By | Innovation, People, Rochester

NYC Startup Trek

By Akshay Rajput

It was fascinating to see the vast amount of opportunities that a startup is surrounded with at WeWork and the spontaneity that comes along with it. Efficient workspace utilization, supreme community-building environment, constant employee feedback, and flexibility in scaling are all important factors that make WeWork successful.

Additionally, The Company’s aim to base the entire building around a tech-central theme and create proximity to the startup community by dedicating 250,000 square feet of space in midtown Manhattan was inspiring. Tyler Schrodt, CEO and Founder of Electronic Gaming Federation, apprised us about the changes he made in his business plan, improvements made in product quality, customer targeting, and economic models – along with his journey of gaining streaming rights and construction of their revenue policy.

Common area for members in WeWork Corporate Headquarters of Manhattan.

Erica Rosen, Director of Marketing at BioLite, enlightened us with their compelling mission to transform the way we cook, charge, and light our lives off the grid with their line-up of revolutionary products built on sustainable business practices that have the power to change the world. Their unique Parallel Innovation business model made them stand out from the rest of the companies on the trek.

In the Brooklyn Navy Yard, we were captivated to see what New Lab has achieved with the historic former machine shop by creating a breakthrough ecosystem of shared resources where startups, entrepreneurs, business leaders, and city officials can collaborate, iterate and prototype their innovative ideas quickly with the help of CNC and 3-D printing machines on-site.

Erica Rosen, Director of Marketing at BioLite, showing us their CampStove.

The interesting panel discussion with Swarnav Pujari (CEO of Touchlight Innovations) and Joel Cettina (CEO of Food Moves) gave us insight into their entrepreneurial journey, which highlighted the key learnings from their failures and successes.

Ke Cheng, Founder and CEO of Histowiz has staggeringly created the world’s first telepathology network that incorporates machine learning offering rapid turnaround times and unprecedented access to a wide range of pathology subspecialties.

Collaborative space at New Lab, a space in Brooklyn supports entrepreneurs working in advanced technology.

U of R’s Ain Center for Entrepreneurship and Gwen M. Greene Center for Career Exploration and Connections efforts enabled us to see the theoretical concepts taught in the Technical Entrepreneurship and Management program being implemented in real life which, in turn, immensely helped in broadening the scope of thinking.

Akshay Rajput ’19 (MS) has been working with multinational companies since his graduation. He holds expertise in field of business development, marketing, and resource management. Akshay’s latest experience stems from being a digital media & business development manager for a branding firm. He is currently a Masters candidate in the Technical Entrepreneurship and Management program, with a concentration in Energy & the Environment.

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

5 Tips for Customer Discovery

By Ain CFE Staff

“In a sense there’s just one mistake that kills startups: not making something users want,” argues Paul Graham of Y Combinator. “If you make something users want, you’ll probably be fine, whatever else you do or don’t do. And if you don’t make something users want, then you’re dead, whatever else you do or don’t do.”

The Ain Center’s Foundry Forum series (new for Fall 2018) is designed to supplement existing entrepreneurship classes and programming. These workshops explore the fundamentals of starting your own venture, including how to talk with potential customers to learn about their needs. Our second Forum – The Voice of a Customer: Shut Up and Listen – was held on October 22. Facilitators Matt Spielmann and Max Sims shared their experiences and tips – five of which are below!

Establish Market Need

According to a CB Insights study, 42% of startups fail because there is no market need for their innovation. Learning about your customer and asking questions that get to the heart of their problems can help ensure that there will be a fighting chance for your enterprise.

Ask Yourself: A Product May Be "Cool," But Will It Sell?

Startups face a number of challenges - why add to those by not doing your research? Your venture may be centered on a new high-tech product, but over-engineering can lead to obsolescence. There may be a pain point that your target customer is dealing with but, according to Max Sims, "there's a difference between pain and pain worth solving."

Use Hypothesis-Based Testing

Start with your assumptions: what do you think is the problem? Once you have these starting points, create "I believe _____" statements that can be proven true or false. For example, "I believe [my customer] has a problem [achieving a specific goal]." Use interviews to prove/disprove these statements and continue to refine your hypotheses. Ultimately, the goal is to determine whether or not you have a product-market fit. Asking the right questions, limiting your own bias, and keeping an open mind are key to customer discovery.

Customer Discovery Must Be Ongoing

When is the right time to talk to your customers about what they want? ALWAYS. This cannot be overstated. Entrepreneurs need to remain aware of market needs and consumer desires at every phase of their venture. Whether you have an idea that you want to build upon, or a large company launching a new product line, customer discovery should be constant.

Stick to a Few Basic Techniques

To summarize, our workshop facilitators put together a handy "how-to" guide. While there is extensive literature on performing customer discovery, these few basics will help get you started on the right path.

Chart of basic techniques created by Matt Spielmann and Max Sims for Voice of Customer Workshop in October 2018 (inspired by Talking to Humans, by Giff Constable and Frank Rimalovski).

If you have any questions about customer discovery, please contact the Ain Center at or make an appointment with Matt Spielmann. Interested in attending future Foundry Forums or workshops? Head over to our Events Calendar and register online!

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

Trekking NYC with

Startup Fever!

By Lani Chau

Swarnav Pujari, Founder of Touchlight Innovations, says “business ideas are hypotheses needing to be validated.” I felt in my element when I heard that and thought, “great! I’ve done plenty of that previously.”

But that’s only one piece.

My journey in the two days of October break participating in the NYC Entrepreneurship Road Trip, hosted by the Gwen M. Greene Center and the Ain Center for Entrepreneurship, opened my eyes to what it really takes to be your own boss.

Erica Rosen, Director of Marketing for Biolite Energy, showing us the stages of prototyping for their CampStove.


According to Pujari, New York City investors want to see metrics and results before they want to be your investors. It’s a different mentality in San Francisco, where passion and a big idea can win.

No need to fret if you just have an idea though; New Lab, a multi-disciplinary technology center housed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, has you covered with prototyping help (and a network of VCs, domain experts, and corporate partners included in membership). They welcome you whether you have a team or if you’re a one-person company. New Lab’s interior decorating is also on-point, they bring nature inside to you!

Now I can’t talk about interior decorating without talking about WeWork, a company that designs, builds and operates workspaces for companies from startups to large businesses. As we got off the elevator on their main floor, I was cheerfully greeted by vibrant walls with basketball hoops attached. After taking a few steps further in, we saw adorable furry friends freely roaming around the urban-chic, glass and aluminum office, mingling along with the bustling people.

(By the way – WeWork offers free beer on tap and a free latte/espresso bar for all. I didn’t think I could be any more impressed, until I learned about the way they are utilizing data to humanize work and transform the spaces we work in. Not to mention, WeWork Lab can also help if you are at the idea-seed stage.)

Besides being starstruck by the facilities and the nature of the entrepreneurial spirit there, I also got to learn valuable life lessons directly from the NYC entrepreneurs.

The New Lab building, a community that assists the city’s leading companies working in advanced technologies.


During our visit to the Company, Tyler Schrodt, Founder of Electronic Gaming Federation, detailed the humble story of how the failure of his original idea led him to revamp his whole business model by starting with the question, “what values does my venture add to an audience?”

Swarnav Pujari reinforced this theme when asked about the key to his success: “it’s all about adding value.” He then recalled a conversation he had with a real estate developer who did not care about how solar panels can save money, but how to generate more money. When he understood the values the client wanted, he modified his approach to marketing his business.

Vince Scafaria (Founder of DotAlign) advised us to “get [an investor] to feel that they can succeed when you succeed!”

Alexander Tabb, Founder of Roundit, praised the importance of hard work. I found it encouraging when he told us, “you also don’t need to be 25 to start a business. I’m in my 50s, and what I’ve learned until now has helped me tremendously for this moment.”

We all follow a different timeline – you don’t have to start your own business now (perhaps you just want to join a startup), but it’s important to know your opportunities! I feel that going on this trip is an instance of an opportunity I created for myself.

Have you thought about sustainable living recently? Lani Chau ’19 (MS) is investigating the design of renewable energy systems to enhance the portability and integration of green energy technology into the fabric of everyday living. She recently worked on an electrochemical engineering project at Brookhaven National Laboratory, studying solar water splitting. Lani is currently an MS Technical Entrepreneurship and Management candidate with a concentration in Energy & the Environment. 

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

Congratulations, Kate Cartini!

By Ain CFE Staff
One of our Experts-in-Residence, Kathryn Cartini, has been named one of The Business Journals’ “Influencers: Rising Stars” for 2018. 


The Business Journals consortium of over 40 business publications recently shared their list of 100 Influencers: Rising Stars. This list celebrates people in business throughout the country who are positively impacting their companies and communities at a relatively young age. These individuals are selected for their actions, as well as for their vision of business for the future.

From an initial pool of over 1,000 names, Kate Cartini and 99 of her peers were chosen for this honor. The Business Journals heavily relied upon the network’s 40 Under 40 profiles, but whittled those names down in order to find the top 100 candidates.

Kate Cartini, the UVC team, and Marc Randolph (Netflix founder) at the 2018 Upstate Unleashed Conference.

Kate began with the Ain Center as an EIR just over a year ago, but has been in the startup space for many years. In addition to her multiple volunteer roles throughout the community, she currently serves as the Chief Marketing Officer for Upstate Venture Connect, a Partner at Chloe Capital, and the CEO/Founder of Peacock Media, her own storytelling and marketing firm.

Upon graduation from Syracuse University, she worked as a journalist and moved around the east coast, simultaneously engaging with innovative communities and gaining interest in the field. Eventually, she moved back to upstate New York to help grow the entrepreneurial ecosystem and help the region flourish. Over the past few years, Kate has done her part – both through her professional and volunteer activities. We are proud to have Kate Cartini as part of our entrepreneurship team at the University and we send her the utmost congratulations on this honor!

The Chloe Capital team of Erica O’Brian, Elisa Miller-Out, and Kathryn Cartini.

Kate will be leading a storytelling/pitching workshop on River Campus in March 2019, so be on the lookout for those details!

Interested in talking with Kate or one of our other experienced entrepreneurs? Check out our Experts-in-Residence program and make an appointment today!

By | Event, Innovation, People, Rochester

An Awesome Opportunity: NSF I-Corps Programs @ UR

By Ain CFE Staff

The University of Rochester supports the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps Programs and, in honor of the upcoming short course, here’s an overview of what the Ain Center runs and how these programs can help launch your venture. 

Do you have a background in science, technology, or a related field? You may be a perfect candidate for the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps Programs. I-Corps is a partnership program that allows university entrepreneurs to identify valuable opportunities that can emerge from academic research and offers entrepreneurship training to participants. With emphasis on strategy, consumer research, and development, I-Corps provides a crash-course in entrepreneurial thinking. At the University of Rochester, we offer a few variations of the program:

NSF I-Corps Site Program

  • Local teams transition their ideas, devices, or processes into the marketplace
  • More than 50 hubs across the United States (including the University of Rochester)
  • Provides participants with advice, resources, training, and networking opportunities
  • Funding (up to $3,000 per team) to further their research or development processes
  • Site graduates can apply to I-Corps Teams National Program, which awards grants of up to $50,000

NSF I-Corps Node Program

  • Supports regional needs for innovation education, infrastructure, and research
  • Upstate New York (UNY) Node – University of Rochester, Cornell University, and Rochester Institute of Technology
  • Participants complete a two-week Short Course aimed at graduate students and post-docs
  • Graduates of the Short Course receive NSF lineage and can apply for other NSF grants
  • Short Courses are offered in Rochester at least twice a year

Though we do not host the NSF I-Corps Team Program (below), this is an option for those who have completed either of the programs listed above. The Teams Program is a large commitment, but participants gain access to significant resources and business know-how.

NSF I-Corps Team Program

  • Applicants must have NSF lineage (and prior completion of a Site or Node program is strongly recommended)
  • Participants complete an intensive 7-week program offered throughout the United States
  • Provides opportunities for NSF funding and other high-level resources, including an increased chance of receiving SBIR and STTR grant awards

The benefits of participating in these programs are long-lasting. To learn more about the University of Rochester’s participation in I-Corps programs and for more information regarding eligibility and the application process, please visit the Ain Center for Entrepreneurship’s website.

Who can help?

Natalie Antal

Associate Director
1-211C Carol Simon Hall
(585) 276-4511

Matthew Spielmann

Senior Program Manager
1-217 Dewey Hall
(585) 273-3967

By | Event, Innovation, People, Rochester

Meliora Weekend 2018

By Ain CFE Staff

“It’s incredible – the amount of human capital in the University, and all of the research. As an entrepreneur, your job is to bring it together creatively,” says UR student entrepreneur Daphne Pariser. During the 2018 Meliora Weekend, we celebrated 40 years of entrepreneurship at the University of Rochester.

On Thursday, October 4, the Ain Center was invited to present at the University’s Board of Trustees dinner. Two doctoral students, Daphne Pariser ‘17M (MS) and Joseph VanderStel ‘16E (MA), presented their ventures and shared their stories with members of the University community. Hailing from URMC and Eastman School of Music respectively, these two students have utilized the various resources that UR has to offer. We are proud to be a part of their entrepreneurial journeys.

The Ain Center – in partnership with Alumni Relations, the Simon School of Business, and the Barbara J. Burger iZone – hosted a student panel and entrepreneurship expo on Saturday, October 6. The panel, moderated by alumna and co-founder of Health Care Originals Inc., Sharon Samjitsingh ’13 (MS), featured:

Each student contributed their own unique perspective, including how to balance their curricular programs and pursue their entrepreneurial passions.

Eastman doctoral student Joseph VanderStel, Mark Ain ‘67S, Board of Trustees Chairman Danny Wegman, URMC doctoral student Daphne Pariser, University President Richard Feldman, and Vice Provost for Entrepreneurship Duncan Moore.

Saturday’s entrepreneurship panel featuring moderator Sharon Samjitsingh and panelists Daphne Pariser, Ian Manzi, Mike Alcazaren, Shelley Chen, and Vlad Cazacu.

Members of the University community during the Saturday panel.

A representative from Simon Entrepreneurs Association and visiting professor Lidia Alexa during the entrepreneurship expo.

Panelists Daphne Pariser and Mike Alcazaren with Vice Provost for Entrepreneurship Duncan Moore during the poster session.

We would like to thank the University’s Board of Trustees for inviting our students to speak and share their entrepreneurial journeys at UR. We would also like to thank our student panelists, moderator, and departmental partners for our Saturday event. Cheers to another 40 years of entrepreneurship at the University of Rochester!

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

5 Team Building Tips

By Ain CFE Staff

“The world is so complex, no one person has the skills or knowledge to accomplish all that we want to accomplish,” writes Dr. Susan McDaniel, the 2016 American Psychological Association president and University of Rochester professor. “Interdisciplinary teams are the way to make that happen.”

The Ain Center’s Foundry Forum series (new for Fall 2018) is designed to supplement existing entrepreneurship classes and programming. These workshops explore the fundamentals of starting your own venture, including working with a team to accomplish an innovative goal. We held the first Forum on September 27 – Opposites Attract: Turning a Group of Strangers Into a Team. In addition to the usual search for appropriate job skills, awareness of personality can be a major benefit to your startup. Below are 5 key points gleaned from the event.

Know Yourself

Having a solid understanding of your own strengths, skills, and personality can put you on the right track for finding compatible teammates. Once you have a baseline of who you are and what you want, you will be better prepared for working with others who complement and balance your own style.

Embrace Diversity

Don't shy away from those who think differently than you - in fact, you should seek them out! Team leaders should be deliberate about who they assemble. If you have an inclusive, robust team, your company will have strengths in a variety of areas, which can help lead to new opportunities and better brainstorming sessions.

Reference a Typing Tool

There are countless personality assessments out there, each with their own merits and drawbacks. That said, there are plenty of popular ones that large companies and universities alike use to help their constituents learn more about themselves and others. One of our favorites is the MBTI, grounded in the concepts developed by psychologist Carl Jung. MBTI is based on eight basic tendencies that people can identify with. While the traits together may seem complicated, individuals can select just one trait to focus on - that alone can help you understand how others think!

Try a Sample Project

If you are feeling unsure about how you and another person will work together, use a small collaboration to see if your styles mesh well or not. This can be part of your larger goal, or something totally unrelated to your venture. The idea is to feel out the working relationship and see how your actions and thoughts meld. This can also help define the skills you want in a potential team member.

Understand the Importance of a Strong (and Happy!) Team

So much of our lives are spent at work (usually even more for the typical entrepreneur). For both your sake and your venture's, you want to be sure that people are able to work together and accomplish great things. You don't have to love everyone on your team, but fostering a culture of kindness and respect is fundamental to success.

If you have any questions about forming a team or finding possible collaborators, please contact the Ain Center at or use our Entrepreneur ConnectorInterested in attending future Foundry Forums or workshops? Head over to our Events Calendar and register online!

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

Words from Wallis Hall: Our Entrepreneurial Mission

By President Richard Feldman (originally published on the University of Rochester website)
Whether it’s the next medical breakthrough, the next patent, or the next sustainable plan to help people in need, entrepreneurism is part of who we are and it consistently informs our educational mission. I suppose it’s no surprise that people have taken notice.

Throughout our history, the University of Rochester has educated some of the country’s brightest entrepreneurs and inspired successful startups from a variety of disciplines. From Arunas Chesonis ’91S (MBA) whose Sweetwater Energy company develops energy from non-food plant materials, to Cristina Canavesi ’13 (MS), ’14 (PhD), ’15S (MBA) who used what she learned at Simon Business School and in the Technical Entrepreneurship and Management (TEAM) program to help co-found her bioimaging company LightTopTech, our alumni represent what can happen when expertise connects with innovation and invention.

In July 2018, Financial Times London placed the University’s Simon Business School among the top 10 MBA programs for entrepreneurship in the U.S. and among the top 20 MBAs for entrepreneurship in the world. Also recognizing our institution’s distinction in the field, The Princeton Review and Entrepreneur Magazine recently ranked the University of Rochester in the top 25 schools for graduate entrepreneurship programs.

But rankings only tell part of the story at Rochester. The entrepreneurial spirit is found in every corner of this institution, and it is thriving in the wider community where new initiatives and economic development programs are exploring new technologies, advancing medical research, invigorating our cultural centers, and revitalizing downtown. I am particularly proud of the fact that in 2015, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) released their report of PCT international patent applications that showed Rochester placed in the top five U.S. universities for applications by women inventors.

Our commitment to innovation and entrepreneurship is also evident in the University’s new Barbara J. Burger iZone. Officially opening this fall, iZone is a newly renovated collaborative space in Rush Rhees Library, where students can work together to explore new solutions to social, economic, and cultural challenges and imagine new enterprises that could have lasting impacts on our institution and our world.

iZone director Julia Maddox provides a guided tour of the new media-rich space that is designed to foster collaboration, exploration, and learning.

Of course, most of the University’s entrepreneurial efforts involve the Ain Center for Entrepreneurship. Named in recognition of Class of 1967 alum Mark Ain and his wife Carolyn, the Center helps members of the University and greater Rochester community take their ideas and turn them into solutions for pressing social problems or valuable economic enterprises. By partnering with business, organizations, and entrepreneurs in the Rochester area and beyond, the Ain Center offers entrepreneurial expertise and important resources for collaboration, planning, and education. Those efforts result in business plan competitions, boot camps, technical challenges, the e5 (formerly KEY) program, Experts-in-Residence, and other initiatives aimed at transforming ideas into enterprises that create value. Also of special note are programs such as the Rochester Center for Community Leadership’s new Social Impact & Entrepreneurship Program, where students spend a semester in Washington, D.C. to develop the skills they need to be social entrepreneurs and find new ways to make the world ever better.

The spirit of Meliora is also inspiring innovation in some of the University’s most successful and established disciplines. This June, I attended the inaugural “Light Tomorrow Today” Demo Day event organized by Luminate, a startup business accelerator that provides resources and funding for entrepreneurs working in the photonics, optics, and imaging industries. As a program run by NextCorps, an affiliate organization of the University of Rochester, Luminate held the event near their offices at Sibley Square, where 10 finalist companies competed for $1 million in startup funding.

The winner of the $1 million award was the Boulder, Colorado business Double Helix, which uses new technology to turn two-dimensional images into high-resolution 3D information. As part of their award, Double Helix committed to operating out of Rochester for at least the next year and a half. Other winners that split a second million-dollar award included Intelon Optics Inc., Positive Science, Think Biosolution, and Molecular Glasses, Inc. Together they made an impressive showing, and their presence at the competition helped solidify Rochester, NY and NextCorps as emerging destinations for tech startups.

The University is proud to be an important part of Rochester’s entrepreneurial evolution. By marshaling the strength of interdisciplinary collaboration, we offer innovative programs of study such as the MS in Technical Entrepreneurship and Management (TEAM) program and the MS in Technical Entrepreneurship and Management in Biomanufacturing & Therapeutic Development that bring together expertise from all corners of the University, including the Department of Microbiology and ImmunologySimon Business School, and the Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Those collaborations help ensure our entrepreneurial graduates have the skills they need to positively impact their communities in a variety of ways.

Perhaps it’s not unusual that the University of Rochester shares a passion for entrepreneurship with the city it calls home. Together, we have been shaped by leaders, inventors, and visionaries who have changed how we view, illuminate, and imagine our world. I argue that it’s our mission to inspire and educate the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs.

Richard Feldman became president of the University of Rochester on March 1, 2018. A distinguished scholar, professor, and administrator at the University for more than 40 years, he is serving on an interim basis until a new president is selected. Feldman joined the University of Rochester in 1975 as a professor of philosophy. He chaired the philosophy department for 13 years before becoming dean of the College in 2006. He stepped down as dean of the College at the end of the 2016–17 academic year. He has received fellowships and grants from the Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Defense Education Act, and the American Council of Learned Societies. Feldman has a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and a PhD from UMass Amherst. 

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

Help Us Shape What’s Next

By Jim Senall (originally published on the NextCorps Blog)

Changes are coming to Rochester. Everywhere you look, there’s more life and more activity, especially in the heart of downtown. Here at NextCorps, we have both a new name and a new headquarters, and it’s thrilling to be a visible, centralized hub of startup activity for the community.

The last few months have been busy. We launched the first cohort of the Luminate Accelerator, educating 10 optics, photonics, and imaging teams through a rigorous and intensive program. One of those teams walked away with a one million dollar investment. We’ve been running the fifth cohort of NEXUS-NY, our clean energy accelerator. We’ve been onboarding new clients to join our incubator in the historic and newly revitalized Sibley Square. We’ve even been gearing up for a new program that will help clean technologies move from prototyping to mass production.

Our daily work with companies aims to help them accelerate their growth. The more company success we see, the more our region grows and prospers. We’re also striving to bring the broader startup ecosystem together, leveraging the many resources the Rochester area has to offer into something awesome. Plus, we’re working to disseminate good news and advice, and foster connections among entrepreneurs and their supporters.

But we can’t do it alone.

We want your involvement and input. If there’s a story you think needs to be told, a problem that should be addressed, or advice you want to share, we want you to let us know.

Join us—join the corps—and together, we’ll shape what’s next.

Jim Senall joined NextCorps as President in 2009, and in that capacity leads the NextCorps team towards their mission of creating entrepreneurship and innovation-based regional growth.  During his tenure at NextCorps, the organization has launched several new initiatives including a software accelerator program, clean tech accelerator, a statewide Entrepreneur-in-Residence program, and an optics, photonics, and imaging accelerator. Jim holds a B.S. in electrical engineering from Rochester Institute of Technology, and an M.B.A. in marketing and entrepreneurship from the Simon Business School, University of Rochester.

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

Highlights from NYC’s NextGen Summit

By Vlad Cazacu

After a 5-day intensive leadership institute in Oxford, Ohio, I packed a small suitcase, put my suit in a cover and my laptop in my bag and I was off to the airport. Just a couple hours later, the pilot announced that we landed in New York City. A wave of enthusiasm engulfed my body as I plunged into the sea of people travelling in and out of JFK. I spent the night thinking about the next day; I was still shocked that I had the luck to attend the NextGen Summit, a global conference “built for young entrepreneurs, by young entrepreneurs.”

As the day began, I shaved my face, put nice clothes on and jumped on the train to Manhattan. A whole chapter later, I closed my book and exited on the 6th Ave. People hurrying, jumping in and out of taxis, angry drivers on busy streets, tall buildings and crosswalks gave birth to an unconventional dance between humans and cars. There is something about New York City that makes you feel like you can be anyone and no one at the same time; it’s both empowering and humbling.

The first session took place at Galvanize, a hip and entrepreneurial co-working space on Spring Street. There we had the VIP Meet & Greet, where I got the chance to talk with Audrey Fonseca, founder of Guppy Ink. She shared the struggles that a small business owner faces in a small town. After conversations with a student author and a few startup studio founders, I was wondering why on Earth I was selected to be part of this amazing group.

That night I got the chance to grab dinner with Eric Koester at the Wagamama by the Madison Square Park. I was so excited to talk with him that my noodles got cold and I couldn’t even be upset. His advice on mentorship: find “supermentors,” not mentors. Everyone can give you advice, but few will get invested in your project and open their network to you; search for mutually beneficial collaborations. Also, I couldn’t write this article without mentioning a conversation that blew me away with the inspiring real estate investors and brothers, Jonathan and Ben Moschel. They started their own business years ago and now, at 20 years old, they are making great money out of real estate in Baltimore.

The second day was held at Convene, a conference center on 3rd Ave. Gifting the room with great energy was Jahleel Coleman, who officially opened the conference. He was followed by the witty and wise Peter Shankman who advised to have a plan for when you succeed too, not only for when you fail. Too many startups prepare for the worse and when the growth opportunity comes, they are taken by surprise and inevitably fail. Regarding opportunities, he said most of the time it’s not rocket science, “you just have to suck a little less, people expect crap service anyway” and gave a four-piece model to do so: transparency, relevance, brevity and top of mind. Swan Sit, VP of Global Digital Marketing at Nike, spoke about empathy and managing teams differently, emphasizing the need for genuine connection between co-workers. David Schurman then talked “fearless focus,” breaking down the psychology behind running a marathon and how it relates to the life of an entrepreneur.

Eric Koester on stage at NextGen Summit (taken by Talya Hailey).

Next, Eric Koester took the stage talking about creation events that build credibility. He crushed stereotypical measures of success and stressed the importance of flexibility and depth over prestige. According to Koester, “It’s what you do, not where you do it; you have to be able to prove depth and constantly ask yourself if you are one of the 5 smartest people on this planet about that particular topic.”

The last talk of the day was a conversation between the CEO of Girls Scouts of America, Sylvia Acevado, and the CFO of WealthFront, Ashley Johnson, about women in business and technology. One thing that stuck with me was advice Acevado received in her youth as a Girl Scout: “Never leave the site of a sale until you’ve heard NO at least 3 times.” Before heading back to prepare for day three, I had a one-on-one meeting with Max Schoenfeld, Co-founder & CEO of College Truckers, talking and sharing insights about startups targeting students.

Patrick Lee on stage at NextGen Summit (taken by Brandon C. Ballard).

The third and final day began with a VIP Networking Session. There I met Steve Malkowicz, who started a 3D-printing manufacturing startup while in college and now runs it as a full-time job. As a crowd we played a “Help Game,” where we rotated in different groups pitching our work to the other VIP guests with the goal of getting useful connections. That’s how I met Paul McNeal, Co-founder and President of, a super-connector who introduced me to someone working in the same ed-tech niche as us and provided great advice.

Speaking first was Patrick Lee, serial entrepreneur and Co-Founder of Rotten Tomatoes. Though he struggled throughout his entrepreneurial pursuits, he is a considerate and kind leader. His take on running a successful business? “Develop a great culture – it eats strategy for breakfast.” After Lee’s talk was a social entrepreneurship panel, highlighting funding channels for student entrepreneurs and how to match your visions with your startup practices.

The final panel discussion was about frontier technologies and young founders, where the most common theme was embracing the unknown and persisting in learning new things. The panelists mentioned tenacity as one of the most in demand skills of the 21st century, sharing that over 50% of companies in accelerators pivot their original businesses. My NGS experience closed with a talk amongst other student founders and the Silicon Valley Bank. I was amazed to hear the stories of amazing students starting business, ranging from sports-tech to student wellness to wig rentals to bakeries.

Vlad Cazacu at NextGen Summit (taken by Brandon C. Ballard).

Back on the subway to the airport, I could barely contain my enthusiasm. I was happy and inspired to continue growing the projects I am currently working on. I called Pavel, my co-founder, and chatted about development for over an hour. I want to thank the Ain Center for Entrepreneurship for sponsoring my attendance at this one of a kind conference, especially to Meghan Plate who informed me about this funding opportunity. I would also want to thank the NextGen team for inviting me to come and for organizing this amazing event, with special thanks to Rachel Gross who worked with me for over a month to get through the university bureaucracy and finally be able to get my ticket.

Vlad Cazacu is a junior pursuing a dual-degree in Business, concentrating in Entrepreneurship and Accounting, and Psychology. He is an entrepreneur, student leader, design thinking fellow, author and former barista. Vlad is also the co-founder and CEO of BarterOut, a pre-seed tech startup aimed at facilitating access to educational materials. Prior to this he co-founded a youth coaching startup and was a management consulting intern at Deloitte. He is now working on creating a tech entrepreneurial studio in Rochester to help bridge the gap between students with creative ideas and the real world market. Vlad is an independent researcher on the topic of innovation management and the author of Streamlining Innovation, publishing March 2019.