What happens when a bunch of entrepreneurial Cornellians get together in a room?
This question was posed and answered at the inaugural Cornell Entrepreneurship Summit in New York City on Friday. Over the course of the day-long event, which more than 400 people attended, speeches by more than a dozen Cornell alumni and entrepreneurs addressed their personal entrepreneurial experiences and provided lessons they had learned along the way.
At the event, which was organized by Entrepreneurship@Cornell — an organization that seeks to foster entrepreneurial spirit across the Cornell campus — Steven Gal ’88, chair of the organization’s advisory council, said the summit was unique because attendees had a shared history in having all attended Cornell.
Major Indian industrialist, Ratan Tata ’59, chair of the multinational conglomerate Tata Sons, was given the Entrepreneur of the Year award at the summit. President David Skorton presented the award to Tata and spoke about Tata's career, highlighting the businessman’s successful career and what he called his commitment to improving the welfare of people in India.
Cornell alumni who spoke at the summit had distinguished entrepreneurial records that varied by type and level of success.
Jennifer Dulski ’93, MBA ’99 spoke about her experience starting a company after years working at Yahoo! Dulski said her first venture was unsuccessful but that her second venture — The Dealmap, a website that offered hundreds of thousands of daily deals — took off and was subsequently purchased by Google. Dulski, who is currently the global head of product search, shopping and product management at Google, said she had learned to trust her instincts and enjoy the ride.
The final speaker of the conference, Scott Belski ’02, founder and CEO of Behance, an online platform that allows users to showcase their creative work, spoke about how to turn ideas into reality. One of his tips for entrepreneurs was to transform doubts into confidence.
“If everyone tells you you’re crazy, you’re either crazy or you’re really onto something,” Belski said.
John Jaquette, director of Entrepreneurship@Cornell, said the idea for the summit was inspired by an annual event of the same name the organization has sponsored for the last 15 years at Cornell. He said he hoped the summit would similarly help grow the entrepreneurship community in New York City.
Jaquette described the event as “hugely successful.”
“We’ve received so many emails and calls about how happy alumni were to be there,” Jacquette said. “The speakers were engaging, entertaining and informative and provided a wide range of perspectives. The whole event exceeded our expectations: We knew it was going to be very good, but the response has been tremendous."
Jaquette said that there is a “strong possibility” that the summit will happen again next year.
The summit provided a great opportunity for networking, according to Bob Forness ’87, an investor in addition to his day job as the managing partner of an insurance firm.
“I’ve already followed up with three to five different connections I made at the conference,” Forness said. "I don't know if it will result in a deal being done, but they were good contacts to make and hopefully will lead to something in the future."
Forness praised the conference's organization, and in particular noted the quality of the speakers.
“To have that many individuals from that many entrepreneurial walks of life and have them each give very focused and interesting descriptions of what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur and use their personal case studies was great,” Forness said.
Cornell’s own entrepreneurial venture was discussed at the summit when Dean of CornellNYC Tech Dan Huttenlocher and Dean of Engineering Lance Collins spoke about the CornellNYC Tech project and its focus on building a new technology culture oriented towards entrepreneurism.
Jaquette said that the missions of the Entrepreneurship Summit and CornellNYC Tech overlap.
“Entrepreneurship is a key factor in the New York City tech campus, and it’s integrated in all they do,” Jaquette said. “One of their first employees was their entrepreneurial officer, Greg Pass, who is working on building partnerships with entrepreneurial businesses and startups in New York City right now.”