This past summer, a select number of students participated in the first ever Johnson Summer Startup Accelerator, a 10-week summer intensive designed to help first-year graduate students enrolled in the two-year MBA program launch their startup. Supported by the Cornell entrepreneurial ecosystem and its abundance of resources, these students participate in weekly workshops and one-on-one mentoring with experienced Cornell Entrepreneurs in Residence. Accepted students are also eligible for support by the Professor Vrinda Kadiyali Student Entrepreneur Fund, making it possible for first-year full-time MBA students to focus on launching their startups over the duration of the summer accelerator as their summer internship.
The accelerator allowed Espinel to focus on furthering Kefi Lifestyle Co. The lifestyle brand, co-founded with his fiancé and Cornell staff member, Trisha Grullon, is on a mission to empower customers to be their “gutsiest” selves, literally—the startup is developing a variety of products to support the human microbiome—in addition to creating content that promotes self-love and the benefits of holistic wellness.
Espinel credits his inspiration for starting the company to his youth: “In my teens, I read a book called From Me to We, which really made an impact on me and sparked my interest in entrepreneurship—especially the desire to create a product that does good in the world. For me, that is what Kefi Lifestyle Co is about. We create products that inspire people to take care of themselves from the inside out.”
The Kefi Lifestyle Co co-founders expressed gratitude to the Johnson Summer Startup Accelerator for fostering collaboration, partnerships, and a support system of other young entrepreneurs to help them grow. The startup was recently accepted into Cornell’s rigorous eLab student accelerator, where they plan to continue working toward the goal of opening their business to customers. “We hope to finally launch. COVID impacted this due to the lack of commercial kitchen resources in and around Ithaca, New York; but it was a blessing in disguise because we were able to work on more customer discovery, product formulation, and marketing plans” said Espinel.
Meanwhile, Perez focused this summer on building Squat Safe, a startup dedicated to reducing the risk of back injuries among weightlifting athletes. Explained Perez Altuve, “Being a weightlifter myself, I found that there was a need for a device to help weightlifters perform exercises correctly to prevent lower back injuries.”
For Perez, a main takeaway from the Johnson Summer Startup Accelerator was the opportunity to engage in valuable customer discovery—the process of speaking with consumers to gather evidence for or against product-market fit. “It gave a clear framework on how to find customer needs. Also, it gave me a network of people to reach out to for mentorship” says Perez, describing the ways in which the summer accelerator contributed to the development of Squat Safe.