Johnson Summer Startup Accelerator Students Connect with Entrepreneurs on NYC Trek

By: Grace Collins
Members of the 2023 JSSA cohort pose for a group photo on a flight of stairs.

Johnson Summer Startup Accelerator students at their NYC Trek, July 14

Student participants in the Johnson Summer Startup Accelerator learned about the startup journey firsthand from founders, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders during the annual JSSA NYC Trek on July 14.

Offered through the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, JSSA is an intensive, summer-long program. MBA students with a budding passion for entrepreneurship have the opportunity to explore their ideas for a startup venture and go through three phases of entrepreneurship education: customer discovery, developing solutions, and testing.

Learning From Experience

Hosted in the Cornell ILR School space at 570 Lexington Avenue, the trek contained no shortage of inspiration. The first presentation of the day came from Randy Kane, managing partner at Profec Partners and visiting lecturer at the Johnson School. Kane spoke about the dynamic between founders and angel investors and gave the teams insight into the importance of finding the right fit when seeking investments.

“Randy taught us the power of an extremely pointed pitch — that you want to get to the point quickly and effectively. A strong pitch deck assists you in doing this while you explain the drivers behind your story,” said Trishala Dessai ’17, MBA ’23, founder of GigUp. “I plan to apply his tips whenever I pitch in the future.”

students at a long conference table listening to a woman speaker standing net to a screen at the front of the room.
Loren Busby leads an interactive case study
a woman sitting at a conference table with other speaks, smiles, and gestures.
Dorothee Grant, MEng ’22, shares details of her startup journey

Next, Loren Busby, director of the BioVenture eLab at Weill Cornell Medicine, led an interactive case study about a healthcare technology, or healthtech, startup. Following the workshop, the cohort had the chance to participate in roundtable discussions with two early-stage founders.  David Stein, MBA ’20 (Johnson Cornell Tech MBA), founder of Ash Wellness, and Dorothee Grant, MEng ’22, cofounder and CEO of Kaveat, each shared the details of their entrepreneurial journeys and imparted words of wisdom from the lessons learned along the way.

“I found the entrepreneur stories to be really insightful. There’s something about being in-person that amplifies the impact of the startup stories,” said Adam Frenkel, MBA ’24 (Executive MBA Americas), founder of Varyance.

a woman stands in a conference room and speaks.
Momo Bi, MBA ’15 identifies the traits that investors look for in a startup

Venture capitalist Momo Bi, MBA ’15 (Two-Year MBA), was next to present, speaking to the traits that investors look for when deciding to make an investment in a startup. Perry Solomon, operating partner at Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator (ERA), also made an appearance, sharing information about the opportunities and resources available at ERA with the cohort.

“It was great to engage actively with a multitude of speakers who brought so many different perspectives to the table,” said Dessai. “We got advice on pitching, advice on how investors value businesses, tips on problem solving while running a business, and more.”

a man stands next to a screen and speaks to students seated at a conference table.
Adam Kirsch ’15, MBA ’16, relates the ups and downs of his startup story

The day ended with a dynamic conversation with Adam Kirsch ’15, MBA ’16 (Two-Year MBA). Kirsch exited a startup, Yorango, that he founded while at Cornell and currently works as a mergers and acquisitions consultant. He shared the ups and downs of his startup story and detailed what makes a startup an attractive acquisition.

Looking Ahead

The JSSA cohort left the day with a renewed sense of enthusiasm for their ventures, ready to take the next steps towards bringing their vision to life.

“Hearing from a variety of entrepreneurs at various early stages was absolutely incredibly inspiring,” said Brandon Jernigan, MBA ’24 (Executive MBA Americas), founder of Wholesome–Wellness Optimized. “I asked the same simple question to every presenter: ‘What’s one thing you wish you did differently?’ The answer was the same: ‘I wished I’d started earlier.’ I started the process of incorporating my business the next day, because I’m now ready to fail forward.”

Grace Collins is a marketing communications coordinator with Cornell University’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement.

Grace Collins

Marketing and Communications Coordinator, Center for Regional Economic Advancement, Cornell University