Have you been developing an idea for a start-up for a little while now? Or perhaps you’re looking to get involved with a team that’s developing its own venture? Or maybe you’re interested in learning more about entrepreneurship in general? Whatever your motivation, if you think of yourself as a current or aspiring student entrepreneur, the Leslie eLab is the place for you. As part of the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute, the Leslie eLab offers a plethora of resources, services, and opportunities—both in-person and virtually—to any and every student entrepreneur at NYU. We sat down with Frank Rimalovski, executive director of the Entrepreneurial Institute, to get the lowdown on everything you can find and take part in at the Leslie eLab—regardless of what school, college, or program you’re part of at NYU.
How did the Leslie eLab get started?
In 2011, I saw that there was a need to create a commons, a place where students from all the different schools could come together. We wanted to create a hub where people with different skills, experiences, and perspectives could naturally connect and collide and where we could offer programs and resources that students need to go from an idea or an invention to a business. We got the go-ahead from the provost and the funds, and by September of 2014, we were ready to open.
What is the mission of the Leslie eLab?
I like to say, whether you want to learn how to spell “entrepreneur” or you need money to scale your venture or anywhere in between, we have a whole array of programs, resources, and events for you.
What steps can an NYU student entrepreneur take to turn an idea or invention into a viable start-up?
The first step is to attend our weekly How to Start a Startup at NYU workshop. There, students get an overview of the process.
Then you can get involved in what we call our Accelerator Series, which begins with a Startup Bootcamp. The Bootcamps are highly experiential. We teach teams of students how to test the value of their ideas through what we call “customer discovery.”
The next step is the Startup Sprint, a two-week customer discovery and business model intensive. During the Sprint, teams deepen their customer understanding by leading at least 50 customer discovery interviews.
After that comes the Ignite Fellowship. This is a 12-week peer-to-peer mentorship program in which we support and coach teams as they further develop their ideas. Then, if their business model stands up to all that scrutiny, we invite them to the nine-week Summer Launchpad. We give each team $10,000 and pair them with four mentors and two investors from the New York City start-up community. We hold two Demo Days at the end of the program, where teams pitch their ideas to the public.
Last, we have the Innovation Venture Fund. The Fund provides seed capital to help especially promising NYU teams scale their ventures. We want to help them transform their ideas and inventions into thriving companies.
What are some of the resources available to students who come to the Leslie eLab?
One important thing we do is coaching. That means we provide NYU start-up founders with the support, knowledge, and tactical advice they need to build their skill set and conduct real-time decision-making. There’s also an Entrepreneurs Festival. It draws successful NYU-made ventures and founders to campus to give and seek advice, support, and potential investment. Additionally, there’s the Healthcare Makerthon. There, NYU innovators gather to prototype viable solutions to urgent health-care problems through customer discovery and mentorship. Another example of a great resource is our Prototyping Fund. The Fund awards teams with grants of up to $500 to build a physical product. And there’s also a Startup School, where we invite start-up experts to campus to conduct workshops.
What would you tell a student entrepreneur who’s still in high school about the opportunities they have access to at the Leslie eLab?
I would say that there’s a tremendous array of resources here for them. And I would encourage them to get involved and take advantage of what we offer. Even if they don’t have an idea themselves, they can still contribute to someone else’s venture. And I would say, the sooner they come in, the better. We work with everyone, from every school. Good ideas can come from anywhere.
Discover even more opportunities
In addition to the Leslie eLab, the Entrepreneurial Institute gives student entrepreneurs at NYU access to even more services, resources, events, and programs, including:
- Entrepreneurs Network, a community of entrepreneurship-related student organizations at NYU that promotes and supports entrepreneurship across campus.
- Inclusive Entrepreneurship Forum, an event where attendees hear from founders and investors from underrepresented communities who are rewriting the story in their respective fields.
- Female Founders, an initiative that offers forums, lunch-and-learns, and resources to support founders and women working in science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) as they grow their ventures.
- First Generation to College Founders Fellowship sponsored by Santander, a fellowship that provides training, mentorship, and the chance to apply for up to $5,000 in scholarships to student entrepreneurs at NYU who are the first in their family to go to college.
- Startup Team Hunt, one of the only co-founder matching events at NYU that brings students, faculty, researchers, and staff together to learn about each other’s ventures and areas of interest, and to join together as teams.
- VC Pitchfest, a friendly competition where NYU entrepreneurs present their start-ups and inventions to VC and angel investors.