Most Likely to Succeed: How Cornell Helps Grow Its Entrepreneurs

According to student entrepreneur Shaibyaa Rajbhandari (‘18), “College is the best time to take a risk.” Rajbhandari believes this so strongly that she has embraced the risk of starting not one, but two social ventures during her time as a student at Cornell University.

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Rajbhandari leading Utthan in Nepal

The first, Utthan, invests in income-generating projects like goat farming to benefit the victims of the 2015 earthquake in Nepal. The second, Patuka, sells hand-crafted tapestries made by women in Nepal and devotes all of its profits to creating a vocational training program and skill center to help them attain more economic opportunity. Rajbhandari says a big part of her journey as an entrepreneur has been learning from Cornell’s faculty.

“Cornell has a lot of great courses that help in honing the way entrepreneurs think,” Rajbhandari explains. “The Women in Leadership class with Professor Streeter and the Social Entrepreneurship class in SHA with Professor Creary have taught me to chase after my dreams and structure my plans and projects respectively.”

Reuben St. Marc (‘17), who operates his own DJing company, DJ BenZ, echoes this sentiment. “I took a ‘Conversations with Entrepreneurs’ course in the Hotel School that was helpful to get an idea of entrepreneurship with different lenses,” St. Marc says. “It also taught me the value of networking, being structured, and negotiating deals.”

Outside of the classroom, Cornell has dedicated a lot of resources to helping its entrepreneurs succeed. These commitments have solidified the university’s place among the nation’s top entrepreneurial universities, and have been invaluable to students and alumni pursuing their ventures.

In many cases, Cornell entrepreneurs receive direct funding from the university to pursue their ideas. Beverly Wallenstein (‘16) recently used Cornell’s Jean-Jacques Award to help grow Girls Mean Business, which aims to educate women about business through interactive workshops and events. Similarly, Kavin Lam (‘18) used a $20,000 award from the Dyson Societal Scholarship to provide minority business owners with additional capital through Engaged Community Directed Investments.

Steven Dourmashkin (right), and CTO Matthew Skeels

Steven Dourmashkin (right), and CTO Matthew Skeels

Cornell also boasts eLab: an accelerator program designed to help grow Cornell’s top startups. Cornell alumnus Steven Dourmashkin (‘15) raves that when he was a student, eLab provided a lot of support that helped him and Matthew Skeels (‘16) develop Specdrums. Specdrums offers a ring that, when touched to a specific color, will play a unique sound through the Specdrums app.

“eLab pushed us to do a great deal of customer development – something Matt and I weren’t used to doing as engineering students,” Dourmashkin discusses. “eLab also helped us connect with other entrepreneurs and mentors at Cornell, eLab alumni, and guest speakers – many of whom we continue to keep in regular contact with.”

Ivystart founder Chad Fong (‘19) agrees that the power of Cornell’s entrepreneurial network has been crucial in his efforts to create a living-learning community for student entrepreneurs. “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,” Fong stressed.

Cornell University was founded as a result of entrepreneurial spirit; Ezra Cornell, who co-founded the university along with Andrew Dickson White, made the fortune he gave to start the university as a co-founder of The Western Union Telegraph Company. With the school’s recent investments into its entrepreneurs, Cornell’s entrepreneurial legacy grows stronger each day. 

For more advice from these entrepreneurs or information about their ventures, click on the venture name to see Entrepreneurship@Dyson’s full coverage.