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Student entrepreneurs pitch ideas at Cornell Tech event

As a first-year college student, Joseph Agaba ’24 noticed that many of his fellow students of color didn’t have access to healthcare information that was tailored to them.

“The stories we heard from undergraduates were of students dealing with mental health issues and struggling to find resources,” said Agaba, an information sciences major in the College of Arts & Sciences. “It’s stigmatizing to discuss mental health within the black community.”

Agaba and partners Sayo Ajagbe ’24 (College of Agriculture and Life Sciences) and Chrisley Alexis ’24 (A&S) pitched their business, Healthshades, during a networking night Nov. 2 at Cornell Tech in New York City, sponsored by eLab, Cornell’s student business accelerator.

The event drew a packed room to the Verizon Center for at CornellTech to hear 26 eLab teams talk about their work. The teams were chosen in September from a record of 75 student founders who applied for eLab this year.

"The New York pitch event is always an excellent opportunity for eLab entrepreneurs to pitch their early progress in the program,” said Ken Rother, managing director of eLab and lecturer at the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business. “This year was no different, as 26 of our teams presented in front of nearly 250 fellow students, alumni and venture capitalists. The event also provides valuable networking opportunities for our students."

The website and mobile app for Healthshades would target men of color who are just entering college, providing relevant information and links. “When they’re first entering school and making their own health care decisions for the first time, we want them to feel comfortable understanding and dealing with their issues,” Agaba said. “We’ll provide information that’s verified and validated by respected professionals, many of whom will be people of color.”

Another eLab student who pitched was Kristina Mikhailova, a graduate student in integrative plant science, who grew up working in greenhouses with her grandparents, who had a small farm in northern Russia.

“The more I learned about urban agriculture, especially about growing microgreens indoors, the more I realized there is limited supply and I wanted to find a way to tackle that issue,” she said. “I’m working to understand the impacts of different light inputs and different growing media on microgreens.”

Speaking with urban farmers in New York City and New Jersey, she is developing her company, North Garden, to be a resource to help urban agriculture operations become more energy-efficient and sustainable.

eLab teams undergo intensive entrepreneurship bootcamps while working on their business plans and connecting with Cornell alumni mentors. They also earn college credit from the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business.

“All of us have gotten some business knowledge through our general coursework, but elab is the first time we’ve been able to see what goes on behind the scenes of building a business,” Ajagbe said.

After this semester, top teams will be invited to return for the spring semester, where they’ll receive a $5,000 investment in their business and continue to work closely with mentors and instructors.

“My favorite part of elab is seeing how passionate other people are about their business and how diverse the ideas are,” Alexis said. “And seeing how many business ideas come up because of personal experiences.”

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