November 25 2013
An Entrepreneurial Culture
Student business concepts go to market from eLab directed by Cohen
That’s how Dan Cohen describes Cornell’s eLab, where undergraduate teams are building business concepts that attract private funding and generate revenue.
“We teach them how to sell, how to get in front of customers … We’re getting results and changing their lives and they’re raising capital and creating jobs,” said the ILR faculty member.
“We have created a culture,” said Cohen, director of eLab since it started in 2008. “Teams feel like they can take risks. They can fail.”
As a result, some eLab inventions have the potential to change industries, Cohen said. Consider thinkplay, the brainchild of ILR student Jesse Orshan ’14.
In New York’s West Village, 16 people — including seven full-time workers — are employed by thinkplay.
Orshan describes the product, designed for musicians and would-be musicians, as a first for the music industry — “a home studio suite that gives you complete control over your instruments.”
“Using our patent-pending ePedal building software,” he said, “you can upload audio/video clips and turn them into playable notes, taking your performance to the next level.”
Voilà, let the good sounds roll.
Twenty-five teams competed in 2012 for eLab slots. Ten were chosen. Home base is a ramped and windowless boxcar-shaped office tucked off a Collegetown alley.
Operated by Cornell’s Student Agencies, Inc., in collaboration with Entrepreneurship@ Cornell, eLab will soon move into eHub, a proposed 11,000-square-foot facility slated to open in 2014 on College Avenue.
Cohen said eLab draws students from across the university’s disciplines. “It fits with Cornell. Here, we have a diversity of ideas.”
About a third of eLab students are from ILR, which has been a rich vein of entrepreneurial talent, including Priceline founder Jay Walker ’77.
Cohen says eLab accelerates team progress: “They push the hell out of each other — they’re competitive, yet also cooperative. All of the CEOs banded together and formed a CEO cohort to share ideas and best practices.”
Until eLab, the only entrepreneurial foray Lindsay Boyajian ’13, MILR ’14 had taken was as a 12-year-old.
She and her brother poured soap, water and hand sanitizer into empty seltzer bottles and sold the stew to their mother.
Years of international travel followed. In 2010, Boyajian approached Cohen with an idea. How could she build a business out of helping travelers dress for the country they would travel in?
“The eLab really helped me shape my business model. Dan has so much experience and the eLab provided me with a network of people going through the same things,” said Boyajian, now CEO of WeareverYouGo.
Via social media, travelers see what’s hip in Paris, Brussels, Milan and other cities, and where they can buy the styles. Each time an item is purchased via WeareverYouGo, Boyajian’s company receives affiliate revenue.
“People just don’t know how to pack. It’s a hard thing … weather, length of trip. You’re going to mispack,” she said, and WeareverYouGo helps cull fashion misfits from suitcases.
Boyajian predicts eLab’s influence on Cornell student entrepreneurship will accelerate.
“It’s going to grow and there’s going to be more demand for it.”
More eLab information is available at www.elabstartup.com.