SOM Students Take Their Start-ups to Yale's Business Boot Camp
Three Yale SOM students are among the entrepreneurs honing business plans in the 2012 Yale Entrepreneurial Institute (YEI) Summer Fellowship program. Daniel Wolchonok '13, Paul Christensen '13, and Smita Venkat '13 were awarded spots in the program, a 10-week business boot camp that fosters promising, student-led start-ups. This summer's fellows include 12 teams of students chosen from across the Yale campus.
The YEI brings together students, select faculty and administrators, alumni from both industry and venture capital, and local established entrepreneurs. Since its inception in 2007, YEI has supported the formation and growth of more than 52 student-founded ventures, which have raised more than $45 million of outside investment capital.
"Entrepreneurship on campus is really growing," says Wolchonok. "There's a lot of buzz among students and a lot of support for start-ups at SOM. It's a golden age for Web entrepreneurs." Wolchonok's company PrepWork is an online service that creates "smart" interpersonal data that allows users to analyze common connections and build stronger business relationships. "A wealth of information is out there, and you're at a disadvantage if you walk into a meeting unprepared," Wolchonok says. "PrepWork serves as your personal assistant, sifting through vast quantities of information to find the most relevant pieces of information. YEI gives me access to amazing resources and an opportunity to grow my company."
Wolchonok has been testing a private version for the past six months, and is now opening up the service to a wider audience. "YEI connects us with the larger entrepreneurial community, at Yale and in the world," he says. "The knowledge and experience here are priceless."
Christensen and Venkat also have a concrete goal in mind for their fellowships. "We're hoping to progress enough so that we'll be getting the business off the ground after we graduate next year," Christensen says. The two are working with Patrick Paczkwoski, a computer science graduate student, to develop a full commercialization plan for "Mental Canvas," a software program that enables designers to explore ideas using sketches and photographs in a 3D environment. The software is being developed by Paczkwoski and Julie Dorsey, professor of computer science.
The Yale Office of Cooperative Research put Christensen and Venkat in touch with Paczkwoski, who was already working on the project. "We knew we wanted to be part of YEI, but we hadn't settled on a venture," says Christensen, who hopes to focus his future career on bringing initiatives created on university campuses into the marketplace. "Through YEI I'm looking to build a set of skills related to startups and creating businesses that I'll utilize in the long term," he says.
Venkat notes that the Yale SOM curriculum dovetails nicely with the fellowship. "This has been a really holistic experience in terms of applying the concepts we learned during first year," she says. "It's an amazing experience to meet people who have gone through setting up their own ventures. I feel lucky to have been chosen."
James Boyle, the director of YEI, says more than 40 teams applied for the 12 places in this summer's program. The teams that were chosen to participate come from Yale College, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the schools of management, law, medicine, and forestry. "The 2012 Fellows are among the most advanced and diverse class in YEI's history," Boyle says.
Daniel Wolchonok '13 (left) at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute.