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Cayuga Forum forges connections between alumni entrepreneurs

A new program from Entrepreneurship at Cornell is helping alumni entrepreneurs across the country forge meaningful close connections with their colleagues and move their companies and businesses forward.

The 64 participants in the Cayuga Forum, which started in January 2022, are separated into small groups called pods that meet virtually every month. Those meetings include presentations by team members, as well as time to share goals, challenges and ideas.  The heart of the Cayuga Forum is to enable peer-to-peer coaching and mentorship.

“We came up with this idea during COVID, that people were searching for engagement. We wanted people who are committed to this notion of forging close relationships in a small pod with people they don’t know,” said Zach Shulman ’87, JD ’90, director of Entrepreneurship at Cornell. “The discussions focus on business or personal issues — everything from ‘how do I manage this HR issue’ or ‘how can I set up better distribution channels in China’ to ‘I want to talk about how I’m recovering from cancer.’ The idea is to have these small groups that really get to know each other.”

For Kimberly Tan ’04, listening to others in her diverse pod helps give her ideas for her education consultancy business, as well as other possible entrepreneurial ventures in her future.

“I’ve been teaching and writing curriculum for years and I’m kind of in that in-between stage of being an entrepreneur,” she said. “I want to use tech in the education space to augment the impact I can have as a consultant. The pod has been a great place to workshop problems and talk about things that excite us or challenge us.”

Tan, who majored in human development, is a co-leader of her pod, which includes 12 people. Along with monthly presentations, the group read two books together on business and the changing landscape of jobs. At the beginning of each meeting, each member shares one professional and one personal update.

“Building community is really important right now,” Tan said. “Having people in the pod from different industries is good for the transfer of skills. We all have different abilities and knowledge to offer.”

Every month or so, Cayuga Forum staff also organizes “cross-pod meetings” to bring together all members for a presentation and discussion.

“Cross-pod meetings include guest speakers on everything from early-stage fund-raising to mergers and acquisitions,” said Clare McLeod ’20, program manager for Cayuga Forum. Members also use half of the time for breakout rooms where members can meet others outside their pods.

“The concrete nature of this is attractive to people because there’s a closed network of committed users,” said McLeod, adding that the $500 participation fee encourages members to make the most of their experience. “Members in the pod commit to meet monthly so it’s different than other networking platforms, where it’s hard to forge real connections.”

Ben Roberts ’10, who works in wealth management, said his pod of nine members includes people who work in industries ranging from technology to restaurant management.

“We have a LinkedIn group and share all of our connections with each other,” he said. “We can leverage our networks to help other members solve their problems.”

Matt Baron ’14 said he’s the youngest member of his pod, which has become a safe space for members to discuss their business and personal challenges. “We’re all Cornellians,” he said.

Visit this website to find out more about becoming a member of the Cayuga Forum.

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