April 12, 2012

Student Entrepreneurs Set Up Shop in Collegetown

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The PopShop, a student-run space for Cornellians to gather for entrepreneurial collaboration and free popcorn, opened this week on Dryden Avenue in Collegetown.

The shop, sponsored by Entrepreneurship@Cornell — a University initiative designed to promote entrepreneurship across all colleges and departments — was founded by a team of students with the motto “stop by, start up” and the vision of helping students turn their ideas into companies.

“Cornell is great in that it has seven undergraduate colleges and that there are smart people in all of them,” said Jeremy Blum ’12, one of the shop’s founders. “However, the coordination between them isn’t as great as it could be, especially when it comes to entrepreneurship.”

The shop’s narrow, 1,100 square feet — which Jesse McElwain ’13, one of the shop’s founders, called an “awkward space” — allows for a low rent on a monthly basis. The walls sport magazines and shelves of books, ranging from tech digests to Steve Jobs biographies, for inspiration. There is a table with a whiteboard surface covered in writing in the center of the room and a drop-down screen for presentation in the back.

The PopShop also offers free popcorn for students to snack on while they work –– a feature referenced by the shop’s name.

McElwain said the idea for the PopShop originated in February at the start-up career fair, after a conversation with John Jaquette, director of entrepreneurship at Cornell. Following the announcement of the tech campus, he and Jaquette determined there was an increased interest in start-ups among students, McElwain said.

“It became really clear that we wanted to work together to make sure that we could bring together the students’ own ambitions and motivations into the limelight to say that this is really important and this is something we can be really good at –– and we are good at it,” McElwain said.

He added that after speaking with students at Cornell, he found a consensus that there was no ideal space to foster collaboration on entrepreneurial projects between students in different disciplines.

“What they were really looking for is a space where people all across campus, from all different disciplines, can come together” not just to talk about problems, but to actually solve them, McElwain said.

A central goal of the PopShop is to change the way that people think about issues, moving from theoretical thinking to practical applications, according to Dylan Pancer ’12, another founder of the shop.

“The proposition that this space makes is that whatever you’re interested in, whatever you’re passionate about can be the basis of a new project, a new business, a new company,” Pancer said. “Often those projects can be the tools that are the most … immediate way to make change.”

James Muna ’12 said he is using the space to further Bora Wear, the apparel company he started in November. Proceeds from the apparel line will go toward an orphanage in Kenya for HIV-positive children.

Originally from Kenya, Muna said he hopes that his business will ultimately employ people from the country to generate economic opportunities. He added that the environment of PopShop has been beneficial in developing his brand.

“I ran into another guy who is doing something similar with African fabrics and laptop cases,” Muna said.

Blum said he has enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate with fellow students in the Popshop.

“I’ve been interacting almost exclusively with people I don’t interact with on a daily basis, people that are not engineers,” Blum said. “Working with that wide range of people has been really great.”

Pancer said the team plans to hold events, such as dinners and seminars, to draw more students to the space and encourage expanded participation in what he said was an initiative that is unique to Cornell.

“Surely, people are having conversations like this on college campuses everywhere, but by positioning it here, there is a mechanism to actually act,” Pancer said.

Original Author: Tajwar Mazhar