Global Entrepreneurs Gather for Colgate’s E-Weekend

A panel of entrepreneurs share highs and lows of their business endeavors and offer advice to Colgate students about starting a business. 

Jessica Jallen, Assistant News Editor

On Friday, April 8, members of the Colgate community gathered at Cotterell Court for a panel conversation and Colgate’s Shark Tank with Thought Into Action Entrepreneurs, a highlight event of the fifth annual Entrepreneur Weekend. The panel featured  CFO of Giphy Clare MacGoey, CEO and Co-Founder of ClassPass Payal Kadakia, CEO and Founder of Outdoor Voices Tyler Haney, Co-Founder of General Catalyst Partners David Fialkow ’81 and President of Global Sales and Service at Tesla Motors John McNeill. The Shark Tank featured presentations from Thought Into Action (TIA) student entrepreneurs: sophomore Samantha Braver, junior Ryan Diew, sophomore Miranda Scott, junior Keane Sanders, senior Ryan Clements and Rex Messing ’15. 

The event began with an introduction from Alumni Council President Joe McGrath ’85. He emphasized the importance of Entrepreneur Weekend in providing Colgate networking and generating interactions between current students and alumni. 

“Their personal stories of success – and, more importantly, of failure – offer inspiration and guidance to the next generation of entrepreneurs,” McGrath said. 

He then introduced John Levisay ’89, Co-Founder and CEO of Craftsy, and presented him with the 2016 Colgate University Entrepreneur of the Year award. 

McGrath then turned the stage over to Fialkow, who introduced the panel. He stated that Colgate hosts Entrepreneur Weekend for three reasons: it involves great stories, it provides valuable networking and it gives students powerful role models. 

“Our panelists bring four people here with a huge amount of passion for what they do, and hopefully will be inspirational to all of you,” Fialkow said. 

He then took a seat along with his four fellow panelists and moderator Steve Bertoni ’02, Forbes Technical Editor. 

Throughout the conversation, the panelists emphasized passion for the product as a necessary component in any venture. They also offered many pieces of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs.

The first question Bertoni posed was, “How do you start a startup? What is that first step?” 

Kadakia explained that most innovative ideas, including her own, begin by revealing a problem and proposing a solution. McNeill added that the next step after generating an idea is to look into the market and the margins of the industry to ensure whether it’s worth pursuing. 

“But then there’s a big step of courage if you discover that [the market] looks cool, and that’s actually going and doing it. And that’s where 99 percent of ideas go to die, is at that courage stage,” McNeill said. 

Bertoni then asked what current college students who are interested in entrepreneurship should be doing now. MacGoey recommended that they should join startups, because she has learned so much from working for them herself. 

“[People working at startups] get so much out of just being there, seeing how it works, being part of it, without actually having to do it themselves at that point. I think it’s a huge learning experience just to be  there in the door and seeing how it’s being done,” MacGoey said. 

Kadakia also suggested building projects on the side as a hobby, which can provide learning experiences and potentially develop into a larger endeavour. 

Bertoni later addressed Fialkow and asked about his role as a mentor and recommendations to young entrepreneurs. Fialkow responded that it’s all about relevancy and ensuring that the input he can provide will actually be useful to the mentee. 

“Do not worry about feeling isolated, looking ridiculous or not blending in with everybody else,” he said. “Everybody will tell you why you can’t do things, and that’s not relevant. What you really want to do is go for it.” 

Kadakia also added her own advice.

“You never fit into a box, no matter how much people want to put you in there; you have to just be yourself,” she said. 

When asked about past mistakes the panel has made and what they’ve learned from them, Haney stated the importance of creating a solid team. 

“I think early on people are betting on you, but as you grow you need a team,” she said. “I’m paying them to teach me, which is quite interesting and cool, I think.” 

Kadakia explained that the best way to build a product is to be scrappy, and to not be afraid to throw something away if it’s not working. Fialkow added that mistakes are inevitable and are a large part of entrepreneurship. 

“The nature of being wrong is the course of the business,” he said. “The whole idea of great ideas is you shouldn’t really have an instinct on what’s right or wrong, because very often they’re things nobody’s done before.” 

Bertoni then asked whether the panelists believe entrepreneurship is something that can be taught. 

Fialkow emphasized curiosity. 

“Clearly a liberal arts school may not teach tactical things that entrepreneurs need along the way, but it teaches people how to be curious, and ask questions, and love the dialogue,” he said. 

McNeill acknowledged that certain aspects needed for entrepreneurship cannot be taught. 

“There is a template you can learn that makes it easier to start a business. I think there’s a process that you go through that now is starting to get recognizable and repeatable, for me. But I do think it boils down to who you are,” he said. 

He also relayed a definition of entrepreneurship that he once received. 

“It’s about as attractive as chewing on glass at the edge of a cliff and being pushed off with no mechanism to save yourself,” McNeill said. “It comes down to what is in the gut of that person to push through and persevere.” 

Next was the Shark Tank portion of the event, and Bertoni invited investor at General Catalyst Partners and Co-Founder of Rough Draft Ventures Peter Boyce and President of Outdoor Voices Andrew Parietti ’10 onto the stage to moderate. Parietti and Haney then took the opportunity to distribute some Outdoor Voices apparel to members of the audience. 

The Shark Tank consisted of four presentations, during which each student entrepreneur had two minutes to showcase his or her idea, followed by a four-minute Q&A session from the panelists. The panelists were given $20,000 in funds, which they could split among the students however they chose. 

Sophomore Samantha Braver, who teamed up with Junior Ryan Diew began the event with their product Trippie, a mobile app that allows users to more easily navigate airport restaurants. Braver explained that the app provides an interactive map of the airport, allows users to give and read reviews, calculates the walking distance to each restaurant and gives recommendations based on the types of restaurants a user frequents. She concluded with the app’s slogan: “The arrival of Trippie means the departure of airport stress.” 

The second presenter was sophomore Miranda Scott, creator of the Waffle Cookie. Each purchase of the cookies provides food for Detroit natives living in poverty; for every 10 cookies sold, a meal is donated through their partnership with Forgotten Harvest. Scott ended with, “Please choose the dessert you won’t feel guilty about.” She then provided samples for the panel, mentioning that she currently bakes all of the cookies herself. 

The third pitch was given by junior Keane Sanders, who created an athletic recovery drink called SEELA. As a member of Colgate’s varsity track and field team, Sanders has had negative experiences with fatty, milk-based protein drinks. He explained that athletes want something light, refreshing and tasty when it comes to post-workout replenishment. SEELA provides the necessary protein without any of the fat, and possesses hydration qualities as well. 

When asked about the drink’s unique name, Sanders explained that “seela” translates to “strength and power” in Russian. 

The final presenter was Rex Messing, who collaborated with senior Ryan Clements to create Tuwa Tuwa, an online marketplace where people can easily organize guided trips. The company is currently focusing on fishing trips in particular, under the name Fish Tuwa Tuwa. 

After the student presentations, the panelists privately ranked the four teams in order to determine how much funding each would receive. Tuwa Tuwa received $3,800, SEELA received $4,100, the Waffle Cookie received $5,200, and Trippie received $6,900.

Sophomore Shannon Dauscher appreciated that Entrepreneur Weekend made powerful entrepreneurs accessible to Colgate students. 

“I thought it was a great opportunity to allow student entrepreneurs to showcase their ideas. Seeing my peers interacting with the panel made it evident that the opportunity is there for everyone, and it just takes creativity and determination to turn a pain point into a successful and lucrative solution,” Dauscher said. 

Scott, one of the entrepreneurs who received generous funding, described her experiences positively. 

“Participating in the Shark Tank was an incredible experience and great practice for later on when I am pitching to real investors. The panelists asked insightful questions and created a fun yet constructive experience. I am so thankful for the Thought Into Action program for providing us with such an amazing opportunity and connecting us with so many innovative entrepreneurs,” Scott said. 

Despite his apprehensions before Entrepreneur Weekend, Saunders enjoyed the event. 

“Presenting my venture, SEELA, at E-Weekend was an unforgettable experience. It was an incredible opportunity to display all the hard work put into starting this company. Despite being nervous initially, I thought that the presentation went well, as feedback from the guest panel and audience was positive. I’m thankful to have had this opportunity,” Sanders said. 

Braver appreciated the feedback she received and is confident about the future of her venture.

“The experience of pitching our venture Trippie to the Colgate Shark Tank was incredible. I feel so lucky for the opportunity to get feedback from such successful entrepreneurs and professionals. The funds and advice we received will help push our venture into the next phase, so we are very grateful,” Braver said. 

Diew expressed appreciation for the panel of entrepreneurs. 

“It was such a surreal experience. Being able to be on the stage with those successful entrepreneurs in front of that many people was an experience I’ll never forget,” he said. “I was surprised and flattered by the positive reception we received from the Sharks. Overall it was a great night.”