Category

Rochester

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

Student Series: Hector Carvajal

Making impact one cafecito at a time

By Fernanda Sesto, student Program Assistant

To continue with the Student Entrepreneur Series, I am super excited to share the story of Hector Castillo Carvajal.

I came across Hector’s profile a year ago when I was researching about the experience of minority entrepreneurs. As someone who considers herself a “coffee addict”, I was amazed by the idea of a fellow Yellowjacket (University of Rochester) starting a coffee brand. Moreover, as a proud Latina myself 🇺🇾, it was great to see a young Latino 🇩🇴 making his way into the coffee industry.

Hector is the founder of Don Carvajal Cafe, a specialty coffee brand based in South Bronx that brings the flavor of the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Costa Rica, Colombia and Brazil while being environmentally friendly and community oriented. He is a Business Marketing student at the University of Rochester who decided to take a leave of absence to focus on his business.

“In 2019, I was interning at an office in the Bronx and at that office there was a guy who used to brew coffee every morning and offer. It was really good coffee so one day I asked the guy “where can I buy this coffee? it’s really good and I want to bring some back home.” He said that it was a brand that the office used to work with but they didn’t sell it anymore. It was the first time I was having specialty coffee, I’d never had it before and you could taste the difference. So out of curiosity, I started researching the coffee industry. I was very intrigued, I looked at the numbers and they were huge. To me, it wasn’t about the money but it was about the opportunity.”

During the school year, Hector was taking Marketing 203: Principles of Marketing where he was assigned to work on a semester-long group project. The professor told the class to work on the creation of a business and marketing plan of either a company they come up with or one that already exists. Hector asked the professor if he could work on his coffee idea and once the professor was good with it, he pitched it to his group partners. The group didn’t have any other ideas in mind so they decided to move forward with it. Similarly to Shelley’s story, Hector’s classmates saw the project as an assignment only. However, he was serious about it.

“We researched the coffee industry, the demographics, how the market looked like and how we were gonna get out there. The strategy, what product we were gonna offer, what the pricing is and why we were gonna price it that way. We did all that. While I was doing all that (for the class), I was also doing personal stuff. I was going to the Ain Center and work on the Business Model Canvas. Also Simon (Business School) and the Center were having workshops on how to raise capital and how to pitch your idea. I would always go to those. I was also part of the Rochester Business Association and would learn about financial literacy too.”

Hector was going above and beyond for the class project. He wanted to make it a reality so he and the team applied to the Ain Center’s grant to build a prototype. That grant allowed them to buy some coffee beans, bags, and get them locally roasted. On top of that, the collaborative space at the University of Rochester “iZone” was hosting an event called “What’s your Big Idea?”

“I pitched my idea. No logo, no presentation, just 2 minutes of the idea. I pitched it, people loved it, judges had great feedback and they connected me with people who roast and are in the coffee game. Some people mentored me. That’s kind of how I started. It was the class, the Ain Center, and the iZone that took me to develop the idea and process it.”

After all the work Hector and the team put into the assignment, they got the highest grade and the best business plan. Impressively, after they presented the project, the class was eager to buy some coffee bags from them.

“Somebody was like “You guys have real coffee at the table, can I buy one of those?” and I was like What!? That’s crazy, she just wants to buy a bag. She asked me how much and I said “Well, the presentation said 17.95, that’s how much it costs.” So she gave me 20 and I didn’t have any change because I wasn’t expecting that but then she told me to keep it. And then other people started buying for 20 too. After that presentation, I went to my dorm and checked if the name Don Carvajal Cafe was available. I literally reserved it and then I did it; I started selling coffee.”

After reserving the company name Don Carvajal Cafe, Hector started advertising his coffee bags on Instagram. He encouraged his friends and acquaintances to support him and also get good quality coffee. As people started buying, Hector was able to save enough to build a website and expand the outreach. His goal? Supermarkets.

“During the summer, when I was interning for the College Board, I came down to the City. I was interning from 9–5 and then from 5–10, I was literally working on my coffee business. I would spend every weekend pitching to supermarkets and coffee shops. Coffee shops didn’t go too well but then when I got my first supermarket, it went really good. Then I got another one, and another one, and like that. Then it was the week before classes started again and I decided I was just gonna stay.”

Starting and managing any business is a lot. Particularly, for the coffee industry, the roasting, packaging, and distribution is very tied to the physical labor and it is very intense. Given that Hector didn’t raise capital to hire a full team, he knew that coming back to Rochester would make it impossible for him to continue running Don Carvajal Cafe. In his words, “when you are bootstrapping, you don’t get that luxury.”

Advice for students

“Properly do your research. Do something that you are passionate about. If you are not passionate about what you do, if you are just doing it for the money and not for the passion, as soon as something like COVID-19 happens, you are gonna give up. When something wrong happens, you might quit because you are not thinking about the passion and the long-term. It’s the idea of leading with passion and actually researching your industry very well, make sure there’s an opportunity out there too. It might be crazy to a lot of people but the idea is that if you really think it’s worth it, and you believe in yourself and your passion then that’s it.”

Hector is a wonderful young man. Every time I talk to him, I learn a new perspective and a new way of looking at entrepreneurship. I hope you enjoy his story and I hope you get to try his coffee at some point!

Want to be featured in our entrepreneur series? Sign up here!

Fernanda Sesto ’23 is majoring in business analytics at the University of Rochester. She is a student founder and works as a program assistant in the Ain Center for Entrepreneurship.

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

Student Series: Shelley Chen

Bringing job shadowing opportunities to young professionals

By Fernanda Sesto, student Program Assistant

As a Program Assistant at the Ain Center for Entrepreneurship, I often come across a variety of entrepreneur profiles. From local founders of small businesses in Rochester, to UR researchers who started their own companies. I always find myself amazed by the incredible ventures these people are leading. However, I have to admit that the entrepreneur profile that intrigues me the most is the student one: how can someone manage to get a product or service to market successfully while taking college courses and not having tons of experience?

To answer this question, I’ve decided to write a series of student entrepreneurs spotlights. The purpose is to share the story of these passionate and ambitious students who are making an impact while pursuing their own studies. I hope this series can help other students who are leading their ventures or those who are thinking of starting a new business.

To launch the series, I interviewed Shelley Chen (‘20), a recent graduate at the University of Rochester who majored in International Relations and Business Entrepreneurship. She also participated in the e-5 Program which is a tuition-free program at the University of Rochester for graduates who propose to start a business or a project.

Shelley is the founder of Yolo Shadow, a shadowing marketplace that connects local organizations and businesses with travelers who look for authentic work experiences.

“I started Yolo Shadow two years ago as a class project when I was taking a very general entrepreneurship class. We were asked to do a group project to try to launch a business. By that time, I had just taken a trip to Hawaii where I got to job shadow a Ukelele instrument maker. So I got to see how a Ukelele was made in the most traditional way possible, using the local wood material. I learned how to use those materials to construct a Ukelele. I got to shadow this Ukelele maker for half a day and it was the best thing that happened during my trip.”

Later, Shelley realized that when she travels she prefers to really get to know the local culture of the places and that she doesn’t like going to the most touristic places. That’s how she got inspired to develop Yolo Shadow.

“Yolo Shadow is a marketplace where you can try any jobs in the world. At least that’s how we started, but then we realized this mission is kind of too big. So we toned it down to job shadowing with small business owners who actually started a craft store, an art shop, etc. I find those stories more personal, and it’s the art and visual aspect that makes the experience more interesting.”

Yolo Shadow currently has a team of eight students, Shelley included. They are split between the business team and the tech team in which UX/UI designers and developers work together. On the business side, they mainly focused on doing customer discovery so they interviewed a wide range of small business owners from photographers, artists, manufacturing companies, architects, and even henna tattoo artists. The purpose was to gain an understanding of what type of experiences could work best for Yolo Shadow. On the tech side, Shelley mentions that she didn’t bring anyone on board until she was sure the platform could actually bring value to the market. The first tech person to join was the UX/UI designer and by now they already have their MVP.

“I noticed at the end of the class that most of my classmates took the project just as a class project; they didn’t do any interview, they didn’t talk to any customer, they did some research online, put together a Power Point and submit it for a grade. I didn’t want Yolo Shadow to just be a letter grade. Actually, the people I worked on this for the class decided to not continue with it after so I had to recruit again. It took a lot of convincing, I had to talk to a lot friends and think “who can I bring on board?”, “who has the skills to make this a real thing?” . It was very hectic of course but it’s something I feel really passionate about so I would feel very comfortable just pitching it to my friends in the cafeteria.”

Shelley found the first developer while having lunch at one of the dining halls. She saw a lot of students asking him very technical questions and she thought he could be a very good person to be the technical lead. Then, she decided to pitch the idea to him right away and fortunately he agreed to join the team.

“Finding a team was definitely one of the most challenging things. Time management and scheduling was not a problem because I feel really passionate about this project so it comes natural to me.”

Yolo Shadow received funding from University of Rochester grants. They also participated in the Innov8 program in which they got a $3,000 grant, the Forbes Entrepreneurial Competition in which they were awarded $1,000, and the Regional Economic Development grant which was $1,000 as well. Shelley mentions that she decided to not raise venture capital because she’s working on Yolo Shadow part-time, thus as long as everyone on the team feels comfortable bootstrapping, they will continue like that.

Advice for students

“If you are looking to start a small business or a tech startup, I would say the most important thing is to identify a problem to solve. There is a lot of cool technology but if that piece of technology doesn’t solve a problem, you are not gonna be able to build a sustainable solution. When I started this project, I didn’t put all the resources into building something. Even though building something is very cool and exciting, you wanna make sure you’re building something that solves a problem. Customer discovery is something you have to be very patient with, listen to what your customers are saying, always get feedback right away so that you know you are building something customers really want.”

I had a wonderful talk with Shelley. She was very open and genuine with her story. I hope you enjoyed the reading and it inspired you as much as it inspired me!

 

Want to be featured in our entrepreneur series? Sign up here!

Fernanda Sesto ’23 is majoring in business analytics at the University of Rochester. She is a student founder and works as a program assistant in the Ain Center for Entrepreneurship.

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

Startup Bytes featuring Roc the Business of Art

By Ain Center Staff

Pre-pandemic, the Ain Center would host in-person lunches each month, convening faculty, staff and students to explore different topics in entrepreneurship. Because gathering on campus currently is a no-go, the Ain Center has created Startup Bytes – a digital brown bag lunch series open to students, faculty, staff, and anyone else who would like to join. Each month, a different speaker or group shares their entrepreneurial experience via Zoom, with time for Q&A with attendees.

The second Startup Bytes event featured the three community organizers of the Roc the Business of Art workshop series: Amanda Chestnut (owner of A Lynn Ceramics, adjunct faculty at St. John Fisher College, and member of the Roc Arts United Steering Committee), Annette Jimenez Gleason (Program Officer/Vitality for the Rochester Area Community Foundation), and Annette Ramos (teaching artist and founder of Rochester Latino Theatre Co.). Amanda, Annette, and Annette worked with staff at Eastman’s Institute for Music Leadership, ROC Arts United, and the Ain Center to organize the webinars, which were designed to teach artists important business skills and how to thrive even during a pandemic. During Startup Bytes, they discussed the importance of entrepreneurial resources for artists and ensuring that all offerings are accessible and inclusive.

In 2017, the Eastman School of Music received a grant allowing them to explore cities with vibrant arts communities, with the intention of applying their learnings to the revitalization of the greater Rochester area. The project – originally titled Music on Main – became Arts in the Loop, complete with a broader strategy and more inclusive vision.

As Arts in the Loop grew throughout 2018, the leadership team based at Eastman created a steering committee comprised of University, corporate, and community representatives, though not without struggle. Amanda, Annette, and Annette shared that there was friction at first; leaders in the artist communities saw gaps in offerings or noted that the proposed programs wouldn’t speak to the needs of Rochester artists and creative entrepreneurs. Artist engagement committees were created to address these issues and to amplify the voices, particularly of BIPOC folks, of those who are too often left out of strategic conversations.

One pain point identified by the committees was a lack of entrepreneurial training for artists, which has since become a key aspect of the Arts in the Loop initiative. Throughout 2019 and into 2020, the community leaders created a survey and gathered information from artists to understand their needs and who they wanted to learn from, both pivotal to developing trust and legitimacy within existing artist spaces in Rochester. Following the conversations with potential participants, Amanda, Annette, and Annette worked with University of Rochester staff at Eastman’s Institute for Music Leadership and the Ain Center to develop a robust series of professional development workshops (originally intended to be held in-person, but moved online for safety reasons).

Roc the Business of Art has seen great interest and engagement throughout the past two months. Workshop leaders have shared best practices and tips on topics ranging from website development to sharing your work in a COVID world. Annette Ramos said it well: when you’re an entrepreneurial artist, “your hustle is your art and your art is your hustle.” Learning these skills allows artists to build their brand, grow their networks, and, ultimately, expand their impact.

Roc the Business of Art flyer

The final Roc the Business of Art workshop will take place this weekend, but that doesn’t appear to be the end of the partnership between these community leaders and the U of R. In fact, Amanda, Annette, and Annette envision an even more robust system of support for artists who wish to develop entrepreneurial skills and networks. In the meantime, they recommend supporting local artists/small business owners, building community, and encouraging creative thinking – all valuable insights for artists and entrepreneurs alike.

We’d like to again offer our thanks to Amanda, Annette, and Annette for sharing their time and expertise with us this month.

Though shared above, the full recording of the October 16 event can also be found on our Vimeo page. Be sure to tune in on November 20 for the next edition of Startup Bytes, which will feature Kate Cartini, Partner at Chloe Capital, a VC firm that invests in women-led companies. If you have any questions, contact AinCFE@rochester.edu.

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

Buzz Lab Special Edition Workshops Begin

By Ain Center Staff

On Tuesday, October 6, the Ain Center hosted the first webinar in the Buzz Lab Special Edition: Managing through Uncertainty series. Designed to help entrepreneurs and business owners operate under the uncertainty of our current public health crisis, these workshops run from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesdays from October 6 through November 3. This program is supported by a University Center grant from the Economic Development Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The first workshop featured Gemma Sole ’09 and Jason Barrett, who shared their experiences of pivoting business models during times of crisis. Though their businesses are quite different (Gemma’s company, N.A.bld is a design-to-delivery production platform for digital brands of the future; Jason’s Black Button Distilling is a distillery in Rochester), Gemma and Jason both had to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in unexpected ways.

Gemma Sole, co-founder and COO of N.A.bld.

Jason Barrett, president of Black Button Distilling.

The remaining workshops in the series will explore similarly important topics:

Those interested in participating in the upcoming webinars can register online, browse the schedule, and learn more about the presenters on our Buzz Lab Special Edition webpageOnce you register, you’ll also receive links to any workshops you miss, including Tuesday’s session featuring Gemma and Jason.

Are you an entrepreneur or small business owner looking for additional resources through the Ain Center? Explore our website and be sure to check out the Buzz Lab Boot Camp program, as well as our Experts-in-Residence, who provide free 30-minute advising sessions. If you have any questions, please contact AinCFE@rochester.edu!

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

NSF I-Corps Regional Course @ UR

By Ain Center Staff

Are you a researcher in a STEM-related field? Interested in applying your technologies to solve real-world problems? If yes, the upcoming NSF I-Corps Regional Course at the University of Rochester may be just what you need.

NSF I-Corps Regional Courses enable graduate students, doctoral candidates, post-docs, and faculty in STEM-related fields to “get out of the lab” and learn from potential customers; in addition to providing entrepreneurial training, this program helps researchers identify new ways to apply their current or future research to solve real-life challenges.

Regional Courses run for 3.5 weeks (ours will begin on Monday, October 19 and wrap up Wednesday, November11) and include 8 online meetings/training sessions. They are free to participate in and those who complete the training will have the opportunity to be recommended for the NSF I-Corps National Teams program, which offers grant awards of up to $50,000. Previous NSF funding is NOT required to apply.

Interesting in applying? Visit the UNY I-Corps Node website for details. If you have questions or concerns, please contact Matthew Spielmann.

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

Startup Bytes featuring UR Health Lab

By Ain Center Staff

Pre-pandemic, the Ain Center would host in-person lunches each month, convening faculty, staff and students to explore different topics in entrepreneurship. Because gathering on campus currently is a no-go, the Ain Center has created Startup Bytes – a digital brown bag lunch series open to students, faculty, staff, and anyone else who would like to join. Each month, a different speaker or group shares their entrepreneurial experience via Zoom, with time for Q&A with attendees. September 18 marked the first Startup Bytes event, featuring UR Health Lab.

The UR Health Lab exists at the intersection of data science and medicine, where clinicians and researchers work alongside data scientists, computer scientists and electrical and computer engineers. A collaboration between the UR Medical Center and the College of Arts, Sciences & Engineering, they devise breakthrough systems that incorporate the most advanced technological practices to develop precision medicine that improves the lives of patients. Co-Director Michael Hasselberg and Lead Data Scientist Jack Teitel joined us on September 18 to speak about their role in the current public health crisis.

As a digital health incubator, the UR Health Lab team is used to testing various solutions to issues in the medical industry. In pre-pandemic times, leaders at URMC would identify a gap in the healthcare system that could be solved with technology. Once identified, the individual or department would be referred to the Health Lab and, if selected, interdisciplinary teams would tackle the problem using a powerful combination of medical expertise and data prowess. The overarching goal of their work is often to connect the ends of the value chain, according to Michael, directly linking clinicians and caregivers to patients. While this usually involves the calculated use of technology and plenty of iteration, the pandemic provided a new challenge of responding quickly while still producing the high-quality solution that is characteristic of the Health Lab’s work.

When the situation became dire in March, URMC wanted to provide a way for concerned employees to talk with experienced healthcare providers, both to provide guidance on testing and to assuage concerns for the “worried well” (people not experiencing symptoms but concerned about their wellbeing). The first measure enacted was a call hotline – Med Center employees could call in, report symptoms, and speak with a health professional if needed. Though effective, the hotline was quickly overwhelmed and so UR Health Lab was tapped to create a tech-based solution that could handle more users and still collect the same information. Just a few days later came Dr. Chatbot, a tool that would ask questions about symptoms and travel, while providing healthcare professionals with a way to follow up if needed. Over 7,000 individuals used Dr. Chatbot within the first week and call volume dropped by 50%, relieving the pressure on clinicians running the phones.

Once the tech had been created and adapted to fit the needs of the institution (including the broader University of Rochester community), UR Health Lab worked with Rochester Regional Health, Monroe County, the City of Rochester, and Common Ground Health to increase their reach and track COVID data throughout the greater Rochester area with ROC Covid-19. Over 52,000 individuals have since signed up to share their symptoms (or lack thereof), allowing data scientists and healthcare professionals to track the virus’s spread in our region. UR Health Lab also made the software code available to other entities as open source software, enabling tracking in other areas or by other employers.

Within their story are threads of collaboration, scalability, and, of course, entrepreneurial thinking. The agility of both the tech and the team behind it enabled a local solution to create reliable datasets and, ergo, the evidence for public health leaders to make informed decisions for the area. Further, acclaim for ROC Covid-19 has come from throughout the region and the nation: UR Health Lab has since been asked to work with the prestigious XPrize Foundation leadership to find unconventional solutions to pandemic threats.

Though there was an all-hands-on-deck urgency for their pandemic response, UR Health Lab also has other ongoing projects and goals. In addition to their specific projects, the Health Lab provides training for providers, works with students (largely from the U of R and RIT), and spreads the word about the benefits of connecting medicine and data science.

Individuals who are prepared to think creatively and bring those ideas to fruition are called to action in times of crisis, especially when they can synthesize skillsets and utilize the talents of their team. We’d like to again offer our thanks to Michael and Jack for exemplifying how to effectively tackle a pressing problem, and for sharing the impressive and innovative work of UR Health Lab.

Though shared above, the full recording of the September 16 event can also be found on our Vimeo page. Be sure to tune in on October 16 for the next edition of Startup Bytes, which will feature a discussion with the community organizers of the Roc the Business of Art program. If you have any questions, contact AinCFE@rochester.edu.

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

Startup Bytes featuring UR Health Lab

By Ain Center Staff

Pre-pandemic, the Ain Center would host in-person lunches each month, convening faculty, staff and students to explore different topics in entrepreneurship. Because gathering on campus currently is a no-go, the Ain Center has created Startup Bytes – a digital brown bag lunch series open to students, faculty, staff, and anyone else who would like to join. Each month, a different speaker or group shares their entrepreneurial experience via Zoom, with time for Q&A with attendees. September 18 marked the first Startup Bytes event, featuring UR Health Lab.

The UR Health Lab exists at the intersection of data science and medicine, where clinicians and researchers work alongside data scientists, computer scientists and electrical and computer engineers. A collaboration between the UR Medical Center and the College of Arts, Sciences & Engineering, they devise breakthrough systems that incorporate the most advanced technological practices to develop precision medicine that improves the lives of patients. Co-Director Michael Hasselberg and Lead Data Scientist Jack Teitel joined us on September 18 to speak about their role in the current public health crisis.

As a digital health incubator, the UR Health Lab team is used to testing various solutions to issues in the medical industry. In pre-pandemic times, leaders at URMC would identify a gap in the healthcare system that could be solved with technology. Once identified, the individual or department would be referred to the Health Lab and, if selected, interdisciplinary teams would tackle the problem using a powerful combination of medical expertise and data prowess. The overarching goal of their work is often to connect the ends of the value chain, according to Michael, directly linking clinicians and caregivers to patients. While this usually involves the calculated use of technology and plenty of iteration, the pandemic provided a new challenge of responding quickly while still producing the high-quality solution that is characteristic of the Health Lab’s work.

When the situation became dire in March, URMC wanted to provide a way for concerned employees to talk with experienced healthcare providers, both to provide guidance on testing and to assuage concerns for the “worried well” (people not experiencing symptoms but concerned about their wellbeing). The first measure enacted was a call hotline – Med Center employees could call in, report symptoms, and speak with a health professional if needed. Though effective, the hotline was quickly overwhelmed and so UR Health Lab was tapped to create a tech-based solution that could handle more users and still collect the same information. Just a few days later came Dr. Chatbot, a tool that would ask questions about symptoms and travel, while providing healthcare professionals with a way to follow up if needed. Over 7,000 individuals used Dr. Chatbot within the first week and call volume dropped by 50%, relieving the pressure on clinicians running the phones.

Once the tech had been created and adapted to fit the needs of the institution (including the broader University of Rochester community), UR Health Lab worked with Rochester Regional Health, Monroe County, the City of Rochester, and Common Ground Health to increase their reach and track COVID data throughout the greater Rochester area with ROC Covid-19. Over 52,000 individuals have since signed up to share their symptoms (or lack thereof), allowing data scientists and healthcare professionals to track the virus’s spread in our region. UR Health Lab also made the software code available to other entities as open source software, enabling tracking in other areas or by other employers.

Within their story are threads of collaboration, scalability, and, of course, entrepreneurial thinking. The agility of both the tech and the team behind it enabled a local solution to create reliable datasets and, ergo, the evidence for public health leaders to make informed decisions for the area. Further, acclaim for ROC Covid-19 has come from throughout the region and the nation: UR Health Lab has since been asked to work with the prestigious XPrize Foundation leadership to find unconventional solutions to pandemic threats.

Though there was an all-hands-on-deck urgency for their pandemic response, UR Health Lab also has other ongoing projects and goals. In addition to their specific projects, the Health Lab provides training for providers, works with students (largely from the U of R and RIT), and spreads the word about the benefits of connecting medicine and data science.

Individuals who are prepared to think creatively and bring those ideas to fruition are called to action in times of crisis, especially when they can synthesize skillsets and utilize the talents of their team. We’d like to again offer our thanks to Michael and Jack for exemplifying how to effectively tackle a pressing problem, and for sharing the impressive and innovative work of UR Health Lab.

Though shared above, the full recording of the September 16 event can also be found on our Vimeo page. Be sure to tune in on October 16 for the next edition of Startup Bytes, which will feature a discussion with the community organizers of the Roc the Business of Art program. If you have any questions, contact AinCFE@rochester.edu.

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

COVID-19 Challenge Accepted

By Matthew Cook (re-published with permission from the author; originally published on UR River Campus Libraries website)

One of the most devastating aspects of COVID-19 is its ubiquity. Everyone who is not battling the virus itself is living in its shadow. That omnipresent threat has wreaked havoc on almost every aspect of everyday life.

For example, slowing the coronavirus’s spread has required businesses and organizations to adopt crippling, if not ruinous, physical distancing practices. And Rochester’s professional community has not been immune to this adversity. In typical fashion, the University of Rochester embraced the problem as an opportunity for innovation. The problem became the COVID-19 Challenge.

A collaboration between the Ain Center for EntrepreneurshipBarbara J. Burger iZoneGrand Challenges Scholars ProgramGreene Center for Career Education and Connections, and Rochester Center for Community Leadership, the challenge was created to give students the opportunity to build competencies and gain valuable experience while fighting the effects that the pandemic is having on the City of Rochester.

THE CHALLENGE

Working in teams, students have 10 days to develop ways to address an actual problem faced by one of four community partners.

THE PRIZE

$1500 to first place

$500 to the runner-up

Deniz Cengiz ʼ21, a Karp Library Fellow at iZone, explained that at the outset, they were preparing for a competition that would include one community partner and as many as 10 teams. Then they opened registration, and it blew up.

“I think we had about 150 applications,” says Cengiz, who served as the community partner liaison. “We had PhD students from the Medical Center. We had all levels of undergrads. We had incoming freshmen who hadn’t even been to Rochester yet. We really weren’t expecting this many students, and realized we had to add more partners.”

When the dust settled, there were around 42 teams—about 10 for each community partner, who had specific problems students had to address. And it quickly became clear that the community partners were as enthusiastic about and engaged in this challenge as the students.

“They were incredibly involved,” says Cengiz of the partners. “I would say they gave 20 to 25 hours of their time over the 10-day period. They deserve a lot of credit.”

Drawing of folks in masks contributing to a central diagram

Students used the 20-plus hours given by the partners on problem-solving communication. That communication included email correspondence and “office hours,” which served as dedicated time for teams to get more information about the organization, more details about the organization’s problem, and to talk through some initial ideas for solutions.

In the end, there may have only been two official winners, but it’s clear there were no losers. Even the teams who didn’t come out on top were grateful for having the close working experience with their respective organizations. The partners equally enjoyed collaborating with the students. Cengiz shared that feedback on the challenge was “overwhelmingly positive.”

“Basically, everybody wants to keep working together,” says Cengiz.

The challenge ended with a “pitch day,” where all the teams gave presentations to their respective organizations. Each organization then chose a finalist from their group, who would pitch to all the partners at once. Finally, the partners choose the top two from the final four. Those teams were…

THE WINNER

Team Duo

Team members: Casey Ryu ʼ21 and Ilene Kang ʼ21

Community partner: 540WMain, Inc.

PROBLEM

540WMain needed to completely reimagine their normally in-person Gentrification Conference for a virtual space, in a way that would retain their audience, create discussion and connection opportunities, and deliver engaging content. This year’s theme was to be “Resisting Gentrification: Then & Now.”

SOLUTION

Lean into the theme. Team Duo proposed extending the conference from one to two days. The extra day allowed the conference to focus entire days on concepts of “Then” and “Now” by walking through four topic areas—investment and policy, demystifying inner cities, landlord and renter relationships, and health and gentrification (pre- and post-COVID). The result was a mix of talks and activities with virtual and in-person options.

ACTIVITY EXAMPLE

Redesign a gentrified city using Legos (in-person) or take a virtual Google Street View-Tour through gentrified areas—then and now.

TALK EXAMPLE

Health issues exacerbated by COVID-19 in communities of color.

POST-CHALLENGE REFLECTIONS

“This was a great way—even virtually, from across the country—that a bunch of students could come together and try and develop ideas for these different partner organizations,” says Ryu.

Ryu and Kang are now officially part of the planning committee for the conference, which has been rescheduled for April 9 and 10, 2021.

“I was immediately impressed by their thoughtful questions and attention to detail,” said Calvin Eaton, founder and director of 540WMain, Inc. “It was clear their enthusiasm was genuine and that they had an interest in working with 540 beyond the scope of the challenge. Their professionalism and creativity truly made them stand out.”

THE RUNNER UP

Team BriKarSoo

Team members: Brian Perez ʼ22, Karlin Li ʼ22, and Soomin Park ʼ23

Community partner: Westside Farmers Market

PROBLEM

Adhering to COVID-19 guidelines has resulted in the loss of many fun aspects of the market (live music, the children’s tent, bike repair, etc.) that usually draw crowds, creating an imminent need for ways to bring in new customers and encourage regular customers to return. There’s also a great need for additional volunteers.

SOLUTION

A multi-pronged approach that raises awareness of the market’s existence, educates potential visitors on how the market is functioning safely, and inspires engagement.

EDUCATION EXAMPLE

A video that creates the customer experience to provide a preview of what being at the market will be like.

ENGAGEMENT EXAMPLE

Various activities, including raffles and guessing competitions (think, jelly bean counting).

POST-CHALLENGE REFLECTIONS

“It was really fun to come up with an original idea that would help people in the Rochester community,” said Karlin.

“It was great working with them,” says Lauren Caruso. “They contacted possible partners and made connections we wouldn’t have. They also gave us some great ideas; we are implementing several of them to make our market better.”

For more information on the COVID-19 Challenge, contact Deniz Cengiz at dcengiz@u.rochester.edu. If you would like to hear more about the proposal for 540WMain contact, Casey Ryu at cryu@u.rochester.edu, and for the Westside Farmers Market proposal, contact Karlin Li at kli27@u.rochester.edu.

Matthew Cook is the senior communications officer for the libraries and collections at the University of Rochester. He is also the writer and editor for the libraries’ monthly newsletter, Tower Talk.

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

Finally, We Have Reached Our Nexus!

By Dr. Lomax R. Campbell  (re-published with permission from the author; originally published on Nexus i90)

Small business travelers and fellow resource partners, welcome to the official blog spot for Nexus i90 Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Solutions! Nexus i90 is your on-ramp to the digital highway, connecting a host of small business resources across the Finger Lakes Region. Powered by SourceLink®, the platform was launched to make support resources more accessible and easier to use so small businesses in our community can enjoy equitable growth and inclusiveness as Rochester ventures along the road to economic recovery.

What’s in a Name?

Everything! The naming of a thing can speak to where it has historically been, where it currently is, or where it aspires to be. These solutions have been so named because Rochester is literally the nexus (i.e., at the center; the connecting point) of Buffalo and Syracuse along Interstate 90—the longest interstate in the nation. This positioning presents tremendous economic development opportunities for small businesses seeking to launch, sustain, expand, and matter to the multicultural communities that make up these regions. It is in this spirit that we endeavor to be a catalyst for sustainable community-based economic development and inter-municipal policy alignment.

How We Do Things ’Round Here

Fueled by deep levels of collaboration between the City of Rochester – Mayor’s Office of Community Wealth Building, Rochester Institute of Technology’s Center for Urban Entrepreneurship, Rochester Economic Development Corporation, and the Business Insight Center at the Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County, our work across the Finger Lakes is driven by our Guiding Principles.

Nexus i90 Website

Small Businesses for the Win

Nexus i90 is publicly available to entrepreneurs/small businesses, resource partners, and the diverse community stakeholders vested in the viability and success of “the underdog” (i.e., small businesses). We hope you all will take advantage of this phenomenal suite of solutions, including:

  • Resource Navigator
  • An Events Calendar
  • Blog
  • A Hotline (soon)
  • Tons of information about starting, growing, and funding small businesses
  • A data system for tracking and measuring the success of our network

Resources that help businesses build better business models, determine which activities increase their return on investment, put them on the map, and help them navigate government contracting are but a few examples of the many supports provided by our network. You can see a more impressive list on our About page.

A Little Network Lingo

Borrowing a few words from our friends at SourceLink®: A Resource Partner is typically a nonprofit, government or educational organization that offers a service to help someone start or grow a business. These organizations provide value for all different kinds of entrepreneurs, typically for low or no cost.

Frequently, Resource Partners include some for-profit organizations such as incubators, accelerators, coworking spaces and equity providers.

Typically, the network does NOT include for profit resources such as bankers, accountants, lawyers, insurance agents, [and] management consultants. While these resources are an important part of an overall entrepreneurial ecosystem, especially for high-growth companies, they are difficult to “vet” and are perhaps not in line with the low cost/no cost message.

Keeping us Community Centered

Check back with us from time-to-time for future posts. As we get things moving, it is our intent to post regularly. Readers will enjoy insights provided by our regional collaborators, subject matter experts, residential community members, and directly from entrepreneurs/small business owners. We hope to field your requests for blog topics through our Facebook and Twitter pages. Keep in mind we are here to help entrepreneurs, resource partners, small business organizers/advocates, policymakers, and entrepreneurial ecosystem builders navigate the road ahead.

Dr. Lomax R. Campbell is the Director of the Mayor’s Office of Community Wealth Building at the City of Rochester. He has 17 years of experience in small business, higher education, and government administration. His expertise includes strategic management, ethnic psychology, urban entrepreneurship, technology innovation, economic and workforce development. He holds a Doctor of Management degree from the University of Maryland Global Campus, an Executive MBA degree from Rochester Institute of Technology, and a certificate in Leading Economic Growth from Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

Welcome Back!

By Ain Center Staff

There is no question that this fall will be complex, but the Ain Center is ready to move forward, and to provide the support and resources necessary to innovation. We are still accomplishing our goals of education and engagement, even though that looks a bit different this semester.

OPERATIONS

For now, Ain Center staff will be working remotely to comply with the University’s de-densification policies. Don’t worry, though – we are available to assist as usual! If you are on campus and stop by our office, you’ll see our contact information, as well as who to contact about each of our programs. Some of us have Calendly links available, but feel free to send an email if you’re unsure of who to connect with. If you aren’t on campus, all of our contact information can be found on the Meet the Staff page of our website, and each of our programs has a contact listed. This may change or be updated throughout the semester, so stay tuned to our e-newsletter and social media channels.

EVENTS

As usual, we are hosting or co-hosting plenty of events to help build entrepreneurial interest and skills. Our Events Calendar is up to date, and will have the latest information for attendees. All of our events will be offered digitally and we plan to share recordings of most of them, so those who aren’t able to attend can still watch and learn.

NEW (& UPDATED) PROGRAMS

In addition to full-scale digitization of our daily operations and existing programs, the Ain Center has also added a few new programs and updated others to keep up with the needs of those we serve. New for fall 2020, we have created Innov8 – an 8-week entrepreneurial training and grant program, open to all UR folks (including faculty and staff!). We’re also excited about our expansion of advising and mentorship opportunities. In the past, we’ve offered Expert-in-Residence office hours. Now, we’ll still be hosting EIR hours, and also adding Community Connectors (folks who can help with networking) and Mentors (experienced entrepreneurs who provide 1:1 guidance with UR students).

Another update is to our monthly lunches for students, faculty, and staff. These used to be separate events, but we want to foster the UR entrepreneurial community during these times of distant learning, so to do so, we’re combining these events into Startup Bytes: A Digital Brown Bag Lunch with Entrepreneurs. Startup Bytes is open to everyone in the UR community and beyond. Also for the greater Rochester community, we’ll be offering workshops aimed to help business owners work through impacts of the pandemic – more info on that to come.

The rest of our programs for this fall can be found throughout our website, and important deadlines and event info are on the Events Calendar.

Life looks a little more pixelated this fall, but that doesn’t change the real impact of entrepreneurship. We’ll see you soon.

Keep up to date by signing up for our e-newsletterHave questions about this fall, or would like to meet with Ain Center staff about a project you’re working on? Contact AinCFE@rochester.edu and we’ll be in touch.