The passions and privations of the start-up entrepreneur

Gupta and Nemeth’s company is one of some 40 student ventures YEI is currently nurturing, advising, or subsidizing in some capacity. YEI is also still working with many teams whose founders have graduated. The variety of fledgling companies affiliated with YEI is wide. They include: Barefoot Concepts (a designer athletic shoe company), Grilled Cheese to Go (a fast-food franchise), Black Oak Capital Partners (a timber and agricultural investment company), Green Bride Guide Online (an online marketplace for eco-conscious brides), and jetEye Technologies (a company helping to build more-efficient commercial and military aircraft). Twenty of the forty companies have completed YEI’s summer fellowship.

Yale isn’t the first or the only university with a program dedicated to entrepreneurship. Both Stanford and MIT have had such programs for years. Jim Boyle is quick to point out, however, that Yale’s program is unique in that it is run out of the university’s technology transfer office (the Office of Cooperative Research). Its overriding goal is to find the most promising student-founded companies and get them off the ground, says Boyle. YEI wasn’t charged with creating classes on entrepreneurship or helping all students. “This was to be a mercenary approach aimed at the people who were the high fliers from any school at Yale,” says Boyle.

Thus far, 16 of YEI’s current companies have received significant funding, either from outside investors or because they teamed up with corporate partners. Thirteen of these companies have raised more than $100,000 each in outside funding. As a group, YEI companies have raised more than $18 million.

One of YEI’s more notable success stories involves a School of Management graduate, Leslee Parker ’09MBA. In 2008, YEI and the Office of Cooperative Research helped Parker create and market a business plan for commercializing a revolutionary water purification process developed by chemical engineering grad student Robert McGinnis ’08MPhil and his adviser, Menachem Elimelech. The resulting start-up, OASYS Water, has received more than $10 million in financing.

There have been plenty of failures, of course. YEI says that, in the three years of its existence, about 20 companies have “gone dormant.” “Innovation can be a messy process, and not everything that people try will work out,” says Shana Schneider ’00, deputy director of the institute. “This is simply part of the start-up process.”