By | Innovation, People, Rochester

We Made it Through

Spring 2019!

By Ain Center Staff

Spring 2019 had a recurring theme: no one can build anything alone. Entrepreneurs need a solid team behind them every step of the way, as evidenced throughout our workshops, lectures, and competitions. In case you missed anything, below is a summary of some events we hosted or co-hosted this semester.

Monthly Faculty & Staff Luncheons

Each month, the Ain Center hosts a luncheon open to faculty and staff from throughout the University. These lunches provide insight into the Rochester entrepreneurial ecosystem and allow everyone with an interest in innovation to meet up on a regular basis. This spring we learned about Eastman offerings in music entrepreneurship, the importance of work space and the future of co-working via the Evelo Agency, resources available through Upstate Venture Connect, and RIT’s Accelerator program, where two of our student teams will be in residence this summer. We’d also like to thank our speakers: James Doser, Rachel Roberts, Joseph VanderStel, Christopher Cooley, Nasir Ali, Anthony Testa, Rupa Thind, and Evan Vershay.


Problem Solving Workshop

The first workshop of 2019 was co-hosted with Eastman’s Institute for Music Leadership and the Barbara J. Burger iZone – here’s our recap!

Business Plan Workshop

Business plan writing isn’t always easy, but speaker David Mammano summed up the process in a few manageable steps.

Students 2 Startups

This semester brought Students 2 Startups back to the River Campus. On February 15, the Ain Center and the Gwen Greene Center hosted 16 regional startups who pitched their venture to members of the University community. Over 70 attendees were able to learn about innovative work happening in Rochester. The Ain Center’s Senior Program Manager, Matt Spielmann, shared his excitement about the connections made during the event – local entrepreneurs offered valuable internship opportunities and advice to student innovators.

Buzz Lab Boot Camp

In February, we welcomed our second cohort of entrepreneurs to the Buzz Lab Boot Camp, made possible by an EDA University Center grant through the US Department of Commerce. Open to all, this four-week training program covered topics from Idea Filtering to Business Structure and Tax Law. 35 attendees (innovators from the greater Rochester area, including a few UR students) worked with 12 professionals to build their business acumen.

Business Strategy Panel Event

On March 28, Meliora LaunchPad, the Greene Center, and the Ain Center hosted three panelists for a lunch event on business strategy in the tech world. Aditya Agashe (Product Manager, Microsoft), Parth Detroja (Product Manager, Facebook), and Neel Mehta (Product Manager, Google) discussed when and how to enter a new market, as well as their recent book, Swipe to Unlock. Their talk was immensely popular with our students, undergraduate and grad, and the speakers even offered discounted copies of their book.

Upon writing, we realized that we did too many things (yay entrepreneurship events!) to contain it all in one post. You can find Part II here.

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

UB Case Competition

By Xueying “Shelley” Chen (with Carolina Lion He and Shengyang “Shawn” Wu)

In April, Team Calorie Surplus participated in the University at Buffalo Case Competition, where each team was given a business case to solve. The assigned case – whether or not a Chinese-born entrepreneur, Jane, should enter the pearl market in Canada – required analysis and a presentation to a panel of judges. During the semi-final round of the competition, these presentations were twenty-minutes long, followed by a ten-minute Q&A session. The team, made up of Shengyang “Shawn” Wu, Xueying “Shelley” Chen, and Carolina Lion He, said it was an intellectually stimulating experience because every minute they were challenged to come up with solutions, supported by valid evidence.

Team Calorie Surplus during the University at Buffalo’s Case Competition.

We booked a bus to Buffalo and checked into the hotel. The first day was hosted at the Buffalo Club, a private club with a long history (we heard it was once connected to the White House when President Reagan was in the office). The welcome event was a great networking opportunity where we connected with professionals who work at Bank of America, Citibank, and Deloitte. We also spoke to MBA students who had ample work experience.

While we did not advance to the final competition, we learned plenty of lessons from people we were fortunate to meet at the competition. Below, we will tell you some key takeaways from our experiences and participation in this competition.

The team in Buffalo (from left to right): Xueying “Shelley” Chen ’19, Carolina Lion He ’21, and Shengyang “Shawn” Wu ’21.

Networking in a Formal Business Setting

We built genuine relationships at the reception, where we connected with other participants as well as professionals (and later through LinkedIn). One of the lessons we learned from a Vice President in a large financial firm is to always follow up with someone on Linkedin. She told us of a student who would repeatedly message her on Linkedin until he asked – and received – a referral for a position.

Analyzing Business Problems and Searching for Solutions

Because this was our first experience of analyzing a business case, it was quite overwhelming for us to delve into the details at the beginning. Both the background of the case and the business question behind it were challenging for us. We read though the case over and over again, talked through our questions, and conducted market research to back up our conclusions, leading us to really grasp the right way of critically analyzing a business conundrum. At the end of the competition, we left Buffalo with more confidence and skills to solve problems with an analytical and fact-based mindset.

Initiating Conversations and Finding Common Ground

How do you start a conversation with others (professionals or participants) in a formal business reception? Ask them, “do you know K-pop?” and follow up with, “do you know BTS (a South-Korean boy band)?”

Just kidding! The takeaway from this is to not talk with the sole purpose of benefiting from others – they will notice and that will not be a positive experience for either one of you. For example, a graduate admissions person sat down at our table and started a conversation with us. He asked us to tell him about “trends,” because he likes to learn from younger people. I asked whether he meant any types of trends because when I think of trends, I mostly think of pop music. This exchange led us to an interesting conversation that touched on pop music, psychology, and university admissions. The one thing to keep in mind is to speak as your true self; do not try to talk about some economic theories just because you think it would make you look cooler or more intelligent. How you deliver your thoughts is often more important than the topic that you are talking about.

Xueying “Shelley” Chen ’19 is a researcher, activist and writer of social entrepreneurship and a believer of impact-driven businesses. She thinks business is a vehicle to deliver profitable, sustainable and socially responsible returns. Shelley puts human-centered impact in the core of her daily business practice. Additionally, Shelley is an active member of the UR entrepreneurial community and she is a member of the Ain Team – a group of elite student ambassadors chosen to promote and increase the visibility of the department and the MS in TEAM program.

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

5 Storytelling Tips

By Ain CFE Staff

“Marketing is no longer about the stuff you make, but about the stories you tell,” writes Seth Godin. A fantastic idea can’t sell itself – it needs a powerful narrative to grow and take on a life of its own. Whether trying to attain funding or recruit new team members, a well-structured story can make all the difference.

On March 25, Kathryn Cartini (Partner, Chloe Capital; COO, Upstate Venture Connect; Founder, Peacock Media) spoke to students about building relationship capital and how that factors into storytelling. This was the third and final session in the 2019 Mark Ain Business Model Workshops. Held to help prepare students for our upcoming business plan competitions, the Mark Ain Workshops build on the more soft-skill-focused Foundry Forums held during the fall semester. Below are 5 key points drawn from the event.

Show Up

Make an effort to meet as many people as you can. Attend events and get out in the community - quantity is important, especially before you narrow your focus. As you talk to more people, you can get a sense of what individuals are looking for and how they think. This will help form a foundation for your story.

Identify Your Audience

Who are you talking to? What do they care about? Do extensive research, as this will help tailor the content and tone used in your pitch. Kate also encourages entrepreneurs to keep everything organized via a CRM (or even on Google Sheets!). Imagining a specific person may also help when designing your presentation, so be sure to keep detailed notes of your interactions.

Be Respectful

Relationships are built on a foundation of trust and respect. While you want to get your point across and make the most of each conversation, be passionate but not pushy. Pay attention to how much of people's time you are taking up and recognize that not every interaction will be immediately beneficial. According to Kate, "relationships will build your business" - don't mar the bonds you create by bulldozing over the people you want to work with.

Get Creative and Give First

Before talking with someone, consider what you bring to the table. Do you have any skills that they could benefit from? Kate urges entrepreneurs to "give first," a tactic that goes against the traditional ask. By sharing something of yourself, you open the relationship on a positive note and ingratiate yourself to people who may be key contacts in the future.

Find the Common Thread

Once you have started to grow these relationships, you have to assemble all of your pieces. Think about how your individual background melds with your venture - everything should fit together. Why are you the one that has to make this a reality? If things are a bit hazy, try to create a visual map or timeline to help form a narrative. In any case, consult with advisors and peers who may see links that you have missed. Share from a place of experience, speak with confidence, and be humble - listen to your audience and continually adjust your story to reflect your growth.

If you have any questions about pitching or learning more about any of the topics discussed during the workshop, please contact the Ain Center at or meet with one of our Experts-in-Residence.

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

University Tech Transfer and Commercialization: Incentive, Infrastructure, and Impact

By Vatsal Agarwal

On March 9, I had the privilege of representing the Ain Center for Entrepreneurship and attending the University Technology Transfer and Commercialization Workshop at the College at Brockport (SUNY), which is a part of the SUNY Conversations in the Disciplines Workshop series. The series is designed to “contribute to the development and dissemination of knowledge on transferring and commercializing university technology to foster innovation and entrepreneurship” in college campuses in the Upstate New York region.

Martin K. Casstevens of University at Buffalo and Vatsal Agarwal during the conference at SUNY Brockport.

For those unfamiliar with the term technology commercialization, the University of California’s Office of the President defines it as “the process of transitioning technologies from the research lab to the marketplace”. This is a highly complex process which ensures that the results of research are made available for public use and benefit. Historically, the University of Rochester has been among the top 10 universities in the US for licensing royalty revenues through the virtue of technology commercialization with patents spanning diverse fields from healthcare and medicine to proprietary software solutions.

Throughout the day, I attended 4 different training and discussion sessions, along with remarkably insightful opening and mid-session keynote addresses. I would like to highlight and share the key takeaways from the day, arranged in chronological order of the different sessions.

Opening Keynote: SUNY Innovation Policies and Initiatives

[Address led by Heidi Macpherson, President of SUNY Brockport and Matthew Mroz, Director of Enterprise Technology Transfer at SUNY-RF]

  • Analyzing the significance of universities and partner companies in the development of the regional, as well as national, economy is key. This can be done through a discussion of university researchers and alumni, focusing on experiences and major breakthroughs.
  • Keep an eye on innovation and entrepreneurship through programs such as The Research Foundation, Industry Engagement Bootcamp, Technology Accelerator Fund, and changes in Patent Invention Policies.

Session 1: Best Practices in University Entrepreneurship and Technology Transfer

[Discussion led by a panel of 5 professionals working with technology transfer offices/initiatives]

  • Fruits from the partnership of business schools and engineering/STEM schools – in funding and research capacity and intentions – are tied to the analysis of commercial viability of academic research.
  • Ideas to consider:
    • Student Incubators – why every innovative university needs one
    • Principles of ownership of research and inventions contributed by students, industry partners and faculty
    • Roles of university faculty and researchers in student ventures and innovations
    • Management of conflicts-of-interest and risks for different parties involved

Session 2: NSF I-Corps Nodes on University Technology Commercialization

[Address led by I-Corps Nodes representatives from University of Rochester and Cornell University]

  • Why do startups fail? No market need for the product (biggest and arguably, the most important reason), shortage of cash, and/or not involving the right team.
  • Regional NSF I-Corps Nodes and Short Courses (resource for customer discovery)
  • PLUG: Go to or email Matthew Spielmann to learn more about UR’s I-Corps offerings!

Participants of the University Technology Transfer and Commercialization Workshop at SUNY Brockport.

Mid-Session Keynote: Unleashing Technology Transfer with Real Options

[Address led by Dr. Philip Phan, Alonzo and Virginia Decker Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at Carey Business School, Johns Hopkins University]

  • The most important question: What is the true price/intrinsic value of a patent?
  • Problems in price analysis include: market value, heavy litigation, re-issuance, subjective estimates, future cash flows, price elasticity, and time heterogeneity of patent value.
  • There is a need for a new continuous price discovery process and pioneering work on the Real Options Patent Management Strategy.

Session 3: Founding Dos and Don’ts

[Discussion led by a panel of 5 successful founders and entrepreneurs]

  • Enable the entrepreneurial mindset and culture.
  • Develop a plan for a venture project.
  • Provide training for starting/growing a startup.
  • Emphasize importance of mentors/coaches, as well as ways to find financial support/funding.
  • Share how-tos for getting a leg up through access to resources (such as an incubator or accelerator).

Session 4: Entrepreneurial Development Activity Workshop

[Activity-based workshop led by Dr. Amir Bahman Radnejad, Associate Professor of Management, SUNY Brockport]

  • Learn how to recognize when human intuition and biases are creating problems for entrepreneurs.
  • Participate in problem-solving activities that include guidance on how to think for successful innovation.

Through the workshop, I had a chance to learn more about various topics related to promotion and commercialization of innovation and entrepreneurship. Even more importantly, I also had a chance to meet and talk to industry professionals and founders – all of whom I found to be dedicated thinkers and ardent researchers with innovative ideas on how to change the world for the better.

I am ever grateful to the Ain Center for Entrepreneurship for the opportunity to attend this workshop, not only through financial support but also helpful guidance.

Vatsal Agarwal ’21 is a Financial Economics and Computer Science major at the University of Rochester. He is currently interning as a Court Efficiency Analyst at the New York State Unified Court System. He is also a part of the Ain Team, helping promote entrepreneurship and the Ain Center on and off the UR campus. Vatsal is highly interested in a career where he can feed his interests in finance and technology simultaneously and has past experience in customer service, educational fundraising and consulting, and writing business plans.

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

Hult Prize Regionals 2019

By Xueying “Shelley” Chen

Hult Prize is the world’s biggest social venture competition that was established by Ahmad Ashkar. It crowd-sources ideas from MBA and college students after challenging them to solve a pressing social issue. This year the challenge was to come up with a solution to create 10,000 meaningful jobs for youth. Millions of young people are disconnected from meaningful jobs. I sat down with my teammates and we brainstormed ideas to solve youth employment problems for Indian girls who are at risk of child sex trafficking.

We competed as Boodana and we aim to combat child sex trafficking in India through job creation. In India, prostitution is legal, and 1 out of 40 girls under the age of 15 is forced into prostitution. Many girls in India become prostitutes as a means to support their families, because they lack the skills or opportunities necessary to work in other positions. Many girls in India are also sold into prostitution against their will by those closest to them, including friends, neighbors, or even their own husbands.

Team Boodana: (from left to right: Yaocheng (Sparrow) Tian ’22, Matthew Stein ’17, and Xueying “Shelley” Chen ’19. 

The worst thing that could happen to anybody is to start every day believing that every one of your tomorrows will be just like yesterday. Our plan is to ensure that, for girls in India who are suffering as a result of child prostitution, the days ahead will not be the same as those that are behind. Over 10 years, we will create a network of 100 healing centers in India that will each employ 100 girls who are at risk for becoming or are former prostitutes. At these healing centers, girls will be given paid apprenticeships to become certified yoga and meditation instructors. They will be taught by local yoga and meditation experts in India. Their compensation will vastly exceed what they could earn through prostitution, thereby providing incentive for a meaningful work alternative. We will also cooperate with local non-profits that are already working to rescue girls from brothels in India. Boodana’s healing centers will provide a safe space for these girls to heal – physically and mentally – while providing them with meaningful jobs.

India is the world’s top destination for yoga tourism, and Boodana will capitalize on the growing wellness travel market in India. Based on a preliminary financial analysis, we will be able to price our retreats competitively compared to India’s most popular yoga retreats and still generate significant profits in only 2-3 years. In addition, we will have a second stream of revenue by partnering with Universities in the US and other developed nations to provide classes and cultural exchange programs for students. Students studying international relations, Asian, or gender studies can travel to Boodana retreats to take classes from local Indian professors for course credit. By taking these classes in India, students will be able to immerse themselves in Indian culture and tradition, and also learn about gender equality challenges firsthand from the girls who have experienced them. Students will pay tuition for the classes, and discounted tuition can be offered to students who help teach/tutor the young women employees at Boodana (eg. tutoring in English speaking or writing, personal finance, or entrepreneurship).

During the weekend of March 8, we pitched our idea to a panel of judges at the Toronto Regionals. Even though we did not advance to the final, we felt very lucky to be a part of social movement that has the potential to create real impact for the world’s most vulnerable community. We will take the lessons from this competition to advance our future entrepreneurial endeavors.

Xueying “Shelley” Chen ’19 is a researcher, activist and writer of social entrepreneurship and a believer of impact-driven businesses. She thinks business is a vehicle to deliver profitable, sustainable and socially responsible returns. Shelley puts human-centered impact in the core of her daily business practice. Additionally, Shelley is an active member of the UR entrepreneurial community and she is a member of the Ain Team – a group of elite student ambassadors chosen to promote and increase the visibility of the department and the MS in TEAM program.

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

Increasing Awareness about Education Disparities in the Dominican Republic at UR

By Hector Castillo Carvajal

Born and raised until the age of eight in Las Barias, Provincia Bani, Dominican Republic I witnessed a large amount of poverty, not only in my community but all throughout the country. I can distinctly remember kids walking miles upon miles to class because there were either no funds to address the malfunctioning school buses, or they couldn’t afford the ride. Although I was fortunate enough to live next door to my school, I often wonder how it would have been if I didn’t.

Hector Castillo Carvajal presenting at the Barbara J. Burger iZone in the Kessler Forum on February 8, 2019.

With the odds in our favor, my family received the opportunity of a lifetime – my father’s petition to leave our poor but beautiful little town and migrate to the United States had been approved. My family and I arrived in New York City in October of 2004. That was the first time that I realized there was a stark difference between the abundance of wealth, resources, and opportunities available in the US compared to back home.

Seeing such disparity first hand, inspired me to explore social entrepreneurship. These experiences made me eager to enact change in the Dominican Republic, and eventually in other developing countries. One way I am working towards this goal is through a fundraiser/initiative called Carvajal Cares that I began to benefit underserved students in my hometown back in Las Barias, Provincia Bani (DR).

Hector Castillo Carvajal at Escuela Básica Graciosa Elvira Cuevas in Las Barias, Bani, Dominican Republic. (Fall Break – October 12th, 2018)

While living in NYC though, there was a point in which I felt myself taking the numerous opportunities for granted. So in 2016, I dropped out of high school and traveled back to the Dominican Republic to rectify myself and figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I was immediately overcome with feelings of confusion and disappointment as I watched parents lead their children to harvest crops to make extra money necessary to make ends meet. I noticed that these children didn’t have the option to focus on pursuing their education or their dreams. This trip reignited my drive to do more to improve the lives of those living in DR by focusing on the education system. It also motivated me to increase awareness of the problems that communities like Las Barias, Bani face all throughout the world.

I recently had the opportunity to do just that. I hosted an event entitled “Education Disparities in Developing Countries: What Can You Do?” to highlight the ongoing education disparities in the DR and to encouraged my fellow classmates to become agents of change.

I began the event by playing a short documentary featuring the struggles that students in the Dominican Republic experience. I then had the audience participate in a Kahoot game I created, which included statistical data about the family incomes and education in the DR. Many of the students and staff members who attended sat in awe when they learned that according to the World Bank, 46% of Dominicans live in poverty and that the average income per month is only USD $130. One student couldn’t help but comment: “Wow, I figured the situation was bad, but not that bad! This is surprising.” Witnessing and hearing such reactions along with individuals inquiring about volunteering opportunities made me realize how successful the event turned out to be.

Harry Montas, a documentary photographer, and educator based in the Bronx Documentary Center in New York City visited us as a guest speaker to present and debut his contemporary documentary in partnership with Carvajal Cares. Throughout his presentation, the audience gained insight on his passion for documentary making; he considers his work to be his contribution to social change, as well as an artistic social responsibility. During the presentation of the documentary, many attendees wondered about our encounters in Las Barias while documenting the school, students, staff, and the principle, and we both emphasized how humbling, yet inspiring it was. The service trip was organized during Fall Break, and happily, I spent my birthday, October 12 working on this heart-warming project.

Presenters and Dean Burdick (From left to right: Harry Montas, Hector Castillo Carvajal, and Dean Burdick).

Post-event report:

  • A total of $391 was raised (we announced our $10 for 10 day’s campaign at the event).
  • The Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity on-campus donated 100% of their proceeds from a Valentine’s Day event.
  • Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity has granted us a table at their Latino Expressions event on April 13th, 2019 in the May Room at U of R. The event’s focus is to increase the visibility of successful and empowering latin-based organizations to minority students within the Greater Rochester Area.
  • Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity donated school supplies from their successful Fall semester school supply drive.
  • Carvajal Cares has gained 3 student volunteers on-campus.

I want to give special thanks to the Ain Center for Entrepreneurship for the sponsorship and opportunity to hold this event. It is through such events that I can continue to work towards creating real change.

On behalf of Carvajal Cares, I’d like to give a special thank you to the following folks and organizations for their contributions to the event: Ain Center for Entrepreneurship, Zeus Photography, Barbara J. Burger iZone, and Harry Montas.

Hector Castillo Carvajal ’20 is a Business Marketing major at the University of Rochester, where he serves as Vice President for the Rochester Business Association. His entrepreneurial spirit is inspired by his upbringing in both the Dominican Republic and New York City. He is currently working on expanding and promoting his personal business ventures: Don Carvajal Café, Carvajal Cares, and DC Premium.

By | Innovation, People, Rochester, Social Entrepreneurship, Uncategorized

Can Millennials Actually Change the World?

By Ain CFE Staff

Daphne Pariser ’20 (PhD Candidate in Immunology and Microbiology) founded Humans for Education, an organization that partners with schools in developing nations to create sustainable, culturally-sensitive businesses so they can generate their own income to provide for students’ needs and help build strong communities. As UR student entrepreneurs, Daphne and her team have worked in our Student Incubator since September 2016. After their founding in 2015, they have earned over $45,000 in funding from competition wins, donations, a Farash Foundation grant, in addition to individual contributions. Their enterprise, Humans for Education, officially incorporated in 2016 and is now a federally-recognized non-profit through 501(c)(3) designation.

In addition to their other successes, Humans for Education has competed in many of the Ain Center’s business competitions. Competing against more than twenty strong teams, Daphne and her team finished as semi-finalists in the 2018 Mark Ain Business Plan Competition. They also competed in the 2018 Finger Lakes Regional Contest of the New York Business Plan competition, where the team won the top prize in the Social Entrepreneurship & Non-Profit category. They later went on to beat out teams throughout New York to take home first place in the statewide New York Business Plan Competition and received $10,000 for their winning venture.

As Humans for Education’s founder, Daphne routinely shares her story with anyone who may be interested in using their own talents to make a difference in the world.

Last weekend, Daphne spoke at a TEDx event hosted by Allendale Columbia School in Rochester. There she addressed the idea of using simple solutions to tackle an incredibly complex human problem: poverty. During her presentation, she explained that understanding the data surrounding this problem can help people get to the core of the issue and create solutions that are easy-to-use and sustainable over time.

Daphne and her Humans for Education team have been implementing these solutions, starting with a small school in Kenya. She argues that the success they’ve seen there was only achievable by first listening to the people who were most intimate with the problem and then creating a simple solution. Listen to her whole session below!

To learn more about Humans for Education, visit their website. If you have an idea that you would like to change the world with, contact the Ain Center and we can connect you to the resources you need!

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

Highlights from Harvard Social Enterprise Conference – and How You Can Attend Next Year

By Maria Connolly

Picture this: It’s 6 pm, you’re sitting on the inflatable couch you just dropped $50 on and you’re contemplating which of the million assignments due that week you should begin. But all of a sudden you get an email that reads: “if interested in attending the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference fill out this google form.” What do you do?

  1. Ignore it and take a nap, it’s already dark out
  2. Think, maybe I shouldn’t have bought this couch…eh there’s no way I’m going to be accepted  *deletes email*
  3. Do homework and maybe reopen the email later
  4. Stop everything and fill that form out! Tell your friends that may be interested! Research more about the conference! Get hyped – it might be your first time in Boston. You’ll get to network with social innovators and learn about social enterprises!

I think it’s safe to say I chose option 4.

This past weekend (March 2nd-3rd) I had the privilege of attending the 20th Annual Social Enterprise Conference (SECON) at Harvard with five other University of Rochester students. For those who aren’t familiar, social enterprises are organizations focused on benefitting society and or the environment while working to maximize profits.

The University of Rochester attendees (from left to right: Vanshika, Youssef, Hector, Reed, Mazen, and Maria).

Before jumping into the insightful keynotes around social enterprise, passionate discussions, panels and networking we had the opportunity to do some sightseeing. We enjoyed exploring Harvard square, touring Tufts University, and networking with professors at MIT.

Harvard Square.

Outside the MIT Library.

Inside the MIT Library.

After a day of walking around, we went back to the hotel and prepared for the conference the next morning, researching the different speakers and events we wanted to attend. Below are my key takeaways from a couple of events I attended, broken down by day.

Day 1:

“Achieving Scale: Lessons from BRAC”

  • Create employment for members of the community you’re trying to help
  • Put profit back into the community
  • Key factors for BRAC’s Success included: the founder’s leadership & business acumen, securing broad-based funding, continued testing & learning, knowledge of culture & cultural sensitivity, and the ability to navigate a changing political environment

[A note on networking: The time right before events began and the portion of the conference dedicated to networking were perfect times to put this year’s theme of “Unlikely Allies: Forging Partnerships for Progress” into practice.

For those of you who aren’t the biggest fans of networking, if the conference has an app such as “Attendify” (see my page to the right) take advantage of it! Post a bio about yourself and private message people you would love to talk to and schedule time to meet during lunch. It’s a less nerve-wracking but effective approach. Be sure to add them on LinkedIn!]

Day 2:

“Pitch Competition”

  • Presenters were extremely prepared and confident, presenting their business ideas in five minutes without notes
  • Many questions that were asked were about the future of their companies/ideas in which the presenters immediately had answers for

“How to Innovate for Radically Greater Social Good”

  • Think Big. Start Small. Seek Impact.
  • There’s a rush for companies to deliver impact but in order to successfully innovate for greater social good, Ann Mei Chang (author and advocate for social innovation) suggested the following:
    • Starting small will lead to a bigger difference over time
    • Experiment & improve faster
    • Avoid spending time and money on failing big
    • Learn by doing because learning is “failing small”
  • Social Innovation is the intersection between value, impact, and growth
    • Value – Is there a demand for what you have to offer?
      • Listen to users from the beginning, ask more pointed questions if there isn’t a correlation between behaviors and users answers on surveys
    • Impact – Does it work/deliver impact?
      • Seeing if your product is being used is a precursor of impact to determine if you’re on track
    • Growth – Will it scale?
      • Alcoholics Anonymous is a great example of an organization that’s scaled through the distribution of guidelines and steps in a book

Views from the Harvard Bridge.

The group outside of Tufts University.

I’d like to thank Meliora LaunchPad for the opportunity to attend this conference and the University of Rochester for funding our travel and stay.

If you’re interested in attending next year, simply attend events hosted by Meliora LaunchPad, introduce yourself to the e-board and express interest. Pro-tip: the earlier you sign up the cheaper the tickets. Best of luck!

Maria Connolly ’19 is a Brain and Cognitive Sciences major at the University of Rochester, where she also pursues interests in marketing and photography. She was selected as a BASTA Fellow in January 2019, where she participates in a rigorous career prep program designed for first-generation college students. Maria also supports her fellow student entrepreneurs by working in the Ain Center for Entrepreneurship.

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

5 Entrepreneurial Finance Tips

By Ain CFE Staff

“Entrepreneurs are risk takers, willing to roll the dice with their money or reputation on the line in support of an idea or enterprise,” claims Victor Kiam. Innovators have to be ready to take a leap of faith to make their ideas into reality. While hard work and a great team can help get them on the right track, financial backing can make the process easier and more secure. On February 26, Jack Greco ’06, ’08S spoke to students about his background in VC and how to assess different avenues of funding, as well as the factors/stages in the financing process.

This session was the second installment in the 2019 Mark Ain Business Model Workshops. These are held to help prepare students for our upcoming business plan competitions (though these informational events are open to anyone and everyone!). The Mark Ain Workshops build on the more soft-skill-focused Foundry Forums held during the fall semester. Below are 5 key points drawn from the event.

Know Your Options

Equity. Grants. Bartering. Donations. The channels for financing are almost endless, but it's likely that some will fit your needs better than others. If you understand what certain investors want from an interaction with you, you already have an advantage. Ask yourself, "what is their incentive?" Recognize that people want different things and tailoring your asks is important to getting what you need.

Build Relationships

At various points throughout the workshop, Jack mentioned that funding is often not just about money. Behind the fear of financing is the human need to connect - many investors want to know you in order to build a foundation of trust and transparency. He also stressed the importance of honesty: when Jack pitches, he begins with the challenges faced by his project. If people can get through that "hard part" and still want to know about the rest, he then shares what makes his venture promising. It's a risky tactic, but can be more rewarding than trying to hide the not-so-stellar aspects of your plan.

Provide a Clear Vision

Why are you working on this venture? Explain what you're doing and why - and be prepared to talk through each step of your plan. (Writing a business plan can help here - check out our "5 Business Writing Tips" blog for more info!)

Start Early

It's never to soon to start learning about the world of VC and entrepreneurial finance. Jack was 23 when he began in the industry and, while he acknowledges that learning lessons and fast failure can be painful, he is glad he began to pursue this avenue early on. Additionally, he argues that starting at a young age helped him realize what to take note of when working to build your venture (including time spent fundraising, resourcing, and how to pitch).

Face Time and Creativity are Fundamental

For new founders, Jack recommended talking with at least 10 established founders to gain insight and feedback. Those moments of face-to-face contact are irreplaceable; anyone can send an email, but making time to sit down with someone can be the difference in significant funding and no funding. Finally, and most importantly, Jack encouraged attendees to be creative in pursuing what they want. Leveraging networks, going to industry hot spots, and hoping for a little bit of luck can help even the most inexperienced entrepreneur begin to make an impact.

If you have any questions about locating funding or learning more about any of the topics discussed during the workshop, please contact the Ain Center at or meet with one of our Experts-in-ResidenceInterested in attending future Mark Ain Business Model workshops? Head over to our Events Calendar and register online!

By | Innovation, People, Rochester

5 Business Plan Writing Tips

By Ain CFE Staff

“As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it,” writes Antoine de Saint-Exupery. As an entrepreneur, having a business plan can help guide your thoughts and actions throughout the life of your venture. We held a workshop on January 31, devoted to writing a business plan. This daunting task can get the best of any entrepreneur, but facilitator David Mammano broke it down into manageable pieces.

This session was the first installment in the 2019 Mark Ain Business Model Workshops. These are held to help prepare students for our upcoming business plan competitions (though these informational events are open to anyone and everyone!). These workshops build on the more soft-skill-focused Foundry Forums held during the fall semester. Below are 5 key points highlighted from the event.

Clarify Your Vision and Define Your "Why"

Where do you draw your energy? What makes you unique? You can have a fantastic idea or product, but that doesn't equal immediate success. Use the business plan writing as an exercise to help define your vision for you as an entrepreneur and your venture. During the workshop, David Mammano also referenced Simon Sinek's famous TED Talk (which you can watch here: This video can help with inspiration and set you in the right direction!

Share Numbers, Financial Projections, and Statistics

Potential investors may read your business plan to gain familiarity with you and your idea. Provide them with some statistics and quantitative evidence to show that you have fully thought through your enterprise. Even if you are at an early stage, having some calculated projections can reassure backers that you have done your homework.

Introduce Your Team

You selected your people for a reason - share that in your plan! Whether you use this document to help secure funding or to attract new talent to your ranks, highlighting who you have standing beside you is fundamental to growing your venture.

Explain Your "How"

Do you have a well-conceived marketing plan? Fantastic sales representatives? A team of action-oriented folks who get things done? Anyone reading your business plan should have a clear idea of what you aim to do, as well as how you plan to do it. David suggests including your "sizzle" (what is exciting about your venture and what draws people in), as well as your "close" (how you actually achieve your goal).

Refine Your Ask

Chances are - if someone is reading your plan - you wish to engage them. Whether that is through financial backing, mentor support, or even just good word-of-mouth publicity, you need to be clear about what you want from this transaction. Additionally, it is important to note that your business plan is a living document and can change at any time. What you need in the early stages of development will not be the same as during the mature enterprise phase. Recognize what your venture needs and don't hesitate to ask!

If you have any questions about writing a business plan or gathering feedback for one you have already written, please contact the Ain Center at or meet with one of our Experts-in-ResidenceInterested in attending future Mark Ain Business Model workshops? Head over to our Events Calendar and register online!