April 17, 2009

Priceline Founder Named Entrepreneur of the Year

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When Jay Walker ’77 began Priceline.com at the height of the dotcom boom, little did he know that his creation would soon become a billion dollar enterprise. Now the University will recognize Walker, the founder of one of the most successful sites on the web, as Cornell’s Entrepreneur of the Year.
The annual Entrepreneurship at Cornell Celebration brings over 500 current students, alumni, faculty and staff together to participate in a two-day symposium that features a variety of industries, including hospitality, real estate, health care, agriculture and computing and information science. This year, 11 colleges and programs are participating in the program in an effort to make the celebration more comprehensive.
Attendees were treated to the final presentations of four idea business competitions, including the Big Idea Competition for Cornell undergraduates with enterprising ideas, and the Cornell Venture Challenge, which provides an opportunity for Cornell affiliated faculty, students and staff to turn their idea into a viable business.
The event drew a particularly large number of interested students.
“I am attending the celebration because I’ve heard great things about this event,” James Zhang ’11 said. “It is a great opportunity for me to learn about entrepreneurship from some of the best in the field. The Big Idea competition hosts fascinating ideas with great potential developed by our peers. In all, this is just a great learning experience for me.”
Participants also had the opportunity to attend the Technology and Resource Expo, a showcase for business startups, Cornell technologies and for other Cornell clubs that embody the spirit of entrepreneurship. President Skorton will also be hosting a gala dinner to honor the celebration and the CEY who traditionally delivers a keynote address at the beginning of the celebration.[img_assist|nid=36989|title=Name your price|desc=Priceline.com founder and “Cornell Entrepreneur of the Year” Jay Walker ’77 lectures yesterday in Statler Auditorium.|link=node|align=right|width=|height=0]
Other students were excited for the networking opportunities the celebration offered, especially during the event’s Technology and Resource Expo, a showcase for business startups.
“I am really interested in entrepreneurship-related events on campus and I’m involved in [the Undergraduate StartUp & Venture Capital Club] and a couple of us on the board are tabling for a couple of hours during the networking session. As a club, we see it as a great opportunity to network with alumni and to meet more student entrepreneurs,” Philicia Tan ’11 said.
Needless to say the focus of the celebration is most certainly centered on the keynote address of the CEY, Tan said prior to the speech, “I’ve done research in the past on Priceline.com so I’m psyched to be able to meet Mr. Walker in person. I’ve also heard from faculty that he is a dynamic speaker so I’m definitely looking forward to his speech.”
Director of Entrepreneurship at Cornell John Jaquette said, “A key thing in the selection process [of the CEY], is whether it is someone who would have something to tay to students that would be useful.”
However this is not the only qualification, CEY is awarded to a Cornellian who embodies entrepreneurship. The CEY has successfully started and managed or successfully turned around a business in an innovative fashion while simultaneously contributing to their communities and humanity as a whole. As an inspiration to others the person chose as CEY conducts their business with the highest integrity.
According to Jaquette, the selection of the CEY is a long and arduous process, “There is an open call in the alumni magazine and on campus for nominations. When the pool is gathered, the committee reviews them and selects one. Essentially you could take the applications and throw them in the air. All the applicants are extremely gifted.”
Walker is joining the ranks of among many others, including Sanford Weill ’55 of Citigroup Inc, James McLamore ’47 of Burger King Corporation and David Duffield of Peoplesoft, the computer system used for all of Cornell’s administrative computing.
“As an entrepreneur I did not prepare my career to be a model to anyone,” said Jay Walker ’77 in regards to the pressure he experienced as being named CEY of the year. Nonetheless, he went on to describe his experiences with his family and some of the other awards he has been honored with in the past.
Walker said, “Anytime you win an award your family and friends tease you mercilessly and that’s not a positive. I remember when Yonkers, NY named me the first Legend of Yonkers, they gave me an award and a big event … my kids teased me for years. I would prefer not to be labeled and while I am honored I would be fine without the label.”
However, according to Walker, the most rewarding experience associated with starting a business and managing it successfully lies in its effect on other people, “The most rewarding experience is to create jobs and opportunities for people in my company and my team and right close to that, is to create solutions to problems that ultimately millions of people benefit from. There is no question that large scale success touches large numbers of people.”
This theory of using his successful business to positively impact others was reflected within Walker’s key note address, titled org dot com. which was focused on the differences or lack thereof between for-profit and not for-profit organizations and the role of the internet and cell phones as leverage for entrepreneurs.
“Now is the greatest time in human history to be an entrepreneur, the digital network is a lever that be used to help millions of people and make a profit at the same time,” Walker said in his address.
Walker went on to say “the bigger the problem, the larger the potential for profit.”
When asked what type of advice he could give to students who were looking to be entrepreneurs, “There is no answer, there is no magic bullet, there is no one piece of advice that will make all the difference in the world, but with that caveat try to make new mistakes, learn from the mistakes of everyone and avoid them. It is expensive to make mistakes,” Walker said.