one-stop shop to help struggling farms sustainably transition to a more profitable crop.
Kayla Foley ’22, founder of StaffOnTap and an MBA student, said she practiced pitching to people who didn’t know her business to make her presentation as clear and concise as possible.
“I had four-and-a-half minutes to clearly explain the problem and solution and convince the audience that I have the right team and product to solve this problem affecting millions of people,” Foley said. “It’s a lot to squeeze into a short time period, and so practicing was key.”
StaffOnTap fills long-term care providers’ scheduling needs with temp nurses and a way to improve the quality of care for nursing home residents. “Nurse staffing shortages have been the largest hindrance to improving the quality of care for nursing home residents, which is how I started researching and developing StaffOnTap,” Foley said.
Engineers by training, Ludovico Cestarollo and Karan Vishwanath, both third-year Ph.D. candidates in materials science and engineering, said they made sure they had a clear story for their company, RheoHero.
As a tennis player and team captain at Binghamton University, Cestarollo noticed the time-consuming task the athletic trainers performed each day by wrapping the ankles of fellow student-athletes in tape, which quickly loses its effectiveness. RheoHero is developing a new ankle support solution that can bridge the gap between ankle taping and bracing.
“Ankle braces would be the natural answer, but they are too bulky, so athletes do not like them. So this is how RheoHero was born,” Cestarollo said.
Foley said the help from the eLab teaching team was invaluable throughout the process of developing their Demo Day pitch.
“eLab is an incredible program for student entrepreneurs,” Foley said. “Seeing the progress in the student businesses from the New York City pitch night until today has been inspiring.”
Applications are open for the 2022-2023 academic year and will be accepted through September. Interested students can learn more about eLab at an information session on May 6.
Jesse Osbourne is a communications specialist in the Division of University Relations.