Through the Centennial Center’s Summer Sandbox Startup Accelerator program, student entrepreneurs completed a nine-week intensive session in which they advanced for-profit and non-profit ideas into potentially viable business and service ventures. This year marked the second cohort of the program. Sixteen students from all class years participated.
Summer Sandbox, which ran from June 3rd through August 2nd, quickly places students into operating startup teams. The program incorporates Lean Startup methodologies to quickly validate critical business assumptions, such as customer segments, value propositions, selling channels, competition, financial viability and key partnerships. The program concludes with a “Pitch Night”, where teams present their startups to an audience of HWS and community members.
Throughout the course of the program, teams conducted 15 face-to-face customer interviews each week to validate assumptions and advance their business models. Additionally, the cohort was introduced to more than 30 peer, alum and entrepreneur connections who served as mentors and provided important real-world feedback. One-on-one sessions provides the teams with constructive criticism and advice based on mentor experience across various industries.
Notable alum participants included Chair of the Board of Trustees Thomas S. Bozzuto ’68, L.H.D.’18, CEO and Founder of the Bozzuto Group, who discussed launching his company, building a support network and sustaining growth over time. Also participating was Michael Barlow ’11, who discussed his startup experience with his own rapidly growing venture, Fernish, a furniture subscription service for urban professionals.
“I learned how to receive critical feedback from different coaches, process their comments and apply them to my idea,” says philosophy major Austin Kennie ’19, who partnered with Kaitlin Hunt ’19 to develop “Mutant House Comics,” a comic book publication house that produces content parents and teachers can use to teach middle schoolers about issues including race, gender and sexuality. The publication would differentiate itself by ushering in a new era of relatable superheroes.
Over the course of the program, students visited and connected with regional entrepreneurial programs at the Rochester Institute of Technology, including the RIT Summer Startup Program, Cornell University – including Cornell AgriTech and Rev Ithaca Incubator, and NextCorps – a Rochester-based incubator made up of entrepreneurs, advisers and venture capitalists creating next generation startup companies.
Media and society and psychology double major Chloe Emler ’20 says the experience of creating several iterations of her proposal emphasized the lesson that business ideas should “evolve over time” to reflect the needs of their customers. Alongside Addison Gilbard ’20, the team pitched “Exit 42 Media,” a female-focused entertainment company that creates 10-20 minute fictional videos and distributes them to an online audience through mobile devices and social platforms.
Linden Bascom ’20 and Mouhamed Thiam ’20 created Stu-Haul, a mobile recording studio for New York’s inner-city youth. In partnership with city schools, students can participate in Stu-Haul as an afterschool music enrichment and career prep program.
Summer Sandbox creates a startup environment in which students build three core skills: developing an entrepreneurial mindset; interacting with potential customers; and understanding what problems are being solved. Students are provided with the resources and space they need to develop, with a high degree of confidence, the elements needed to launch a successful company or organization.
Media and Society major Eric Molina ’22 says the “entrepreneurial mindset” clicked for him when he learned that a business opportunity arises when you are able to identify and develop a solution to a specific customer problem. Along with Gabriella Milano ’19, the team created “LetsLink,” a networking association that connects students to alums, professors and other students in order to help them identify a career path of their interest.
Other participants in the cohort included: Chung Eun Kim Armijos ’19, Coy Austin ’22, Andrew Dellicicchi ’20, Kenza Kebdani Lahouir ’21, Alexander Lorie ’21, Emily Rich ’21, Reed Tansill ’20 and Olivia Wojnovich ’20.