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PCCW grant helps support diverse student entrepreneurs

A grant from the President’s Council for Cornell Women (PCCW) will help build on the robust set of resources of campus for Cornell student entrepreneurs. This new effort will focus on supporting women and gender expansive entrepreneurs.

“We want to help students understand what entrepreneurship really is and what resources we have available to them here,” said Christa Downey, director of Cornell’s Engineering Career Center.

“Cornell is an incredible place for anyone to start a company,” said Andrea Ippolito, lecturer in the Engineering Management Program in the College of Engineering and program director for the WE Cornell, a program based out of the Center for Regional Economic Advancement that works with female master’s and PhD students in STEM fields who are interested in learning more about entrepreneurship.

The university ranks fifth on a recent Pitchbook survey of top universities for  female founders and is in the top 10 alma maters of founders of “unicorn” companies, private companies valued at more than $1 billion.

But even though Cornell offers a large array of entrepreneurship courses; resources such as Blackstone Launchpad (BLP) and the eLab student accelerator; hackathons and business idea competitions, Downey and other leaders know there’s still more that can be done to expose students to the idea of being an entrepreneur.

“Some students have never thought of themselves as entrepreneurs, but they really are. They don’t want to work for anyone else,” said Nancy Almann ’83, Blackstone Launchpad’s co-managing director. “They need someone who understands them and takes the time to help them pursue what they want to do.”

Downey, Almann and Ippolito are working with a team of other campus leaders who have similar goals – LeeAnn Roberts, director for diversity, equity, and inclusion at Cornell’s Bowers College of Computing and Information Science; and Matt Marx, the Bruce F. Failing, Sr. Professor of Personal Enterprise at the SC Johnson College of Business.

Organizers will use the PCCW grant money to help share entrepreneurship resources with students on campus through various outreach methods including listservs, social media campaigns and class visits. They are working with communications directors in all of Cornell’s schools and colleges to publish stories on female and gender diverse entrepreneurs. They are also reaching out to female alumni entrepreneurs to add to the already active list of mentors willing to work with students.

“Infusing role models and near peer mentors as you’re starting is so important,” Ippolito said. “When you see people who look like you and are from your same major or interest area, it helps you realize you could do it too.”

The boosted efforts could be another differentiator for Cornell in terms of entrepreneurship, Downey said. “If we can say that Cornell is a leader in producing diverse entrepreneurs who are funded, we are successful.”

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