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Startup Suite helps small businesses, tech companies and more

Members of BR Ventures group at a meeting in Sage Hall

The BR Ventures group at a Sage Hall meeting in February. See larger image

Johnson School students are offering free or inexpensive assistance to alumni-founded startup companies, entrepreneurs marketing Cornell-developed technologies and local small businesses through four service initiatives.

The Startup Suite includes:

  • BR Ventures -- a team of student fund managers with a seed-stage venture fund of about $1.5 million under management.

"The venture fund is funded by donations and provides a great learning opportunity for students and a valuable funding source for high-growth businesses," says Zach Shulman, ILR '87, Law '90, director of Entrepreneurship@Johnson and a senior lecturer in entrepreneurship.

BR Ventures has made 10 investments to date and has had one successful exit with the sale of SightSpeed, a student-founded videoconferencing equipment company, to Logitech in 2008.

"We evaluate hundreds of business plans, and first-year MBA students dig into many of them through a rigorous due-diligence process under the direction of the managers," says Anna Bruno, a second-year MBA student. "Given the wealth of technologies being developed at Cornell, those are most of the companies we see. Those obviously work very well for us; we can sit down face-to-face with the entrepreneurs and learn about the business."

BR Ventures' latest investment is in Adenios, a biotech company co-founded by Charles Hamilton, MBA '04. Based on Cornell research by Margaret Bynoe, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology, Adenios helps control and facilitate delivery of therapeutic drugs to the brain, in treating such illnesses as multiple sclerosis, cancer, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

"Adenios has the potential to save lives," says Daniel Hest, chief operating officer of BRV. "This is a great example of Cornell technology, entrepreneurship and capital all coming together -- we're thrilled to be a part of it."

  • BR Microcapital -- Offers business consulting and small loans to underserved small businesses in Tompkins County. "It can be a dry cleaner or restaurant, not just a growth tech business," Shulman says. Loans of up to $5,000 are administered by Alternatives Federal Credit Union in partnership with BR Microcapital, which is affiliated with the Johnson School's Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise.

"BRM's strength to date has been the relationship/coaching aspect of our program," says MBA student Tyeise Huntley. "Currently we have five clients and a few more in the pipeline."

  • BR Legal -- Provides "corporate legal work for startups … for everything from Web 2.0 companies to iPhone application companies to handbag companies to consulting companies," says Shulman, BR Legal's executive director. "Most of the people have a Cornell connection, but that is not required."

Through BR Legal, a Law School student works for the startup client under the mentorship of a lawyer from a participating firm. Clients are charged $25 per hour, and law students are paid. BR Legal has served more than 180 clients nationwide and is not need-based.

  • BR Incubator -- A small-business consulting agency offering financial analysis and modeling, competitive analysis, supply-chain analysis and other services. The incubator handles 12-15 projects a year from November to March.

"The Startup Suite is really pretty powerful in the help it can give startups," Shulman says.

Lectures and seminars at the Johnson School also provide startup training. A new one-credit, 10-week Startup Learning Series imparts key concepts and issues encountered in startup businesses, from team building to trademarks.

A separate Entrepreneurship Seminar Series is open to community members. It began Feb. 19 with career entrepreneur and visiting professor Steven Gal on "Raising Money -- Getting From Business Plan to Funded Company." The next seminar, "Startup Killers," is April 23.

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