The event highlighted four student entrepreneurs and critical moments during their startup journey. The panel was moderated by Christine Mbaye Muchemu MBA ‘19, and included:
Daniel Abaraola ’18, founder of Vita Shoes
Colby Triolo, ’19, founder of The Worldwide Travel Network
Jamie Kim ’19, founder of bumble & butter
Albert Caldarelli ’19, CTO of Religio
At the start of the session, the entrepreneurs were asked about key startup moments they experienced when beginning their business. For instance, they discussed the first time they actually called their business a business and not a project. In particular, Jamie mentioned how she had started making granola as a hobby in high school and was encouraged by friends to start a business, but lacked the confidence. When she met her partner Katie Lee ’19 during sophomore year at Cornell, she found the support she was looking for and the two began to invest their time into growing their granola company.
The panelists also talked about the first customers they had and how they got them. Colby described how she and her partner Brynne Merkley ’20 initially thought their target market were young adventurous women out of college, but they realized there was an untapped market for singles women between the ages of 30-60 years old.
What was extremely unique about Big Red Startup Moments was that the panel were all undergraduate students at Cornell, which meant that their college experience differed greatly from their peers as they were both students and entrepreneurs. As a result, the rewards of starting their own business came with trade-offs. They mentioned how some days they couldn’t go out with friends and needed to stay up late working on the business plans. When they were in classes, their minds automatically thought about their businesses and what else they could be doing. More importantly, Albert emphasized that being an entrepreneur is a different commitment than a regular club on campus. The goal are much more long-term and you might not see the progress until later on, but it becomes part of what you do and the passion you have makes it ok to work on it all the time.
Furthermore, when they started their businesses, many of the panelists partnered with other students for their founding team. When finding his team, Daniel said that it was important to gauge people’s interest in his business. Most times, his friends thought it was so cool that he was starting a business in his early twenties and were interested in being a part of it, but Daniel wanted to see how they could fit in and contribute efficiently to the business. For him, launching a startup wasn’t just because it is cool and fun; he needed to make sure people were genuinely invest in the company and social mission.
The panelists also discussed how their identities as entrepreneurs impacted their journey. Daniel spoke about his role as a male entrepreneur in the fashion industry and how it has led him to figure out different styles and tastes to appeal to a wider consumer base. He even had his little sister help out with certain colors on his women’s line. On the other hand, Jamie described that while being a female entrepreneur can make people question her, she also believed her young age was another factor. Albert described how Religio is built on faith and that becomes part of the conversation when he and founder Peter Cetale ‘19 are partnering with local churches. The business is not just a charitable organization, but a platform that connects people to part of their identity so he and Peter approach the business with this philosophy.
Finally, the panelists spoke about their future plans on growing their business. Jamie talked about bumble & butter becoming a nation-wide brand, and Albert described making a difference within the communities Religio impacts. Daniel wanted to see more connection between startups and business-tailored clubs on campus and Colby wanted to see the same with entrepreneurs and alumni to expand networks and resources.
Want to learn more about each startup and their unique journey?