Summer Fellowship Teams Inspire at Demo Day

Students cheer during demo day.

Students cheer during demo day.

On a Thursday night at the end of July, over 200 family members, friends, and community members squeezed into the Yale School of Architecture's Hastings Hall for Tsai CITY's 2018 Summer Fellowship Demo Day. From the excited murmurs that filled the air when Amy Giuliano (Divinity School '18), founder of Vadis VR, illustrated how virtual reality could bring world-renowned cultural sites to life to the silence that seized the room when Clark Burnett & J. Joseph (both Yale College '19) played a teaser from the third season of their docuseries, Now, in Color, it was clear that the audience was captivated by what this year's fellows had created.

Demo Day was the culmination of a full-time, summer-long program that took 17 teams from early-stage concept to launch or scale with their ventures. Each team received $15,000 to test and develop products or to scale their existing business model. Beyond receiving this funding, teams were connected with hand-selected mentors in the field and took part in a number of pitch opportunities leading up to Demo Day. After eight weeks of interactive workshops from acclaimed speakers — on topics ranging from market research to negotiations —the teams were ready to showcase their progress.

Demo Day’s charismatic MC, CITY intern Jazzy Fisher (Yale College '20), provided a bit of background on each team before they presented their four-minute pitch. Many teams presented novel approaches to global problems: The audience nodded along as Patrick Reed (Yale College '16) from Stake explained why the world was currently “on fire" and how Stake had positioned itself to use individuals’ investments to create positive social and environmental change. Symbrosia, meanwhile, engaged the crowd with surprising insights into how seaweed could reduce the current negative environmental impact of the beef and seafood industries through the development of a saltwater aquaponic system.

The resonance of the students’ ideas could be felt throughout the event. Not a pin dropped in the room when Victor Hunt (Yale College '18) of Astorian, this year's NYU-Yale Pitchoff champions, shared a heartfelt story about how his own personal struggles with stable and safe housing led to the inception of an online marketplace connecting buildings with certified contractors. A lengthy round of applause followed when Wazhma Sadat (Yale College '14, Law School '20), founder of Firoz Academy, shared that she had been the first Afghan woman to attend Yale College. She and her team went on to describe how they are building on this perspective and working to provide world-class instruction in math, leadership, and technology for other young Afghan leaders.

Other teams bringing eye-opening innovations to the stage included Alectro, LLC, Homecooked, Rosie River Boots, Campaign for America, Raise Green, Inc., and Students of Salaam (SOS). Presentations also extended beyond the stage, as the event reception featured tasty treats from food-based teams. Homemade baklava samples from Havenly quickly ran out and Mindful,Inc. continuously poured energizing ginger-moringa shots, while Forested Foods served up Ethiopian honey alongside greek yogurt and bread.

In the end, healthcare venture Visionairy won the Audience Favorite Award. Their project is focused on building an A.I. screening solution for identifying abnormal chest x-rays and adjusting physician’s workflows accordingly.

Reflecting on the program after the event's conclusion, Nya Holder, an Innovation Fellow at CITY, was inspired by the way the cohort of student teams bonded and supported each other throughout the weeks leading up to Demo Day. "Typically you think of entrepreneurship work as cutthroat, where people are competing for their own self interest," she notes, adding that the fellowship's ethos of mutual support stood out to her. "It's cool to see the development of a culture where students, even sole founders, can lean on each other.”

Laura Mitchell