Entrepreneurship event celebrates generations of risk-takers
By Kathy Hovis
“Dream. Story. Collaborate. Faith. Practice, practice, practice, practice. Tribe.”
Tiffany Norwood ’89, the 2022 Cornell Entrepreneur of the Year, shared her company’s mantra with a Statler Auditorium audience April 28, then invited four members of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity to share the stage with a step performance of the chant.
“The most important thing I can do in this moment is to activate the rest of you to be more entrepreneurial,” said Norwood, founder and CEO of Tribetan and co-founder of SimWin Sports. “It’s not just about starting companies. It’s a skill set and mindset about taking your imagination seriously and finding ways to bring your ideas to reality.”
Norwood’s presentation was part of the two-day Celebration conference hosted by Entrepreneurship at Cornell, in-person for the first time since 2019.
The conference also included the awarding of the 2022 Cornell Student Business of the Year and the David BenDaniel Venture Challenge competition, as well as presentations by members of the eLab student business accelerator and talks by alumni entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial faculty.
“It was wonderful to host Celebration live on campus again,” said Zach Shulman ’87, J.D. ‘90, director of Entrepreneurship at Cornell. “We were delighted by student and alumni turnout, and are already looking forward to next year’s event.”
Marissa Saporta '99, co-CEO and co-founder of Gorilla Commerce, shared the company’s story of growing from one product, a nonslip rug pad, to its 9,000 items today that sell exclusively on Amazon.
Before choosing to add a new product, Saporta said, “we look for a competitive advantage. We read every review, order every competitors’ product and try it out. We think about how we can do it better, perhaps make it a little bigger or use a different fabric or come up with fresh marketing.”
Scott Belsky ’02, chief product officer of Adobe, as well as an entrepreneur, investor and bestselling author, shared ideas with the audience about making products people will love. Belsky, founder of Behance, started making paper and digital products to help people in the creative space organize their work. Behance took off after that as a critical tool enabling collaboration, culminating in Adobe’s acquisition of the company.
“Products don’t succeed because of the technology,” Belsky said. “They succeed because of users’ experience with the technology.” As such, he urged audience members to consider three questions that users will think about on every screen: “How did I get here? What do I do now? Where do I go next?
“Products need to be powerful enough for professionals, yet accessible to everyone,” he said.
Winner of the Student Business of the Year competition for 2022, which includes a prize of $5,000, was CodeBozu, a student company offering online coding training for students in grades 6-12 through individualized instruction, as well as school curriculums.
The company was founded by Maitreyi Chatterjee ‘23 and Rishi Malhotra ‘23, both computer science majors, and already has more than 500 active users each week. The company is also a member of eLab.
“We conducted interviews with more than 250 students, teachers and superintendents who told us that coding education was not readily accessible at the middle and high school level,” Malhotra said, adding that they will use prize money to help the company grow faster. “We will hire coding instructors, web developers, designers, sales representatives and pay for ad campaigns. We are growing fast, at 80% month over month.”
The BenDaniel Venture Challenge winner, with a prize of $25,000, was Epic Airway Systems, a medical company from Albany. The second-place prize of $5,000 went to VitaScan and the third-place prize, of $1,000, to Aabix. Second- and third-place winners are past and current companies respectively in eLab, the student business accelerator.
Another highlight of the conference was eLab Demo Day, where the 17 current eLab student teams presented their progress.
Kathy Hovis is a writer for Entrepreneurship at Cornell.