Conference features insightful advice, stories from entrepreneurs
By Kathy Hovis
Reema Shah MBA/MS ‘24 was inspired by the story of Lara Sullivan ’94 at the Eclectic Convergence conference Oct. 21 in New York City, sponsored and hosted by Entrepreneurship at Cornell.
Long term, Shah would like to be involved in a company offering solutions and resources for people suffering from Lyme disease. But in the short term, she’s considering getting into consulting after finishing her degree. Sullivan is president and CEO of Pyxis Oncology, a company creating a line of medicines to target tumor cells and overcome immune suppression in patients with difficult-to-treat cancers.
“The advice she gave was insightful because I was thinking of consulting as a learning finishing school since I don’t have a background in business,” Shah said. “Her talk validated a bit of the path I was considering, and I agree with her that your growth is about what you’re learning rather than the title you have at your job.”
Shah was one of more than 300 attendees at the conference, which took place on the Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island. The daylong event included talks from six entrepreneurs, business executives and venture capitalists, as well as a pitch competition among business founders from Cornell’s Ithaca campus, Cornell Tech and Weill Cornell Medicine.
“Eclectic Convergence is one of our favorite large-scale events of the year,” said Zach Shulman ’87, J.D. ’90, director of Entrepreneurship at Cornell. “It feeds off of the energy of Cornell Tech and New York City more broadly to deliver wonderful content to its audience.”
Greeshma Gadikota, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the Ithaca campus, won the top prize of $5,000 during the event’s pitch competition for her company, Carbon to Stone, which uses technology she invented to capture carbon dioxide from industrial emissions and convert it into solid calcium and magnesium carbonates.
“A lot of companies have reached out to us; they need help managing the vast amounts of CO2 they’re creating,” she said, adding that she’s already working on pilot projects with two New York state companies.
The day’s talks spanned the gamut of industries, from software to cannabis to technology and social enterprises.
Marcus Bullock, founder and CEO of Flikshop, shared the story of how he became an entrepreneur after returning from prison, where he had almost given up hope, had it not been for the constant letters and love from his mom.
“She looked at me and said ‘There ain’t nothing you can do that can push me away,’ “ said Bullock, whose mom sent him a letter or photo every day for six years. Those letters became touchpoints not only for Bullock, but also for other people in the prison.
“My mom was providing all the fresh content we were getting in prison— she was Instagram before there was Instagram. It not only kept me connected, but my friends loved this experience they were getting through my mom,” he said. “My friends were asking ‘Did you get your letter yet? Did your sister get that certificate?’”
So, Bullock created Flikshop, which offers families and social service organizations an easy way to send notes and photos to family members who are incarcerated. He also founded the Flikshop School of Business, a program that teaches returning citizens life skills and entrepreneurship via computer coding and software development.
Sullivan, of Pyxis Oncology, was a comparative literature major and College Scholar in the College of Arts & Sciences at Cornell. The daughter of two doctors, she eventually decided to enter an MD/MBA program at Penn planning to practice medicine, until she found the business side to be a better fit.
She shared the story of her journey from management consulting and investment banking to leadership positions at Pfizer and eventually to biotech entrepreneurship.
“At Pfizer, I saw all of the science, from discovery all the way to proof of concept, across all therapeutic areas of the company,” she said. During that time, she spun out SpringWorks Therapeutics from Pfizer before founding Pyxis.
Sulllivan said she’s always been motivated by her desire to learn and to solve problems, “to follow my curiosities,” she said.
For Erhunmwunse Eghafona '24, whose company Gift is part of the eLab student business accelerator, conference networking provided some of the biggest takeaways.
“I met someone who works with customer relationship management, and I’ve been researching that forever,” he said. “Customer discovery has been difficult because it’s like having walls to climb over, so reaching someone in that space was a goal.”
To view the livestream video from the day and learn more about this year’s speakers, visit the Eclectic Convergence website. The date for next year’s conference has already been set for Nov. 3, 2023.