Chad Fong, AEM major and President and Founder of the Cornell Entrepreneurship Club, is passionate about connecting entrepreneurs to the resources necessary to achieve their goals. In order to facilitate this process, Chad decided to take on his own entrepreneurial project by creating IvyStart. This startup is a living space specifically designed to support entrepreneurs by providing them with tools for a lifestyle conducive to their ambitious pursuits. E@D sat down with Chad to learn more about his unique project.
What is IvyStart? How would you differentiate it from an everyday living space?
IvyStart is essentially a home in Collegetown for entrepreneurs. It is an affordable alternative to a traditional apartment or dorm that gives students the chance to live with other bright, motivated, and innovative people working on ideas that are changing the world. At IvyStart, various chores including cleaning, laundry and even preparing meals are taken care of to allow individuals in the house to use their time to fully focus on their project.
It is also an accelerator or incubator program that gives you the opportunity to collaborate with others and connect to resources that can help rapidly grow your startup idea. We offer our members the opportunity to connect to a network of successful, experienced entrepreneurs who are willing to help mentor you. For example, we will connect you with investors or venture capitalists who are eager to give you strategic advice about fund raising and expansion. Or we might connect you with a host of professional accountants, lawyers or designers who can help you overcome the many challenges of turning your idea into reality. As an entrepreneur, you don’t have to know everything to start a successful business, but you need to be able to learn and connect to people who are willing to help you achieve your goals.
What motivated you to create IvyStart?
IvyStart is important to me because I really believe that everyone has an idea that they want to pursue. Deep down, everyone has a dream business idea they know will change the world. People might constantly talk about these ideas, but few people take or know how to take active steps towards executing them. I think the reason for that is because most people aren’t connected to a strong community that can advise and support them in their venture. Additionally, people often don’t have the knowledge to start their own company. People are afraid of risk and the unknown. However, it’s a lot easier today to work on a startup idea during your spare time especially with resources like the internet. You could start a venture and keep your day job as a student. IvyStart makes entrepreneurship a real possibility for many students trying to start their own venture while balancing student life.
What experiences prior to IvyStart helped shape where you are today?
I was raised in Seattle in an immigrant family with very little money. My family escaped political persecution in their home countries seeking a better life in the United States. Nobody I knew growing up talked about starting a business out of a willingness to improve peoples’ lives and create something new. The people I knew who started businesses had no other options to do so in order to survive. When I was younger, I had to help my family run a small print shop that ultimately went out of business because of technology. Like most children of immigrants, I was raised being told to find a stable, high-paying job working for others. However, deep down I knew that I wanted to start my own business.
After my freshman year, I wanted to help grow and learn from small businesses in poor neighborhoods in NYC so I volunteered for a nonprofit Venture Capital fund/accelerator. I had to work hard, but it was awesome getting to help the community and meet really cool, inspirational people.This hard work paid off when the nonprofit connected me to a New York billionaire. He hired me to work for a venture capital fund/accelerator funded by members of New York City real estate dynasties. For a poor 19-year-old child of immigrants, I couldn’t believe that I would be working right across from the New York Stock Exchange. I had the amazing opportunity to work hard with startup founders who were changing the world as well as get mentored by entrepreneurs and investors who really taught me the value of starting a business.
Since IvyStart is itself a startup, how do you plan to provide entrepreneurial resources and professional networks to individuals in the program?
What I found interesting is that entrepreneurs are so passionate that they want to mentor people and give back to the entrepreneurial community. Within the Cornell community, there are already a lot of resources coming to campus to support students. Through the Cornell Entrepreneurship Club, Blackstone Launchpad and other entrepreneurial resources on campus, I have been able to connect with several individuals connected who are eager to help students entrepreneurs living at IvyStart. Additionally, I hope to leverage both my own personal network and that of anyone else who wants to help IvyStart to find potential mentors.
What is the housing process like and who is eligible to apply?
IvyStart changes the typical Cornell housing process stresses by simplifying it. People sign up to live in the house through our website, go through a quick interview, sign their membership agreement form, and then immediately connect to our entrepreneurially minded community who will be living at IvyStart. We offer extremely affordable doubles and singles in a convenient location in Collegetown. Living at IvyStart is far cheaper than finding your own apartment because we’re able to negotiate a better price for housing by leasing the whole house and because many of our members want to live in doubles.
Right now, IvyStart is open to all Cornell students. The majority of the people who have applied are undergraduates, but we’ve had a lot of demand from postgraduates as well. We are planning on having a separate living quarter solely for postgraduates based on demand. They will be part of the same community, but we understand that postgraduates probably are seeking a different lifestyle and could even be at a different stage in the development of their startup idea.
How do you evaluate your applicants?
We are looking for people who are passionate about something they want to create or people who show us how us that they can add something great to the community. We are not going to be critiquing your resume. Instead, we are looking to see what your ideas are and what you have done or are willing to do to execute them. We are looking for people who are willing to give and receive help. You don’t even need to have a solidified idea to apply. Just an eagerness to be part of the community and a desire to create something awesome in the near future.
What inspired the name IvyStart?
I didn’t see IvyStart as only being confined to Cornell; I saw it as a model for other college entrepreneurs. Nothing is set in stone right now, but we are looking to expand to other Ivy League schools. It’s a dream of mine to have it expand beyond the Ivy League to be a strong national network for entrepreneurs. It would be cool if every college in America had a home where entrepreneurially minded students could live together and collaborate.
Do you have any advice for potential IvyStart applicants or other aspiring entrepreneurs?
The best lessons I’ve learned both from my mentors and from personal experience is the power of connecting with an entrepreneurial community. Far too many people have a startup idea but work in isolation or only with their team without seeking advice or mentorship from others with more experience. In order for a startup to succeed in this day and age, you need to connect to other people, get mentored, and find others who believe in your idea. Find other people working on startup ideas; join the Cornell Entrepreneurship Club’s Facebook group, connect with Blackstone Launchpad, reach out to Entrepreneurship at Cornell, or go to entrepreneurship events and start networking people.
It is not too late to take advantage of this opportunity to pursue an entrepreneurial lifestyle in the Fall of 2017. If you are interested in living at IvyStart next year, please check out the IvyStart website for more information about how to apply.