NYU Alumni Connect

NYU Hosts First-Ever Entrepreneurs Festival

Alumni, faculty, and student entrepreneurs proved that NYU is a major hub of entrepreneurial activity at a two-day-long festival celebrating some of the most innovative ideas from the NYU community.

Dennis Crowley and Fred Wilson.
Photo: Alex Jagendorf

By Kristine Jannuzzi (CAS '98)

If you’ve ever dreamed of being your own boss and running your own business, the stories shared at the first-ever NYU Entrepreneurs Festival on November 11 and 12 might inspire you to finally take the plunge and turn your idea for a start-up into a reality. Over 60 NYU alumni, faculty, and student entrepreneurs from 11 of NYU’s 14 schools and colleges came together to discuss their paths to success with some 500 attendees at this celebration of startups and entrepreneurship by and for the NYU community.

To kick off the festival, NYU Trustee and venture capitalist Fred Wilson led a candid conversation with Dennis Crowley (TSOA ’04), the CEO of Foursquare and one of New York City’s most talked about entrepreneurs. In addition to discussing the development and expansion of the location-based networking service he co-founded, Crowley offered practical advice to those hoping to get their own products or companies off the ground. “Everyone thinks they’re an ideas person, but you have to find a way to put ideas into action,” he said. “Find people who are better than you and rope them into their project.”

The festival continued with a series of keynotes, panels, roundtables, and a venture showcase that offered a cross-section of industries and schools at NYU.  Among the many speakers were Don Katz (WSC ’74), founder/CEO of Audible; Shelley Harrison (ENG ’64, NYU-Poly ’65, 69), founder of Symbol Technologies; and Carley Roney (TSOA ’90, ’94) and Rob Fassino (TSOA ’88), co-founders of The Knot (now XO Group). Even the meals and refreshments were provided by NYU startups Rickshaw Dumpling Bar, co-founded by Kenny Lao (STERN ’04), and MilkMade Ice Cream, founded by Diana Hardeman (STERN ’09).

Lao and Hardeman joined Jonathan Teller (WSC ’92), founder of eos Products, for a panel discussion entitled “Entrepreneurship ≠ tech: The Many Flavors of Entrepreneurship.” Anthony Thomas, Senior Associate Director of Development at NYU School of Law and a festival attendee, found this conversation to be especially interesting. “It was refreshing to hear from founders of companies that are not solely based in technology. Overall, I was amazed to see the breadth of ideas that are coming out of the University as a whole, from seasoned alumni and faculty to current students and recent graduates.”

The festival was the brainchild of Frank Rimalovski, manager of the NYU Innovation Venture Fund, a $20 million venture fund created in 2010 to invest in startups built upon NYU technologies and intellectual property. “One of the things I learned early on was the importance of celebrating successes to serve as an inspiration point and role model for aspiring entrepreneurs at the University,” explained Rimalovski. “People who have good ideas might not know how to get started, and there’s something almost liberating to know that others have gone down this path before you. In a lot of cases, it’s not just about the idea itself, but also the passion, persistence, and reckless abandon with which they pursue their ideas.”

Student leaders from the NYU Entrepreneur’s Network, a collaborative of all the clubs and organizations that touch on innovation across the University, were closely involved in planning the festival with Rimalovski. Melissa Levick (WAG ’13), co-founder and VP of a start-up called Roozt.com, spearheaded the planning of the party after the first day of panels on Friday night. She described the festival as “an incredible congregation of the brightest and most ambitious minds at NYU,” and said she especially appreciated the exposure to other students from various NYU schools. “I loved hearing about how much students were able to network with each other to find co-founders, complementary skill sets, and new friends.”

An ice cream break provided by MilkMade Ice Cream, a company founded by alumna Diana Hardeman.
Photo: Anh Ly

The Entrepreneurs Festival is just one aspect of the University’s broader commitment to supporting and encouraging entrepreneurship among students, faculty, and researchers. Initiatives such as the Venture Mentoring Network bring recognized leaders in entrepreneurship, technology innovation, law, marketing, and finance together with current NYU students who benefit from the experience, wisdom, and emotional support of these seasoned veterans. For those who are looking to get a new venture off the ground, the $200K Entrepreneurs Challenge is an 8-month-long competition that awards winners a combined up to $200,000 in startup money plus pro bono services and technical assistance to help the venture succeed. And the NYU-Poly Varick Street Incubator, which provides the guidance, expertise, and resources that start-ups need to grow into scalable ventures, was recently singled out by Business Insider as very likely ”the top place in NYC for new entrepreneurs to call home.”

From the student perspective, Levick feels the initiatives encouraging entrepreneurship at NYU are a valuable addition to academics. “NYC is the most exciting place to be for up and coming start-ups and NYU is at the heart of this movement. Frank Rimalovski at the Venture Fund, the Berkeley Center for Entrepreneurship, and NYU in general are putting an amazing effort into fostering entrepreneurship in their students and encouraging it as an alternative to "The Street" (as in Wall). Given this special time for NYC and the extraordinary economic circumstances, NYU is supporting its students in becoming successful entrepreneurs and fostering job creation in the process.”

For more information about entrepreneurship at NYU, visit http://nyu.edu/entrepreneur. To learn how to support the Innovation Venture Fund at NYU, visit http://www.nyu.edu/about/university-initiatives/entrepreneurship/innovation-venture-fund/support-the-fund.html.



For more information about entrepreneurship at NYU, visit http://nyu.edu/entrepreneur. To learn how to support the Innovation Venture Fund at NYU, visit http://www.nyu.edu/about/university-initiatives/entrepreneurship/innovation-venture-fund/support-the-fund.html.