Chris Donohoe ’09, left, moderated a Cornell Entrepreneur Network discussion June 18 between Siwat Siengsanaoh MBA ’15, Marissa Saporta ’99 and Lauren Berson ’04.

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Aspiring entrepreneurs get inspired at NYC event

Joe Gelber MBA ’18 thinks he has a great idea for a machine to help people recycle more efficiently. So, he came to a Cornell Entrepreneur Network in partnership with Cornell Alumni Career Programs event in New York City June 18 to get some ideas for moving his idea forward. The event was held at the downtown offices of WilmerHale, a global law firm that is a corporate sponsor partner of the Entrepreneurship at Cornell program.

“I have a rendering for a machine, but we need to test it and see if people would use it,” said Gelber, who got his MBA at Cornell Tech.

Eric Farng MEng ‘04 is already beta-testing a language-learning product that uses AI to simulate a regular classroom experience.

“Most language apps don’t have as many listening opportunities or fluent conversational lessons,” he said. “They’re just glorified flash cards.”

Entrepreneurs like Farng and Gelber were the target audience for the “How to Leap into Entrepreneurship,” event, which featured speakers Lauren Berson ’04, CEO & co-founder, Conceive; Marissa Saporta ’99, co-founder of Gorilla Commerce and Siwat Siengsanaoh MBA ’15, co-founder, Recoup Beverage, Inc. Chris Donohoe ’09, executive coach, moderated the discussion.

“Whether you’re in a corporate job and want to make a transition or are ready to take some other leap in your career, this discussion can help if you’re wondering if you can do it, how hard it will be and what the different routes might be,” Donohoe said in kicking off the discussion.

Berson said she was inspired to enter tech and then years later start her company after attending an event similar to this one at the Cornell Club.

“I was feeling stuck in my career, and I listened to a few founders including Gwen Whiting ’94 of the Laundress,” she said of that night. “I remember being inspired and excited. I left my job and entered the tech world, building some interesting projects in digital health.”

Then when she went through infertility herself for seven years, she saw an opportunity to create Conceive. “I saw this opportunity and a problem I was uniquely able to solve. I couldn’t stop thinking about this thing I had to build.”

The panelists talked about the importance of networking, using their Cornell connections and experiences and developing an ability to handle failure.

“My philosophy is that failing forward is the most important thing, learning from those failures,” Siengsanaoh said. “And having a growth mindset and grit also really help out.”

 They also discussed ways to figure out if an idea is something you want to move forward with.

“When I approach a new business idea, I don’t like to reinvent the wheel,” Saporta said. “I look at a business that already exists, that has strong market demand, that I can learn about and talk to consumers about. I want to figure out what’s working and not working and make sure there’s a profit opportunity. To me, it’s completely unexciting to create a gadget you think is the hottest thing, but it turns out no one wants it.”

Gelber said he left the event with some ideas for making connections to consumers who can test his product, while Farng said he took away some ideas about developing a minimum viable product. “I heard a lot of advice about every level where I’m going to run into problems,” he said. “It was really helpful hearing the advice they had so far and I’ll be asking for more in the future.”

Cornell alumni are invited to take advantage of their Cornell Network and connect with the Cornell Entrepreneur Network and Cornell Alumni Career programs to learn about upcoming events and resources.

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