Making the Pitch

The students huddled in small groups, preparing for their presentations. There was laughter, but it was of the nervous variety. An entire summer of work—and in some cases more than that—had come down to a few minutes on stage. PowerPoint decks were checked and lines rehearsed, as the clock ticked down to the moment when James Boyle, managing director of Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, would stand before the lectern and say, “Welcome to Demo Day.”

Each summer, about 10 Yale students take part in YEI’s summer fellowship, an intensive program designed to turn ideas into viable ventures and students into company founders, armed with business plans and prepared to start raising money from investors. During the summer, fellows are connected with experts in law, marketing, accounting, and venture capital. These mentors provide guidance in navigating the early months and years of a startup. Many become key early investors.

The culmination of the fellowship program is Demo Day, where each team pitches its business to a group of about 100 investors, entrepreneurs, and community members. It’s both a chance for fellows to show the program’s backers what they’ve accomplished and to make the kinds of connections that could lead to crucial seed money. This year, five Yale SOM students participated, working on companies in the biotech, tech security, and pharmaceutical spheres.

This year, all of these companies have a shot at being successful.

Robert Bettigole ’83, founder and managing partner of Elm Street Ventures and a YEI board member, said that creating a successful company is a combination of a great idea, luck, perseverance, and finding the right funders. Over the years, he said, the companies that have come out of YEI have become better and better. “This year, all of these companies have a shot at being successful,” he said.

Since its founding in 2007, the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute has developed into a year-round incubator for graduate and undergraduate students seeking to turn promising ideas into companies. Programs include from a pitch competition and the 10-week Tech Bootcamp, where students learn to write code for their startups. But while YEI is expanding, the Summer Fellowship remains the organization’s flagship program, having nurtured the bulk of its 70 student ventures.