Applications are open for Entrepreneurship at Cornell’s Student Business of the Year Award. Emphasis is on the business and the team behind it, not just on the entrepreneur. The award will recognize commitment to developing and operating a successful business while pursuing an education. The cash prize is $5,000. Apply now.
(This interview originally appeared in the Chemical and Engineering News on feb. 22, 2021)
Lynden Archer is known for his work with “hairy” nanoparticles. He studies structure, dynamics, and transport at liquid-solid interfaces using polymer and hybrid materials with applications in energy storage technologies. He cofounded NOHMs Technologies to commercialize novel battery materials developed in his Cornell University lab. NOHMs, which stands for nanoscale organic hybrid materials, was named one of C&EN’s 10 Start-Ups to Watch in 2015. Archer is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a fellow of the American Physical Society. Simone A. Douglas-Green spoke with Archer about how he chose his research focus and what it takes to start a successful company. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Lynden Archer: I was about 9 or 10 years old. My mom bought me a science book, and one of the chapters extolled the wonders of brewer’s yeast, which affects metabolism. My mom was entrepreneurial and raised broiler chickens as an income supplement, and she allowed me to experiment with metabolism by adding brewer’s yeast to a small portion of her flock. I had some chickens as controls even though I didn’t know what controls were at the time. I felt like a real scientist using the essential tools of science and discovery to answer a question, and that ultimately gave me more confidence.
SDG: As an aspiring professor, I am trying to figure out what the research focus of the Douglas-Green lab would look like one day. How did you figure out the research focus of the Archer Research Group?
LA: I think this is something aspiring professors stress themselves out too much over—the thought of coming out on day 1 with a career-defining research direction that they’re going to follow faithfully throughout a career. An essential part of growing and becoming successful as a scientist is understanding your core skill set and the things that excite you and working to develop those fully. Successful professors must be able to see change coming and have the tools ready to adapt. That means you’re reading the literature, you’re sitting in talks at conferences that aren’t in your area, and you’re hearing what other communities are thinking. The graduate student and postdoc years are excellent times to identify and burnish these core skills.
SDG: This is fantastic advice to hear, especially as a new postdoc in a chemical engineering lab coming from a biomedical engineering background looking to expand my skill set in drug delivery design. Can you talk about the design process of your nanoparticles?
(This story was written by Casey Verderosa and appeared originally in the Cornell Chronicle on Feb. 18, 2021)
After completing high school in Côte d’Ivoire, the West African nation where he grew up, Yehou Michel Davy Gnopo, M.S. ’18, Ph.D. ’20, took a gap period to construct roads throughout West Africa.
“The story was always the same – we would stay in a town or village for two to four weeks and during that time attend funerals for five to six kids under the age of five,” he said. “Up to that point, I never had an interest in the pharmaceutical industry. Later, when I went back to school, I discovered that the infectious diseases killing these kids could be prevented, or even eradicated with appropriate vaccines.”
Leveraging guidance from Cornell Engineering’s Ph.D. Commercialization Fellowship program, Gnopo is endeavoring to build a pharmaceutical business in Africa based on a mucosally delivered vaccine system, administered inside the cheek via cotton swab. He wants to be part of the development of African pharma, which he envisions as a self-sufficient industry responding to the continent’s specific health care needs and relieving Africans from reliance on western or Chinese pharmaceutical companies.
The Commercialization Fellowship, which wrapped up its fifth cohort in December 2020, introduces engineers to the process of turning their academic research into businesses that solve real-world problems. During a fully funded summer and semester, fellows work one-on-one with a mentor, complete National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (I-Corps) Teams training and collaborate with a team of Johnson MBA students to create a business strategy.
“Before applying to the program, I lacked both practical entrepreneurship experience and fundamental business knowledge. I think most engineering graduate students find themselves in this boat,” said Gnopo, who earned his Ph.D. in chemical engineering.
Fellows learn about intellectual property, marketing, product development, fundraising and other skills from entrepreneurship experts. Gnopo’s favorite part of the program was working with MBA students.
“While the fellowship does a great job closing the business knowledge gap before the MBAs join the fray, nothing beats having a dedicated team of business students forming a plan for my venture,” he said.
Because the fellowship is fully funded, fellows are able to focus entirely on commercializing their innovations. Hedan Bai, a mechanical and aerospace engineering doctoral student, used the experience to work toward commercialization of stretchable sensors that are incorporated into garments and can be used to measure athletes’ movement and force, technology she developed with Organic Robotics Corporation, a Cornell startup that recently took top prize at the NFL 1st and Future Competition.
The I-Corps Teams experience, an intensive national training program through which academics explore commercialization opportunities for their research with an emphasis on the customer discovery process, was the most valuable component of the fellowship, Bai said.
There, she and her teammates became a “dream team,” she said. “While performing customer discovery, we discovered some real opportunities and market insights to pursue the commercialization of this technology.”
Another 2020 fellow, mechanical engineering doctoral student Jane Shin, cited the program’s highly individualized mentorship as an “enormous help” in crafting the direction to take in applying her tech to solve real-world problems. Shin is exploring using her intelligent sensor path planning algorithm as a solution for decision making in autonomous driving trucks. Fellowship mentors are entrepreneurship experts in industry and academia.
The 2020 Commercialization Fellowship cohort presented their final business plans on December 10, 2020 to a panel of entrepreneurial leaders from the region including: Frank DeCosta, partner, Finnegan Henderson; Marnie LaVigne, president and CEO, Launch NY; Chris Lee, chairman and CEO, Huxley Medical; Eric Young, partner and co-founder, Canaan Partners; and Todd Zion, co-founder, president, and CEO of Akston Biosciences Corporation.
Applications for the 2021 Commercialization Fellowship are open through February 22, 2021.
Casey Verderosa is a writer for the Center for Regional Economic Advancement.
(This story appeared originally in the Cornell Chronicle on Feb. 12, 2021. It was written by David Nutt.)
Nearly two years after launching, the Praxis Center for Venture Development is reconfiguring its structure to reflect the growth of engineering startups at Cornell and their specialized needs.
The center is differentiating into two thematically focused branches, with the Praxis Center for Engineering and Physical Sciences remaining in the current space in Duffield Hall, and the Praxis Center for Enterprise Software now based in nearby Rhodes Hall.
The space in Rhodes Hall was renovated last year and is now occupied by a pair of software startups: Ava Labs and Exotanium. The success of both companies has demonstrated the effectiveness of the center’s model as it helps Cornell researchers turn their innovative ideas into thriving businesses.
The expansion allows the center’s five startups that have an engineering and physical sciences bent to remain in close proximity to the technical resources offered by Cornell NanoScale Science and Technology Facility (CNF) and Cornell Center for Materials Research (CCMR) in Duffield Hall.
“Rhodes Hall is an office environment, so it really fits the sort of analytical things that don’t require any testing or laboratories,” said Robert Scharf ’77, Praxis’ director. “This lets us keep the physical and engineering sciences teams in Duffield, where the laboratories, model shops and testing facilities are concentrated. It has no effect on the productivity or the effectiveness of the facility for the software teams.”
The Praxis Center opened in March 2019 with the goal of supporting engineering and physical science startups through mentorship while also boosting business development in New York state. The new structure will allow Praxis to better connect these companies with more specialized mentors and advisory groups who can help them later on to focus their products, perfect their pitches and plot their next steps.
“There are different business models and advisory roles that fit each specific kind of venture,” Scharf said. “We certainly wouldn’t want a software company talking to someone with deep experience in chemical manufacturing, where there’s really a low level of relevance of the possible interactions. This will help us attract the right kind of advisors, mentors and guides to each branch, because now they’ll have a much more distinctive identity and a clear reason for participating.”
That mentorship was instrumental for helping get Exotanium off the ground, said CEO Hakim Weatherspoon, associate professor of computer science, who founded the company in 2018 with Robbert van Renesse, professor of computer science; and postdoctoral researcher Zhiming Shen, Ph.D. ’17.
Exotanium’s software enables businesses to reliably run their applications on servers in the cloud at low-cost using cheap unreliable servers. When these “spot” servers become unavailable, Exotanium’s technology automatically migrates these application servers to stable environments without any interruption, a kind of high-tech game of Whac-A-Mole that can slash a company’s cloud-computing costs by an order of magnitude.
The startup joined the Praxis Center in fall 2019, and last year raised more than $1 million in pre-seed funding, with another round of seed funding planned for this year. Last fall, Exotanium conducted a successful pilot demonstration for software company Autodesk, Inc., and they are now working on establishing a commercial relationship.
“Praxis has been critical for us to evolve from three people who are professors and a Ph.D. to three people and a company that is very successful in the market,” Weatherspoon said. “And Praxis is critical to Cornell. Cornell is a great idea generator, but a lot of scientists are not trained in business. To have a successful business, you need a place like the Praxis Center. I don’t know where we’d be without something like that.”
Exotanium has grown to include five full-time employees – four of whom are based in Ithaca – as well as three part-time employees and several interns and consultants.
The Praxis Center has also helped provide a “center of gravity” to keep businesses like Exotanium in New York state, when so many software companies are lured to big tech meccas like Silicon Valley, Seattle and Boston.
Exotanium’s neighbor in Rhodes Hall, Ava Labs, was one of the Praxis Center’s first clients and is now the largest. The company has grown to be an international operation, with a total of 72 employees, the majority of whom work in the company headquarters in Brooklyn, which opened in July 2019.
“We went from being a nascent company that just had one idea, which was mostly undefined, to a small seed company that receives funding from the giants of Silicon Valley, all the way to being a company that has launched a network that has billions of dollars’ worth of value in it,” said Ava Labs co-founder and CEO Emin Gün Sirer, associate professor of computer science and co-director of the Initiative for Cryptocurrencies and Smart Contracts.
Ava Labs’ flagship technology is Avalanche, an open-source platform for verifying and securing blockchain networks. In July, the company sold 72 million AVAX tokens, its form of digital currency, raising $42 million in its first public sale.
The company now has a system that is storing $2.2 billion worth of value from thousands of users on five continents.
Ava Lab has eight employees in Ithaca. While the company is nearing the day it will move out of Rhodes Hall to make room for new startups – five developing companies are currently in the pipeline, according to Scharf – Ava Labs will always have a deep connection with the Praxis Center, Sirer said.
“Every relationship changes. I feel like we spent our infancy at Praxis. And when we were in our teenage years and needed to prove ourselves, we went down to where the big folks are in New York City,” Sirer said. “Now, I would like to retain our connection to Praxis and pay forward our dues. I would love to help them in the future, whether it’s in the form of advising other financial technology startups or helping others connect with people, whatever it might take.”
To that end, Scharf is looking to develop a new mentorship model for companies that are no longer tenants at the center but maintain a relationship with the university.
The Praxis Center is also strengthening its ties with CNF. Both groups now share the same director of operations, Ron Olson, and program safety officer, Phil Infante, consolidating the technical support on which so many engineering startups depend.
“We’re centralizing the administrative functions, and that’s going to be a productive thing for everyone,” Scharf said. “The synergies of all these things are beginning to become evident.”
Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator (ERA) is NYC’s leading tech accelerator. They invest $100K in selected startups and work closely with founders to help them build their businesses. To date, ERA has invested in 226+ companies who have gone on to raise $1B in investor capital and have a combined enterprise value of $4B.
Details: Applications Open for ERA Summer ‘21 Accelerator Program
Apply Today: https://www.eranyc.com/apply/
$100K in seed money with potential follow-on funding from NYC’s leading accelerator and support from NYC’s largest mentor network (500+). Work daily w/ dedicated team + venture partners and join the largest founder community of 226+ companies.
Deadline: April 26th; Program Start: June 21st
Meet us at one of our events or sign up for office hours: https://www.eranyc.com/apply/
Direct all questions to Emily at email@example.com
Cornell Design and Tech Initiative is a project team that builds websites & apps used by thousands of students. This semester we’re running Propel, an incubator for ideas or projects that Cornell students or people in the Ithaca community would use.
At Propel, we will provide $250 in funding, resources, networking opportunities, and mentorship for Cornell undergrads to build and scale their projects, whether it’s just an idea or already a prototype. To learn more and apply, check out propel.cornelldti.org.
Applications are due February 19th.
Please think about applying for a Commercialization Fellowship, an opportunity for Cornell Engineering Ph.D. students to take a deep dive into the commercialization process and potential real-world applications of university technology. The program supports fellows financially so they can focus on the work, instead of dividing their energy between multiple projects. By doing this, Cornell is putting an emphasis on commercialization skills as an academic pursuit, instead of an extracurricular activity. Applications close Feb. 22. Apply now.
As startups gain customers and identify new customer markets, they need to grow their internal teams to keep pace. They also face new challenges: Founders start manage people that are managing others, HR policies are forced to mature, and the company culture evolves quickly.
Join us on Wednesday February 17 (1:30 p.m. EST) for Growing a Team with Entrepreneur in Residence, Steve Sauer, to learn best practices for growing a startup team including how to add team members strategically to create a high-functioning, scalable organization with specialized expertise and distinct areas of responsibility.
Sauer is a senior lecturer of Management and Organizations at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University. His research and teaching activities focus on issues of leadership, team processes, and status and diversity in management.
The Prototyping Hardware Accelerator, offered by Rev: Ithaca Startup Works Hardware Accelerator, in partnership with Cornell Engineering, is a deep dive into exploring hardware entrepreneurship through an intensive 11-week summer program.
The program is free and open to the public. Applications for Summer 2021 of the Prototyping Hardware Accelerator are now open and will be reviewed on a rolling basis.
Selected teams are led through a process for determining if their ideas are commercially desirable, technologically viable, and economically feasible. Upon completion of the program, hardware alums are positioned to recruit team members, bring on partners, work with contract manufacturers, and pitch to investors.
In addition to an innovative philosophy and methodology designed to help teams move from a “back of the napkin” idea to a testable prototype, Rev also offers use of its state-of-the-art purpose-built prototyping lab and opportunities for participants grow their network of thought leaders, industry experts, and successful startups.
Climate Technology Track Available: New to this year’s Prototyping Hardware Accelerator is a focused climate tech track for hardware entrepreneurs working on innovations that support the decarbonization of the economy.
Interested in learning more? Register for a virtual information session on Thursday, February 4 (1:00 EST) to learn more about the program’s benefits, schedule, and expectations. Attendees will also have the chance to hear from successful hardware program alumni.
Join The Next Startup Wave: Why the Time Is Ripe for Hardware Companies on Wednesday, Feb. 3 (1:00 p.m. EST) for an eCornell keynote featuring a panel of hardware experts from Rev: Ithaca Startup Works Hardware Accelerator and Cornell Engineering. The panelists will examine the unique obstacles faced by hardware startups, identify solutions, and share their thoughts on what traits make for the most successful hardware companies.