For 10 weeks over the summer, 13 students in the 2022 cohort of the Kessler Fellows program were spread around the world to gain work experience for startups. Now they’re back on campus for their final year, armed with valuable new skills and connections in the startup world.
The Kessler Fellows program, an immersive entrepreneurial opportunity for rising seniors located in the College of Engineering, is being offered in two phases. During the spring semester, students learn the basics of entrepreneurship through courses, mentorship from Entrepreneurs in Residence, and visits from past Kessler Fellows. With this preparation, Fellows work for a startup of their choice for the summer between their junior and senior years.
Thanks to funding from Andrew Kessler ’80, a weekly stipend from the program supports fellows throughout their startup experience, allowing them to focus on contributing to startups, learning from leaders, and developing their professional networks.
This year, Kessler Fellows’ experiences have taken them across the country and beyond to learn about emerging industries, from cleantech and healthcare to beekeeping and accessible travel. Meet four of the 2022 Kessler Fellows and learn about their summer startup experiences.
Jordan Roth ’23, Food Science
UBEES, the beekeeping technology startup Roth interned for, provides pollination services by leasing hives to farmers, creates sensors that measure hive health and send data to beekeepers’ phones, and offers environmental monitoring to determine how well a farm is suited to pollinators.
Roth wore many different hats over the summer with UBEES, helping with marketing, conducting research on bee-dependent plants to improve the company’s products and services, and reaching out to universities for research partnerships.
He even helped plan a corporate retreat in Hammondsport, New York, where the UBEES keep hives. There, he saw how excited other employees were about the company’s mission.
“My appreciation for startups really grew because you talk about it in class, but then you’re actually there and doing it,” Roth said. “You see what it’s all about and how much passion everyone has for the company because everyone in these early-stage companies believes in what they’re doing.”
The program curriculum in the spring semester helped prepare Roth for the internship. He was inspired by former Kessler Fellows who spoke to the current cohort and found the coursework valuable.
“I learned all the different steps of starting a startup, from ideation to execution and getting funding,” Roth said. “It actually helped me because I got to be involved in developing pitches for UBEES, one for research partnerships and one for food and agriculture companies. I was able to use what I learned and help them in a real way.”
After interning at UBEES, Roth said she was interested in taking what she learned through the Kessler Fellows program and applying those skills to work at startups in the future.
Tewodros “Tedi” Mitiku ’23, Computer Science
Mitiku’s summer internship with Kurtosis, a startup that builds development tools for distributed systems, sent him to Sao Paulo, Brazil, where his main project was helping develop a new feature for one of the company’s major clients, the blockchain company Ethereum.
Although Mitiku works primarily as a software engineer for Kurtosis, company leadership, including CEO Galen Marchetti ’15, has encouraged him to share insights on product development, internal culture and recruiting.
“The people there were more accepting of my ideas and interests than at a larger company where you have a more defined role,” he said.
A mentor first introduced Mitik to the Kessler Fellows program because he was looking for an opportunity to take on responsibility and contribute meaningfully to a variety of projects.
“I wanted to join an environment that would challenge me a lot, allow me to keep my hands in different baskets and also build things from scratch,” Mitiku said. “I realized that startups and small companies are the place for that.”
Mitiku’s internship with Kurtosis fulfilled these goals and allowed him to gain startup experience.
“Whether I decide to start my own company or work with a startup in the future, the experience of being encouraged to go somewhere where the roles are not defined and the product is not defined has helped me tremendously. “said Mitiku. “I think I will use these skills wherever I go.”
Dawn Zee ’23, Human Development
Zee reaped the benefits of working for a startup during her internship at SimpliFed, an Ithaca-based infant feeding support company founded by Andrea Ippolito ’06, M.Eng. ’07.
“When you work with a relatively small company like SimpliFed, you see more of what’s going on, you ask more questions, you talk to people with more experience,” Zee said.
Zee worked mainly on the operations side of the company. She conducted data analysis on clients, researched the Medicaid programs offered by each state, and emailed each state’s Medicaid director for partnership opportunities. Additionally, he managed to dip his toes into video editing and marketing tasks.
Conversations with Ippolito shed light on the amount of work required to run a startup. For example, to close SimpliFed’s $6 million seed round in May, the team had to reach out to hundreds of venture capitalist firms.
“It was a really interesting perspective for me to understand what a startup is and what you have to do in a startup,” he said.
Zee previously interned at a larger company, and she noted the differences between that experience and her time with SimpliFed. Although Zee had a more defined and limited role in the larger company, she felt very involved at SimpliFed and committed to the company’s goals.
“A startup has a really agile environment with a lot of learning experiences that you can’t get at a traditional company, and they’re also very mission-driven,” he said.
Michael Hansan ’23, Industrial and Labor Relations
“Being a part of this company was remarkable,” said Hansan, who said he interned with carbon capture startup Heimdal.
Focusing on Heimdal’s business development and operations, Hansan began operations at a test pilot site in Hawaii, then spent the rest of the summer in London, where he opened the company’s new office.
Hansan’s responsibilities at Heimdal weren’t limited to the typical grind of an intern—he had the opportunity to contribute to the business model and work on site feasibility models, which made him feel like a real asset to the company.
“Pretty quickly, I started taking on responsibilities that were pretty important just because of the size of the company,” he said. “Before, I felt like I was contributing and making an impact. I was really a part of this team.”
In his experience at Heimdal, Hansan was able to clearly experience the realities of working in or starting a small company.
“It was remarkable to have such a dynamic and authentic work experience at my age, because it’s not very common,” Hansan said. “It was great to find myself with a team so focused, like-minded and caring about this larger mission of removing CO2 from the atmosphere.”
Inspired by his experience, Hansan hopes to continue the startup path as he wants to start his career after graduation.
“I really can’t see myself not working for a small company,” he said. “I also can’t see myself working for a company that doesn’t have a North Star mission like climate change.”
Applications for the 2022-23 cohort of the Kessler Fellows program are now open. Any young person with a strong interest in entrepreneurship at Cornell University is encouraged to apply by December 1 and attend an information session on October 26.