Big Red Ecosystem
In the last few weeks, several companies and startup founders have chosen to leave Silicon Valley. Most notably, Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal and controversial billionaire tech investor, decided that the homogenous political environment was becoming less and less conducive to innovation. As a result, he is relocating to Los Angeles.
In the last few years, the spotlight has been shifting to other entrepreneurial hubs that have been emerging throughout the country. Ithaca NY, while on the opposite side of the US and clearly on a much smaller scale, has seen an optimistic and exciting trend toward entrepreneurship. Ithaca is the location of Cornell University’s diverse campus, which is an environment open to intellectual dialogue, differences amongst backgrounds, and the cultivation of innovative ideas.
The Southern Tier Startup Alliance is an organization that promotes resources for startups in this region. The Southern Tier makes up only 4% of New York State’s population, and yet has closed $23.9 million in financing deals just in the past year.
Cornell University has fostered an entrepreneurial spirit, which has been growing and evolving tremendously each year. Resources for idea formation and early stage companies have become readily available for students. Entrepreneur and Cornell Professor John Callister stated that Rev Ithaca Startup Works, built in 2014 and located in downtown Ithaca, is the “most noticeable improvement” to the entrepreneurial community.
Created as a partnership between Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Tompkins-Cortland Community, this business incubator and workspace has connected the community by hosting networking events and workshops, and serving as home to several startups. Some notable startups that were at Rev include: Maidbot, Orthofit, and Specdrums.
Íko was part of Rev’s 11-week summer hardware accelerator program in 2017. During the academic year, Cornell offers eLab, an opportunity for students to grow their business ideas and receive credit in the process.
Ken Rother, an entrepreneur, Cornell Professor, and mentor at Rev and eLab, told us about what he believes the process is for students. He said, “it starts with class experiences that awaken entrepreneurial ideas, they start to think about things from an entrepreneurial perspective.” He believes the next step is to look at Cornell’s resources, like the Blackstone Launchpad program and entrepreneurial courses on campus, and eventually eLab as a capstone opportunity to launch a business. He said, “Rev is one catalyst in a whole group of people. The overarching entity of Entrepreneurship at Cornell helps provide a framework and moves ideas along.”
The university has created opportunities for students to take the road less traveled by embarking on entrepreneurial journeys. Callister stated, “self-reliance is a key aspect of entrepreneurship.” The university has accessible resources like courses ranging from finance to design, but it is the responsibility of the student to take advantage of those resources. The diversity of backgrounds in the entrepreneurial community encourages all, from engineers to architects to hospitality students, to advance an idea and develop a business.
As the largest Ivy League, Cornell has a huge network of professors, alumni, and venture capitalists like the Red Bear Angels. This group of people is one that welcomes new ideas and promotes entrepreneurship. This ecosystem is available to further a business vision, no matter how different the focus. All of the support provides a means to progress an idea. Rother stated, “Some of it seems to be randomly organic, but there is a plan. Cornell is one of the better entrepreneurship schools in the country.” With the huge influx of funding from alumni, as well as the creation of the Cornell Tech campus in New York City, Cornell is on track to be a true entrepreneurial powerhouse.
“Personally, I have a fascination with the march that is entrepreneurship,” Rother said, “I know what it takes, and I know this is a long march. I’ll be in a movie theater and watch some great movie, and I’ll think, ‘that probably took six or seven years.’ From the day that producer said ‘I think that book would be a good movie,’ then turned it into a script, got who they wanted to act in it, and filmed, and I’m sitting there for 90 minutes knowing that’s what it took to make. That kind of march, all the ups and downs, is what I see people go through. Entrepreneurship is not an instant-gratification sort of business. That’s why we’ve got this expression: that was an overnight success, 10 years in the making.”
From the moment of inception, when that initial seed is planted, years of time and effort are required to nurture it, fertilize it, and allow it to grow. While other parts of the country struggle to overcome entrepreneurial difficulties, Cornell has managed to cultivate innovation and foster early stage businesses. The university has taken steps toward becoming a major entrepreneurial hub.
Maybe the next step is inviting Peter Thiel to come check out the scene at Cornell.