I had the pleasure of covering Center for Student Entrepreneurship (CSE) Incubator Demo Day on June 2nd, 2015 at the Newman Library at Baruch College. It was a particularly hot, humid subway ride to Newman Library. As I was walking to the library, I kept thinking what an anxiety-ridden, nerve-wrecking yet exciting day it must be for the CSE Incubator students. It was a big day for them.
Up until a few days ago, I was also very unfamiliar with what exactly the CSE Incubator program was and why Demo Day, in particular, was an important day for CSE and the young entrepreneurs who eagerly waited five months long for this day. So, what is the CSE Incubator program? And why is Demo Day significant?
The story begins with CUNY Central Office and its allocation of 5 million dollars to create a Center for Student Entrepreneurship (CSE). The mission of the Center for Student Entrepreneurship is to assist students in starting their own businesses, create jobs for students and stimulate business growth and economic development in New York City. The first initiative of CSE, the CSE Incubator program, is a semester long program with an entrepreneur boot camp, three different phases focusing on developing and fine-tuning the business to be pitch-ready for the long-awaited Demo Day. The program includes multiple workshops, roundtables and guest-speaker events, and networking opportunities for the cohort to get prepared for launching their own businesses. The full program breakdown and overview can be found here.
I was lucky enough to experience Demo Day firsthand and understand the hard work and transformation that occurs with the incubator students. The event kicked off a little past 9:00 am with remarks from the Dean of the Zicklin School of Business, H. Fenwick Huss, the Executive Director of CUNY CSE, John Clark, and other individuals in management capacity within the Lawrence N. Field Center and CSE. Next, the panel of judges was introduced; the judging panel included Lorine Pendleton, US Director of Business Development at Dentos, Patrick Sullivan, Founder and CEO of Source3, Marian Knowles, Founder and President of Off Duty Chef, and Christian Guinalda, New Business Venture at Verizon.
By 10:00 am, the moment finally arrived. The five remaining companies in the Spring cohort including Amber Blue, a botanical skincare line, Champolu, an online language learning platform, Diva Designers, a monthly subscription based craft service, Exambler, an online exam management platform, and Think Olio, an in-person crowd learning platform, pitched their hearts out on the stage for their final presentation to secure some serious funding for their startups. There was $25,000 to be divided amongst the five teams based on the pitch performance, the feedback of the panel of experts and the overall growth and progress made in the duration of the program. The judges followed each presentation with a question and answer session to give their respective feedback to each entrepreneur.
Around 11:00 am, the presentations were all completed. A networking break was announced while the judges deliberated on final feedback and funding amounts for each startup. The crowd mingled outside of the main room in a hallway grabbing a few snacks and trying skincare products with Tara Atwood from Amber Blue, viewing a set of exams with Eli Attias from Exambler and discussing the feasibility of developing a community of life-long learners with Chris Zumtobel. The CSE Director of Programming, Annelisa Lauri, remarked that every business in this cohort had "a customer base on some level, not necessarily in terms of revenue, but every group had a website up and running and a mailing list for outreach. They were talking to their customers, getting feedback and applying the feedback. The group dynamic was particularly supportive of one another throughout the program." The Spring cohort has collectively surpassed many expectations at CSE.
By 11:30 am, everyone gathered back in the main room to hear the final results from the judges. Champolu and Think Olio both received $1,000, Amber Blue received $3,000, Diva Designers received $7,500 and Exambler received $12,500 in funding. Eli Attias, founder of Exambler, was “proud and excited about Exambler” receiving the most funding and he is looking forward to Exambler's pilot project at CUNY Queens College with many different potential professors utilizing Exambler to manage their exams in the coming Fall semester.
If the hard work of current incubator students have not inspired you as of yet, consider the following highlights of the first cohort of the CSE Incubator:
- Cleanly, an on-demand cleaning service, secured $2.3 Million in Seed Funding
- Advyzr appeared on Inc.com under "Coolest College Startups of 2015"
- Pomegranate Lab has been accepted into 4.0 Schools "Ed-Tech Incubator"
- Teslabrecently opened their first Makerspace in LIC, Queens
At last, I'll leave you with the words from H. Fenwick Huss, Dean of the Zicklin School of Business. He gave the audience a basic reminder of why we were all in the room that morning of June 2nd: "CSE Incubator program is 'pracademics' in action". It's the practical application of what we have learned in classrooms and above all else, “it’s a serious personal and professional opportunity” to grow, take feedback, get better and have the confidence to execute a plan for our dreams (and hopefully rule the world).
I loved CSE Incubator Demo Day. I am sending the second cohort loads of luck in whatever they may do or pursue!
Wishing you well,