December 1st marked a significant milestone for participants in the 2017-2018 Cornell eLab program. eLab provides teams of students with an intensive environment to grow their early-stage startups, all while gaining access to various mentorship and financial resources at Cornell. The fifteen teams this year are now about one-third of the way through the program, and have spent the past semester focusing on market research and finding their target customer. This focus on research is reflective of Cornell’s evidence-based entrepreneurship style, taught at eLab. On the 1st of this month, the students loaded into a NYC-bound bus to present their research to Cornell alumni and potential mentors.
“What they’re here tonight to do is not pitch for money. They’re not ready for that, they’re not sure what they’re making yet. What they’re here to pitch for tonight is advisors, advice, mentors.” Ken Rother, eLab Managing Director, explained.
On a top floor of the Wilmer Hale building, in a room surrounded with large window views of the NYC skyline, the night began. First came pitches by the teams, and then a networking session for students to connect with mentors. The pitches all followed a similar style – five minutes in length, starting with an overview of the idea, a thorough description of the target customer, results from their market research to back up claims, an introduction to the team, and finally, a list of what they are looking for in mentors. Some teams were hoping to speak to people with experience in their concept’s industry. Others wanted to talk to people who would see themselves as potential customers. And a few teams outwardly stated that they were looking to expand their teams.
Amongst this year’s eLab class is a team trying to reinvent the gourmet granola market, called Bumble & Butter. Founder Jamie Kim has put in hours of hard work honing in on their market potential, mostly at Smorgasburg, “a big food festival in Brooklyn that draws twenty to thirty thousand people each day.”
Jamie described, “I was selling there for 12 weeks over the summer, pitching my granola for 7 hours a day in the hot summer heat.”
Jamie was able to sell at three Smorgasburg locations, and each one helped give her different insights about the target demographic for Bumble & Butter.
Another key player this year is HairDays, which is a group trying to improve the research experience for women seeking a good hairstyle to match their specific hair.
Keisha Ash, COO of HairDays, described the research process. “The assumptions that we made when we first started HairDays was that everyone wanted what we wanted, which was to grow our hair long. However, after research and collecting feedback and doing customer discovery, what we found is that people actually want a personalized hair styling experience, as well as customized and personalized product discovery.”
But things didn’t go quite so smoothly for all the teams. One of the fifteen initial teams participating in eLab – Milk and Honey, who was looking to create healthy cosmetic products – went through the process of researching the market and realized that there really was not a large need for their product quite yet.
In Ken Rother’s words, “One of the teams, Milk and Honey went through this process, talked to a lot of people, and they realized that there’s no there there. There’s no business opportunity yet, they can’t quite get their hands around it. That’s a win… That’s a lot cheaper than going out, developing formulations, getting pre-production products made, getting early stage marketing done, and then find out that you don’t really have a customer. That’s a win for this program.”
The teams look forward to expanding throughout the rest of the program. Stay updated with eLab here.