August 13, 2012

Yale entrepreneurs launch CT businesses

James Boyle, director, Yale Entrepreneurial Institute

Ventures succeeding at Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, are scalable, profitable and can exist in New Haven.

"We give as many as we can a chance, but ultimately, the market decides what happens," said James Boyle, YEI director.

YEI has helped undergraduates and graduates bring business plans to fruition since 2006, when Yale saw growing student interest in new ventures.

Previously, Yale supported ventures only from research labs. Upon opening YEI, Yale found the quality of ideas to be akin to the labs and less capital intensive.

"Students make inferences about problems and see opportunities that older people don't see. Young people are more versatile at rethinking ideas. The challenge is that they don't have a lot of experience, so we surround them with talent and support," Boyle said.

Boyle, along with YEI mentors and advisors, meet about 100 individuals and groups annually to hear business plans. His team advises students if their ideas can thrive and how to move forward. Unlike programs at other schools, YEI does not teach entrepreneurship in the classroom but within the real world.

YEI selects 10 to 12 applicants for summer fellowships. Fellows spend 10 weeks in startup boot camp turning concept into reality.

YEI provides fellows with support from mentors, entrepreneurs, corporate partners, and Yale alumni, as well as $20,000 and office space. In July, fellows pitch to investors and executives at annual Demo Day. Ventures at the event on July 26 included Panorama Education, a student/teacher online feedback platform, and Red Ox Technologies, a water desalination technology.

Of the 60 businesses launched by the fellowship in the last five years, Boyle said 10 to 12 are successful.

Kate Harrison was a 2009 YEI fellow as a Yale School of Forestry graduate student. Harrison published Green Bride Guide in 2008 after struggling to find resources for her wedding. She turned to YEI for help launching a website.

"I wouldn't be able to run a business today without their support. It helped shape the whole way I approach business," said Harrison, Green Bride Guide chief executive.

Harrison based the company in New Haven, her hometown, and works with local vendors. She said Yale and New Haven communities are essential in her business.

A former YEI director sits on Harrison's board and his venture capital group provides 50 percent of company funding. "YEI gives students access to a network, which is invaluable," she said.

Bob Casey participated in YEI in 2008 and founded YouRenew, an electronics reselling company. Casey operates nationwide with 15 employees out of New Haven. In 2009, he was Businessweek's Top 25 Entrepreneurs Under 25.

Casey now serves on YEI's board and assists entrepreneurs in the same position he was.

"It's emblematic of the times that students are trying to leave school with two things: a degree and a story. Launching a venture is a very powerful story," Boyle said.

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