Does ILR make sense for entrepreneurship?

I’ve always been around entrepreneurship – I grew up in a family business and started my first company in high school, setting up shows for up-and-coming performing artists. However, after coming to Cornell, I realized there was an immense opportunity for a new business that would help student renters, landlords and property managers succeed, and I launched Yorango to serve this market.

I came to ILR to gain a well-rounded education in business, law and the social sciences, and found the community and program aligned well with my personal and entrepreneurial interests. Frequently, I tell people that ILR was my perfect startup starting point, and I’m met with confused looks. What about Industrial & Labor Relations screams entrepreneurship?

In short, no part of the curriculum independently focuses on entrepreneurship, but when combined and applied, the results are powerful. And it’s not just me who feels this way. In fact, 8 of the 42 startups listed as completing Cornell’s eLab accelerator program in recent years were started by ILRies.

Classes like Organizational Behavior and Human Resources were especially beneficial in teaching me the people side of business. I developed skills in negotiation, team building and communications while refining my knowledge of the workplace day in and day out so that I can craft the culture and routines that make sense for my venture.

I also had the opportunity to pick up a useful knowledge statistics and economics in my core coursework, and I earned credits counting towards my ILR major in the Hotel, Johnson and Dyson Schools along the way. By the time I graduated, I had a unique and diverse foundation in business comprised of both hard and soft skills I carried forward to my current coursework at the Johnson School.

En Garde

I fence. It’s a heck of a lot of fun to stab your friends (and enemies).

I started fencing in middle school, began taking it seriously in high school and knew going to college that I wanted to continue with the sport.  To me, that meant competing on a team, fencing at a local club, or bouting recreationally on campus.

Cornell offered the best opportunity for me to fence in college of the schools to which I was admitted. I got to know the captains immediately after coming to campus, one of whom I had actually fenced in high school. Cornell Men’s Fencing, a competitive club team, is the non-varsity counterpart to the women’s varsity program.  While I do not, many of my teammates practice with the women’s coach and their squad as described in this New York Times video.  Our dedicated practices also use the phenomenal facilities of Stifel Salle, located in Bartels Hall.

When we hit the road to compete in the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Fencing Association, we square off against a mix of club programs and established varsity teams, including Haverford, Rutgers, Lafayette, Army and Navy. We also attend the annual United States Association of Collegiate Fencing Clubs tournament, a massive, multi-day event held every year on a different campus.  In general, we do pretty well, even against better-funded varsity programs.  These events are also a blast – they’re basically road trips with friends mixed with competitions.

Joining Cornell Fencing gave me much more then an opportunity to stay active and compete at the collegiate level in a sport I love.  It also gave me a close group of friends, on and off the strip.  Knowing that I can lean on my teammates and that they can lean on me is a wonderful feeling. All united by our mutual love of stabbing.

One Five Oh [Cornell Alumni Leadership Conference]

Last weekend, I attended the phenomenal Cornell Alumni Leadership Conference (CALC) in Boston. Hundreds of Cornell students, staff and alumni came to the city for a weekend of networking, Cornelliana and conversation.  The main purpose of the three-day event is to bring together volunteer leaders from across the globe to build community, connections and collaboration.

In addition to celebrating Cornell’s Sesquicentennial (that’s 150 years), CALC brings together alumni to handle business ranging from strategic planning to reunion organization and everything in between.  Meetings to discuss new alumni engagement concepts and trustee priorities were punctuated by presentations by the likes of University President David Skorton and Spartan Race founder Joe De Sena ’90 (who prepared for his talk by doing 300 burpees and taking a cold shower).  Hilariously, the event program came with a double-sided list of commonly-used acronyms for the weekend. I can confirm how commonly these acronyms were used – constantly. 

I represented the Class of 2015 Senior Class Campaign (SCC) at CALC.  SCC unites the senior class to give back to the University which has given us so much.  Seeing how SCC fit in with the University’s overall efforts was quite interesting, and highlighted the importance of our work to raise funds and build school spirit.

Of course, the weekend wasn’t all business. Friday and Saturday night featured young alumni meet-ups at area bars, perfect for catching up with  recently graduated friends.  Before Saturday’s meetup, however, was the University’s Sesquicentennial Celebration at the famed Wang Theatre.  The event was unlike anything I had ever seen before, mixing elements of video, music, live performance and interviews around “Harvard sucks!” chants and themes of Cornell pride and history, all emceed by alumnus David Folkenflik ’91, best known for his work as an NPR correspondent.

Even though it was borderline cheesy (largely due to comical impersonations of University founders Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White), I thoroughly enjoyed the event, which concluded with rousing applause and cheers of “ONE-FIVE-OH” paired with numerical hand gestures. As we all stood, swaying and singing the Alma Mater, “150”-emblazoned confetti tumbled from the Wang Theatre’s rafters ending a great evening of Cornell spirit.

#WhyMBA?

This post was inspired by Businessweek’s #WhyMBA initiative, which took Johnson by storm as my classmates and I tweeted about the top reasons to be at Cornell’s business school while the publication tracked our mentions – good enough for a 5th place finish!  Even after the social media storm had settled, however, I was still thinking about the meaning behind #WhyMBA.
As one of only two students in my class participating in Cornell’s 5-Year MBA program, I’m often asked why I chose to go through with this program which allows me to get a head start on my MBA while finishing up at ILR.  It’s been an excellent experience so far, and I know Johnson will allow me to develop a well-rounded business education, but there’s more to it.
There are 5 major reasons I went for it:
1. It’s a great deal
Normally, an MBA takes 2 years, full-time,  to complete.  The 5-Year MBA (as the name suggests) cuts the study down to just one year after your undergraduate by allowing double-dipping in your senior year, effectively saving a year of tuition.  For some students, Johnson credits eat up their remaining general electives (you need to complete your major requirements before matriculating), but for others (myself included) who completed 4 years of study in 3, the business school credits are pretty much a bonus.  If you go to a contract college (ILR, Human Ecology or Agriculture & Life Sciences) and are a New York resident , you get especially good savings due to in-state tuition.
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2. Entrepreneurship@Cornell
There’s a reason Forbes called Cornell the “Silicon Ivy” (featuring my good friends at Audiarchy and CoVenture). It’s not just that students start companies (like Yorango), it’s also the evolving entrepreneurial infrastructure, with anchors like Student Agencies, eLab and BR Venture Fund.  To stick around for one more year means more exposure to a growing community of innovators and hustlers.
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3. New subjects, new challenges 
After 3 years of undergraduate classes, I realized I gain a distinctly different education at Johnson.  I took only one class in Cornell’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management (AEM, the undergraduate business program), a tremendously influential entrepreneurship course, so coming to Johnson allows me to deeply explore business as a subject (one cannot double-major in ILR and AEM).  Johnson also tests me in new ways, most notably through its emphasis on practical leadership.
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4. Career advancement 
If I choose entrepreneurship, I now have a solid business education to support my endeavors.  If I enter the job market, I now have a second degree and a new skill set, courtesy of that solid business education.  Win-win.
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5. Community
Johnson is tight-knit, collaborative and friendly while offering world-class academics and phenomenal career opportunities.  What’s not to love?  Sage Socials are just the beginning.

Immersion Time

Selecting my undergraduate major was not difficult for me.  While many of my friends arrived undecided, I was set on Industrial and Labor Relations from my first visit.  The flexible yet focused curriculum addressed my interests in the social sciences, business and law perfectly.  ILR’s tight community (under 1,000 students across four years) resonated with me as well.

Choosing my Immersion at Johnson was not as easy.  Immersions define your second semester, centering classes around a professional theme.  Unlike undergrad, where Cornell offers dozens of majors,  Johnson offers only a handful of immersions: Capital Markets & Asset Management, Investment Banking, Marketing, Sustainable Global Enterprise (SGE), Operations and Managerial Finance, plus the Customized Program.  The goal: an intensive semester of study preparing students to succeed at a summer internship.  Generally, people select either an option aligned with their career plan, or one that allows them to cultivate a new skill set.  Immersions also feature site visits and may include a consulting project where students work with an actual corporate client.

Originally, I enrolled in SGE.  The program appealed to me because it offered the opportunity to work in cross-functional teams on a consulting project with a business interested in sustainability.  SGE remains the only program offering non-Johnson students the opportunity to apply to join project teams. Another factor in my initial decision?  The strong community of students and alumni the program is known for.

However, after several weeks pre-enrolled in SGE, I switched to Customized.  While intrigued by SGE’s community, classes and cross-functional consulting project (I’m really into alliteration right now), I felt Customized simply offered more flexibility and opportunity for me to explore my interests and refine my skills.  Given that Yorango offers me an opportunity to work every single day in a cross-functional team and I’ve had consulting experiences with Life Changing Labs and BR Venture Fund, I knew I could create many of the elements of SGE for myself.  However, I will miss being part of the cohort.  Even so, I think customized is the right fit for me at this point in my career.

Case Competitions & the Johnson Core

One element of the Core that I appreciate is the inclusion of case competitions in the curriculum.  These fantastic learning experiences also align with Johnson’s Titletown program to support students in interscholastic case competitions.

Scattered throughout the semester are three intra-Johnson challenges: Leading Teams, S.C. Johnson (marketing) and Citi (integrative – a little bit of almost everything, focusing on critical thinking, strategy and finance).  For those unfamiliar with case competitions, they test entrants on their ability to quickly address a business issue.  In general, a presentation is required, with additional material such as an executive summary or financial projections sometimes necessary.

The first case got us off to a great start working together as a team.  Capping Orientation, this challenge for the Leading Teams class gave groups five hours to figure out how a heavy equipment firm should address an emerging market. The time constraint, combined with the minimal B-school experience we had at that point, made it all about teamwork.  While we failed to place, this project gave us a good idea of what to expect from one another and informed our work preferences going forward.

Several weeks later, our marketing skills were tested in a competition sponsored by S.C. Johnson (the family company that my business school shares a namesake with).  We came together to draft a digital strategy for a hypothetical client, sharing suggestions with the marketing faculty and earning an Honorable Mention.  After the presentations, the class headed to the Statler for a reception with managers and directors from the Racine-based firm.

Finally, the Integrative Case defined the week between the end of classes and finals.  Sponsored by Citi, the case tasked core teams to create shareholder value for a Fortune 500 company.  The winners took home $3,000, with other cash prizes available to finalists.  Of the three, this was most intense, challenging us to think outside the box while dealing with a complex set of facts and requirements and developing a detailed strategy recommendation.

Through these challenges, I learned how to handle time pressure, work with a group and and synthesize complex (and possibly incomplete) information, skills you can’t always learn in a traditional classroom setting.  Plus, these experiences helped me get to know my team much better – a group I’m grateful to have tackled the first semester with.

 

Core Team 20

The Johnson Team Leadership Experience  stands out as a hallmark of my B-school experience.  From the very beginning of the semester, first-years are broken out into highly-diverse groups of five or six.  My group (Core Team 2o!) is no exception to the diversity, with different aspirations (ranging from marketing and banking to entrepreneurship and consulting), backgrounds (hospitality, consumer insights, military, equity research, technology), cultures and experiences.  Every group also has access to a Johnson Leadership Fellow (read: second-year coach).  There is no guarantee, however, that teams will work together effectively.

Luckily, I didn’t need to deal with that concern.  Not only did Core Team 20 get along pretty well, we also found niches where we excelled (design, finance, editing, technology, presentation, etc.) and could focus on ensuring our deliverables were top-notch.  This improved our efficiency and also gave us a “resident expert” we could turn to with questions on their area of expertise.

Each of us had a chance to lead a group project for a core class (I led our Critical & Strategic Thinking deliverable), and teammates provide feedback to each other after its completion.  It was in this area that I was most pleasantly surprised by the group.  Not only did we all put care into writing feedback for one another, I noticed that we did our best to incorporate the feedback into our behavior over the course of the semester.  We also had a trio of case competitions we tackled as a team. I’ll discuss these in the future.

To conclude, a major shout out to Johnson and Core Team 20 for making the Team Leadership Experience a stellar part of my first semester of B-School.  No doubt I’m going to miss having this group of tremendous men and women behind me.

135

The weekend of October 24-26 marked my fraternity’s 135th anniversary celebration, as well as the conclusion of our fall rush (more on rush later).  Dozens of Beta Theta Pi alumni returned from class years dating back to 1952 for the festivities.

The weekend kicked off with dinner and tours of our house, the Castle on the Rock, which has seen many renovations since it opened in 1917.  For example, many rooms have been renovated or repurposed – what is currently our pantry was once a bedroom, and set of leather couches now stand where a hot tub once did.  After dinner, we headed to a venue on the Commons where undergraduate brothers, alumni, and guests danced the night away.

Early the next morning, we convened for our semiannual Alumni Corporation board meeting. The corporation owns our house and is responsible for representing the alumni in Beta’s management.  Two undergraduates, our president and treasurer, also sit on the board as voting members.  Over the course of the morning, we discussed the state of the Fraternity, ranging from our house’s physical plant to financials to upcoming goals, programming and plans.

The meeting was followed by a Pinesburger lunch.  If you love burgers (or at the very least occasionally enjoy them) and happen to be in Ithaca, I recommend stopping by Glenwood Pines.   Their claim to fame is the Pinesburger Challenge, which pushes entrants to down four burgers, plus toppings, in an hour.  Served on French bread, the burgers do pose a challenge (as many of my friends can attest), but the reward of a t-shirt for achieving the feat draws many.  The fastest I’ve ever seen it done, and the Beta record, is a disgustingly fast 7:48.4 (a burger every 117.1 seconds).  

That evening, we made our way to the Country Club of Ithaca for a banquet celebrating the anniversary featuring speakers from the undergraduate populace, Alumni Corporation and General Fraternity.  We also awarded the Diamond Legion honor, given to a distinguished alumnus, to Jeff Frey ’89.  A local resident, Jeff is one of our most dedicated volunteers. He joins a community of previous Diamond Legion awardees including Robert Kane, Carl Kroch, Jon Lindseth and David Duffield.

As dinner concluded, many alumni who traveled in bid their farewells, returning to locations as far away as California, Florida and Colorado.  However, some returned to the house and talked long into the night.

The  anniversary celebration was truly a tremendous experience.  To see the fraternity unite so many people with different ages, backgrounds and experiences was a powerful demonstration that brothers can be brothers for life.  Once.  Always.  Everywhere.

 

 

Yorango + eLab, Part I

I recently learned that my company, Yorango, will be rejoining Cornell’s eLab.  This will be our second time through, having first entered the program in the 2012-2013 school year.  An incubator for student-run businesses operated in conjunction with the Student Agencies Foundation, the program brings together campus entrepreneurs and provides resources and opportunities to develop their companies.  We kicked off last week at Rev, an awesome new incubator space in downtown Ithaca.  More on this to follow.

Our goal in going through is to really monetize and grow Yorango as a technology company that develops digital solutions for real estate.  Our first product, a  listing platform, encourages accountability and safety in renting – my team and I built an online rental marketplace for our community around real identities, rejecting the sketchiness of other web classifieds in response to a much-reported student need.  However, we have much more on the way.  This process of pivoting includes building out a Software-as-a-Service for property management that will allow us to benefit the tenants and prospective renters we already serve while adding value for landlords and property managers.

My most memorable Cornell experience was pitching in the University’s Demo Day during Entrepreneurship@Cornell Celebration my sophomore year – the first time I took my company through Cornell’s eLab tested my ability in the best of ways and truly helped me learn and grow as a person and an entrepreneur.  I have no doubt the second time will be as rewarding.

 

First Half of the Core? Check.

The first year of Cornell’s MBA program has a very unique structure, with six survey classes (part of the Core ) accelerated through in seven-week sprints during the first semester alone.

Without question, academics move much faster at the B-school level than when I was a full-time undergraduate, even if fundamental content in some classes (for example, microeconomics) is similar.  Professors place a strong emphasis on out-of-class study, and all strive to demonstrate how their class material is applicable in a career setting.  Of course, it is important to note that the MBA’s value is strongly connected to the functional skills taught, which explains this focus.

This week marked the start of my second set of Johnson Core classes – Managerial Finance, Strategy and Critical & Strategic Thinking, which replaced my first half of the semester schedule of Financial Accounting, Microeconomics for Management and, my personal favorite, Marketing Management.  Immediately following Orientation, we  kicked off with a rapid-fire two weeks of Leading Teams and an introduction to the Team Leadership Practicum, in which students are evaluated on their management of assigned team deliverables.

It was weird, however, to know that when most of my undergraduate compatriots were getting ready to take prelim (read: midterm) exams two weeks back, I was living in the library prepping for my finals.  Unlike undergrad finals, where people generally get away from the exam room as fast as possible, Johnson surprised us with a reception – we exited the exam room into an Atrium filled with desserts, cider and champagne for everyone!  Definitely a nice, unexpected treat and a fun way for the community to bond over the collective escape from the stress of testing.

The first half of the Core flew by, but it was absolutely packed – between core team meetings (more on this later – Johnson incorporates LOTS of group work), corporate briefings, homework, extracurriculars and more, it feels like I’ve been in B-school for much more than a couple months.  Even with all of the activity, I’m lucky to have made many new friends at Johnson – the sense of Cornell community is consistent with that I experienced across the street in ILR, and I’m glad I’ll get to be at Cornell for three more semesters.

 

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