Summer Sandbox Packs in Students – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Summer Sandbox Packs in Students

Entrepreneurial accelerator program explores lean startup methodologies to support their ventures.

The Summer Sandbox Startup Accelerator wrapped up on July 28, 2021, marking the fourth successful year for the program. Over the course of the rigorous nine-week program, students in the entrepreneurial accelerator start with very basic ideas for a for-profit business or non-profit entity and then identify business models that could make them viable.

Ventures in this year’s cohort included a monthly subscription for gourmet baked goods, an athletics mentoring network, an urban support program for homeless youth, technology to improve city parking, eco-friendly hemp fiber materials and a marketplace for live aquatic stock.

Organized by the Centennial Center, the Summer Sandbox Startup Accelerator operates at the Bozzuto Center for Entrepreneurship in downtown Geneva. In past years, student startup teams live together in a communal setting, engaging in face-to-face customer interaction, providing feedback to one another and pitching their ideas each week to an audience. Much like an internship, the Summer Sandbox program offers payment to the cohort members over the nine weeks of the program.

However, like last summer, this summer’s 15-member cohort met virtually over Zoom as they developed entrepreneurial and problem-solving skills and explored “lean startup methodologies” to find viable and scalable business models for their ventures.

The Summer Sandbox program is managed by Ed Bizari, the Centennial Center’s Entrepreneurial Fellow, who taps into his 30+ years of corporate/startup experience and his involvement with local venture fund, Launch NY, both bring realism and depth to the Summer Sandbox experience.

“An attribute of the program is to help students understand the rapidly changing and ambiguity-filled life of an entrepreneur, so we throw a lot at them from day one,” says Bizari. “It always amazes us how the students adapt, get comfortable with imperfect information, learn from failure, and begin sounding like startup founders after only nine weeks.”

Key elements of the Summer Sandbox accelerator program include:

  • Customer Discovery – conducting direct conversations with potential users of their products or services. This year, teams conducted 120 Zoom interviews to better understand the problem being solved and the persona of the ideal target customer.
  • Financial Modeling – understanding the potential revenue models and associated costs of various business types, a useful skill for both personal and career situations.
  • Coaching – the teams meet regularly with coaches and subject matter experts to receive feedback, ask questions and receive guidance on their journey. The 30+ coaches consist of HWS alums as well as regional and national entrepreneurs.
  • Pitching – throughout the program, teams are constantly faced with public speaking situations, whether for a weekly progress update, pitch practice, coaching sessions or for the final pitch event.

Perhaps the only downtime of the program is the “Coffee with Entrepreneurs” sessions on Thursday mornings, where noted HWS alums and national entrepreneurs tell their startup stories and provide advice to students.

The 2021 Summer Sandbox program concluded with a Zoom-based pitch event, with teams pitching their startup to an audience of approximately 120 community members, faculty, staff, alums, parents and regional entrepreneurs.