Oct. 16, 2013

Alumni entrepreneurs share career stories in New York City

Josh Wolfe
Jason Koski/University Photography
Josh Wolfe '99, co-founder of Lux Capital, speaks at the Entrepreneurship Summit NYC in the New York Times Building Oct. 11.

More than 350 Cornell alumni, students, faculty and entrepreneurs enjoyed a full day of talks by entrepreneurs and venture capitalists at Entrepreneurship @ Cornell’s summit in New York City Oct. 11.

Focused on the theme, “The Beginning: From Nothing to Something,” the event featured entrepreneurs including Yahoo’s Kathy Savitt ’85, Shake Shack’s Randy Garutti ’97 and Practice Makes Perfect founder Karim Abouelnaga ’13, who told stories of the ups and downs of running their own enterprises.

“We thought this summit should be about entrepreneurship from the lens of Ezra Cornell,” said Scott Belsky ’02, founder of Behance, vice president for products/community at Adobe and moderator, “that any person should be able to solve any problem as an entrepreneur.”

The summit featured TED-style 15-minute talks by 10 speakers, a Q-and-A and networking.

Keynote speaker Savitt, chief marketing officer at Yahoo, said her history and government major has proven beneficial throughout her career as an entrepreneur and with large companies like Yahoo.

“If you have a liberal arts background, you are going to learn to grasp abstractions in a way that no one could ever teach you in a marketing course,” she said. “You’re going to debate the impossible, look at patterns that occurred in history, and you will have to go into your professional life and examine very similar patterns.

“That training became the foundation for me,” she said.

Savitt founded her first company before she turned 30 and was CEO of Lockerz before joining Yahoo. Prior to Lockerz, she was executive vice president and chief marketing officer at American Eagle Outfitters and vice president of strategic communications, content and entertainment initiatives for Amazon.com.

Focusing on people first, finding an opportunity or problem you would like to solve, and admitting and addressing your blind spots were some of the tips Savitt shared during her talk.

“Focus on right decisions, not perfect ones,” Savitt said. “It’s about making a series of right decisions and making them quickly and sequentially day in and day out.”

Other speakers included Niraj Shah ’95 and Steve Conine ’95, founders of Wayfair, an online home goods retailer. The friends lived three doors apart as freshmen and started their first company at Cornell after taking a course on entrepreneurship in the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management.

Today Wayfair employs 1,400 people, raised $200 million of institutional capital in the last two years and is approaching $1 billion in annual revenue.

Laurie Glimcher, dean of Weill Cornell Medical College, shared her enthusiasm for turning research and ideas into new therapies for patients.

She said the college is moving to a “bench to bedside” approach, establishing entrepreneurial teams of researchers and clinicians working together on discoveries.

“These cross-cutting interdisciplinary teams are at the cutting edge of health care,” she said.

An overall theme throughout the talks was the importance of persistence and optimism.

“Being an entrepreneur is like getting hit in the face every day,” said Neil Goldman, founder and CEO of RelSci, a company that helps businesses make connections through its database of more than 2.5 million organizations and their people. “But stay with it. When you get the train moving, everyone wants to get on it.”

“The Cornell Entrepreneurship Summit NYC is a marquee event for Cornell,” said Zach Shulman ’87, J.D. ’90, director of Entrepreneurship@Cornell. “We will continue to grow its stature and draw, and we’re already looking forward to next year’s summit.”

Kathy Hovis is a writer for Entrepreneurship@Cornell.