The Whitman School of Management was buzzing with the spirit of entrepreneurship on Nov. 10, as it welcomed recipients of the University’s inaugural ’CUSE50 Alumni Entrepreneur Awards to interact with student entrepreneurs from across campus at ’CUSE50 Summit 2023: Conversation and Networking with the 50 Fastest-Growing Alumni Businesses. The award winners were graduates from across campus, including the D’Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Families, as were student panelists and attendees.
Michael Haynie, vice chancellor for strategic initiatives and innovation; and executive dean of the Whitman School and Alex McKelvie, interim dean of the Whitman School and professor of entrepreneurship, kicked off the event by welcoming dozens of alumni, more than 250 students, faculty and staff.
“While the ’CUSE50 awards were created to celebrate the entrepreneurship of our Syracuse University alumni, today is about connecting our student entrepreneurs with our honorees through insightful discussions,” said Haynie. “Thank you to our honorees who are contributing to a dynamic ecosystem on this campus and have a willingness to engage with our next level of entrepreneurs.”
McKelvie thanked the participants and emphasized the importance of mentorship, while also noting that Syracuse University was recently ranked No. 2 in the world for entrepreneurship scholarship and in the top 15 for undergraduate entrepreneurship programs.
The day was coordinated by Whitman’s Professor of Entrepreneurial Practice John Torrens ’93 M.S. (EDU); deputy department chair, program manager for the master’s degree in entrepreneurship program; and Linda Dickerson Hartsock, Whitman faculty member and founder and former executive director of the Blackstone LaunchPad at SU Libraries. It included interactive breakout sessions with panels of ’CUSE50 award recipients covering topics on starting, scaling, selling and branding, as well as managing, balancing, networking and funding business ideas. Panel sessions were moderated by 17 student founders from across campus who launched their own ventures working within Syracuse University’s innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem.
One session, Start It, for example, presented a panel consisting of Kelsey Davis ’19 (NEW), ’20 M.S., founder and CEO of CLLCTVE; Giavona “G” Williams ’10 (NEW), founder and CEO of Grova Creative marketing agency; Joe Neumann ’06, founder and CEO of Tremor Vibration Services; Bob Hornung ’87, Evo Systems LLC; and Kelo Makelele ’19 (IVMF), ’20, RedTrace Technologies, Inc., who gave valuable advice about getting started and developing an entrepreneurial mindset.
“Think about your own values. Think about why your spirit wants to do this,” offered Davis. “Entrepreneurship is something that enables you to create a lifestyle that is fun and flexible — and what that is looks different for everyone. If you do that successfully, it doesn’t feel like you’re working. I’m having a great time right now.”
“I wish someone had told me to start making connections when I was in college,” added Neumann, who challenged the audience to immediately begin connecting on LinkedIn. “Your network equals your net worth. People will try to pull you down, but ignore them. The people who are pulling you up are those to keep around. As entrepreneurs, we need the help of people who can bring in the skills that we don’t have ourselves in order to help us grow.”
Another session, Balance It, addressed maintaining mental health in a competitive business environment. Panelists included Torrens, who is also the co-founder and CEO of Sprout Therapy and a ’CUSE50 winner; and Laura Maddalena ’96 (VPA), founder and chief leadership consultant, Envision Excellence. Both spoke about developing important habits, as well as practices they have both adopted to attempt to keep their lives in balance.
“Your health is your wealth. Entrepreneurs work very hard, often to their detriment,” said Torrens, who shared his use of a biotracker to gauge sleep, cardio and more, as well as his practice of sleeping with a grounding pad to maintain “a connection to the earth’s energy” and manage the electrochemical balance and recovery that takes place overnight. He also encouraged young entrepreneurs to avoid marijuana and alcohol before sleep, as well as to turn off screens and screen lights at least two hours before bed.
“The superpower of an entrepreneur is getting sleep,” added Maddalena. “I see people who are so exhausted, and that impacts memory. If you’re burning the candle at both ends constantly, you can’t show up really well. When you sleep, you have more energy — and then you don’t need 12 hours to get that work done because you have so much more focus.”
After the breakout sessions, students were encouraged to showcase their websites, pitch decks, personal brand materials and more to alumni at the Student Demo Alley networking reception, where they received additional feedback.
Overall, the ’CUSE50 Summit was well-received by alumni and students. “Being an aspiring entrepreneur, it was great seeing those who were once in the same position as we are now be so successful today. And, people talked more about the importance of connections, not just about making money,” said Will Lubowitz ’24, a double major in entrepreneurship and emerging enterprises (EEE) and real estate at Whitman.
Whitman hopes to make this an annual event to coincide with the University’s ’CUSE50 awards. “The ’CUSE50 Summit was a great success, and we were thrilled to see so many alumni take the time to participate and impart their wisdom on up-and-coming entrepreneurs,” said Hartsock. “I think the alumni were very impressed with how much talent and drive our students have, which only fuels their willingness to pay it forward. I hope this event contributes to many great business ventures and even greater relationships.”
A list of the Whitman Alumni Companies on the CUSE 50 list are noted below:
Tamekia Ball '97 Epiphany Blue
Kelsey Davis '19, G'20 CLLCTVE
Eric Factor '17 CraneTech
Eric Fleming '04 Makeout
Matthew Gelles '10 NEFCO
Joseph Holl '05 National Electronic Transit
Robert Hornung '87 Evo Systems LLC
Robert LaBreche '87 iGrad
Gregory Lettieri '04 Recycle Track Systems
Joshua Love '04 Kinema Fitness, Inc.
Nicholas Monzi '11 Learn Fresh
Paul Murdock '85 MCG Consulting Services LLC
Steve Nadolski '09 Eurocafe Imports
Joe Neumann '06 Tremor Vibration Services, LLC.
Brendan Quinlan '07 Big Dawg Party Rentals LLC
Robert Stickel '86 LifeSavers Inc
Professor John Torrens G'93 Sprout Therapy Group