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Keith Cowing

Keith Cowing, MBA 10, has developed an online receipts business, replacing traditional paper purchase receipts with an e-mailed version that also promises new ways for businesses to interact with their customers. See larger image

Nurturing big ideas, continued

"There are some innate qualities like idea generation, solving problems and thinking out of the box," says Sean Neville, MBA '02, entrepreneur-in-residence at the Johnson School and himself the founder of an audiobook company. "But Cornell can provide the environment to nurture those innate qualities and guide those ideas."

Neville says his experiences at Cornell helped him learn to "think in a structured fashion about business problems and do it in a low-risk environment."

Indeed, 1,520 alumni who participated in a 2008 survey said that taking at least one Cornell entrepreneurship class made an impact on their career choice and their opinion of entrepreneurship.

Lawrence Watkins, MBA '10, said he's not naturally gregarious, a skill often thought to be vital to success as an entrepreneur. But his passion and the lessons he learned at Cornell helped him grow his public speakers business, Great Black Speakers Bureau. Today it represents more than 200 speakers, up from just 12 in 2007.

"I think there's more than one way to be an entrepreneur," says Watkins, who began by managing the speaking career of his brother, Boyce Watkins, a professor of finance at Syracuse University and a social commentator who has appeared on many TV programs, including "Good Morning America," and on CNN and MSNBC.


Farhod Rockwell Sharezay 10, an economics major in the College of Arts and Sciences and an eLab student member, designed a more environmentally friendly laptop battery that utilizes off-the-shelf rechargeable cells and allows the battery casing itself to be reused. See larger image

"There has been a sea change in the pervasiveness of an entrepreneurship culture and the growth of an entrepreneurial community on campus over the last decade," says John Jaquette, director of Entrepreneurship@Cornell since 1997. "The changes were driven by students, encouraged and supported by alumni, and led by a growing number of faculty."

One of those students is Keith Cowing, MBA '10, whose business, SeamlessReceipts, will soon be offering retailers a new way to connect with customers by offering them an e-mail receipt of their purchase. The receipts also will help retailers interact with customers through e-mail and social media.

So original is the idea that last May it won top honors of $250,000 in New York City's Draper Fisher Jurvetson East Coast Venture Challenge. The Cornell student, who is in the process of refining the software before rolling out his product later this year, recalls that when the idea came to him, like so many great ideas, it seemed so obvious. "It was mostly inspired by my wife always asking me for receipts, which I couldn't find," says Cowing.

Kathy Hovis is a freelance writer in Ithaca.

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