Summer startup internships send Kessler Fellows around the world
By Bridget Hagen
For 10 weeks over the summer, the 13 students in the 2022 cohort of the Kessler Fellows program spread across the globe to gain firsthand experience working for startups. Now, they have returned to campus for their senior year armed with valuable new skills and connections in the startup world.
The Kessler Fellows program, an immersive entrepreneurship opportunity for rising seniors housed in the College of Engineering, is delivered in two phases. During the spring semester, students learn the fundamentals of entrepreneurship from courses, mentorship from Entrepreneurs in Residence and visits from past Kessler Fellows. With this preparation under their belts, the Fellows work for a startup of their choice for the summer between their junior and senior years.
Thanks to funding from Andrew Kessler ’80, a weekly stipend from the program supports the fellows throughout their startup experience, allowing them to dedicate their focus on contributing to the startups, learning from executives and growing their professional networks.
This year, the Kessler Fellows’ internships took them around the country — and beyond — to gain exposure to growing industries from cleantech and healthcare to beekeeping and accessible travel. Meet four of the 2022 Kessler Fellows and learn about their summer startup experiences.
Jordan Roth ’23, Food Science
UBEES, the beekeeping technology startup where Roth interned, provides pollination services by renting out hives to farmers, creates sensors that measure hive health and send data to beekeepers’ phones and offers environmental capability monitoring to determine how pollinator-friendly a farm is.
Roth wore many different hats throughout her summer with UBEES, helping with marketing, conducting research on bee-dependent crops to improve the company’s products and services and connecting with universities for research partnerships.
She even helped to plan a corporate retreat in Hammondsport, New York, where UBEES keeps hives. There, she noticed how excited the other employees were about the company’s mission.
“My appreciation for startups was really bolstered because you talk about it in class, but then you’re actually there and you’re doing it,” Roth said. “You are seeing what goes into it and how much passion everybody has for the company because everybody in those early-stage companies believes in what they do.”
The program curriculum during the spring semester helped to prepare Roth for her internship. She gleaned inspiration from the former Kessler Fellows who spoke to the current cohort and found the coursework valuable.
“I learned all the different steps in beginning a startup, from ideation all the way to execution and getting funding,” Roth said. “That actually helped me because I got to be part of making pitch decks for UBEES, one for research partnerships and one for food and agriculture companies. I was able to use what I learned and help them out in a real way.”
After her internship with UBEES, Roth said she is interested in taking what she’s learned through the Kessler Fellows program and applying those skills to work for startups in the future.
Tewodros “Tedi” Mitiku ’23, Computer Science
Mitiku’s summer internship with Kurtosis, a startup making developer tools for distributed systems, sent him all the way to Sao Paulo, Brazil, where his main project was helping to develop a new feature for one of the company’s major clients, the blockchain company Ethereum.
Although Mitiku mainly worked for Kurtosis as a software engineer, the company leadership, including CEO Galen Marchetti ’15, also encouraged him to share his thoughts on product development, internal culture, and recruiting.
“The people there were more receptive to my opinions and my interests, as opposed to a bigger company where you have a much more defined role,” he said.
A mentor initially introduced Mitiku to the Kessler Fellows program because he was seeking an opportunity to take on responsibility and meaningfully contribute to various projects.
“I wanted to join an environment that would challenge me a lot, allow me to have my hands in a lot of different baskets and also allow me to build things from the ground up,” Mitiku said. “I realized that startups and small companies are the place for that.”
Mitiku’s internship with Kurtosis fulfilled those goals and allowed him to gain firsthand startup experience.
“Whether in the future I decide to create my own company or continue working with a startup, the actual experience of being encouraged to go to a place where the roles aren’t defined and the product may not be as defined helped me grow a lot,” Mitiku said. “I think no matter where I go, I’ll use these skills.”
Dawn Zee ’23, Human Development
Zee reaped the benefits of working for a startup in her internship with SimpliFed, a baby feeding support company based in Ithaca and founded by Andrea Ippolito ’06, M.Eng. ’07.
“When you’re working with a relatively small company like SimpliFed, you get to see a lot more that’s happening, you get to ask more questions, you get to talk with people with a lot more experience,” Zee said.
Zee primarily worked on the operations side of the company. She conducted data analysis about customers, researched the Medicaid programs offered by each state and emailed each state's Medicaid director for partnership opportunities. Additionally, she was able to dip her toes into video editing and marketing tasks.
Conversations with Ippolito illuminated the amount of work it takes to run a startup. For example, in order to complete the $6 million seed round SimpliFed held in May, the team had to contact hundreds of venture capitalist firms.
“It was a really interesting perspective for me to understand what a startup is and what you have to do in a startup,” she said.
Zee previously interned with a larger company, and she noted the differences between that experience and her time with SimpliFed. Whereas Zee had a more defined and limited role at the larger company, she felt very involved at SimpliFed and connected to the company’s goals.
“A startup has a really flexible environment with a lot of learning experiences that you won’t get in a traditional company, and they are also very mission-driven,” she said.
Michael Hansan ’23, Industrial and Labor Relations
“It was remarkable to be a part of this company,” Hansan said of his experience interning with carbon capture startup Heimdal.
With a focus on Heimdal’s business development and operations, Hansan started at a test pilot site in Hawaii, then spent the remainder of the summer in London, where the company had recently opened a new office.
Hansan’s responsibilities at Heimdal were not constrained to the typical grunt work of an intern — he had the opportunity to contribute to the business model and work on site feasibility models, which made him feel like a genuine asset to the company.
“Very quickly, I started to get responsibilities that were pretty important just because of the size of the company,” he said. “Early on, I felt like I was contributing and had an effect. I was really a part of this team.”
In his experience at Heimdal, Hansan was able to vividly experience the realities of working for or starting a small company.
“It was remarkable to have had such a dynamic and genuine work experience at my age because it’s not something that’s very common,” Hansan said. “It was also just amazing to find myself with a team that was so driven, like-minded and cared about this larger mission, which was removing CO2 from the atmosphere.”
Inspired by his experience, Hansan hopes to continue down the startup path as he looks to starting his career after graduation.
“I really can’t see myself not working for a small company,” he said. “I also can’t see myself working for a company that doesn’t have a North Star mission such as climate change.”
Applications are now open for the 2022–23 cohort of the Kessler Fellows program. Any junior at Cornell University with a strong interest in entrepreneurship is encouraged to apply by the December 1 deadline and attend the October 26 information session.