Doug Stayman, Associate Dean, Cornell Tech<br/>Faculty director, Johnson Cornell Tech MBA

Jan 06 2017

iTrek Course Immerses Students in “Startup Nation”

Doug Stayman, Associate Dean, Cornell Tech
Faculty director, Johnson Cornell Tech MBA

Vince Wong, Johnson Cornell Tech MBA ’17, has spent much of the past three months researching the U.S. agriculture sector. The exercise was by no means academic. Wong and his team are working with an Israeli “precision agriculture startup” to help plan its launch into the U.S. market.

“They are planning to expand to the U.S., but have limited visibility into the U.S. agrichemical value chain and operating landscape,” Wong says. “That’s where my team comes in. Over the course of three months we performed primary research with pest scouts and agronomists as well as secondary research with publicly available agriculture databases, developing a state-by-state commercialization strategy.”

This is just one of dozens of startup consulting projects that make up the Cornell Tech iTrek course, a three-month, intensive interaction with Israeli startups culminating in a two-week group trip to Israel in January. This year, roughly 60 cross-disciplinary Cornell Tech students are participating, including Johnson Cornell Tech MBA students, Master of Computer Science students, and even a half-dozen LLM (Master of Laws in Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship) candidates. Each team of three students is assigned two company challenges by Roni Michaely, the Rudd Family Professor of Management and finance professor at Johnson and lead instructor of the iTrek program. Michaely selected the challenges from among nearly 100 initial applicants.

Chelsea Sassouni, Johnson Cornell Tech MBA ’17, cites the opportunity to leverage Cornell University’s academic ecosystem as one of the biggest benefits of the iTrek course. Her team worked with experts within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and its Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management.

“It’s been an eye-opening experience to work with my teammates, who hail from vastly different professional and academic backgrounds,” Sassouni says. “We’ve learned to be creative, to reassess previously held assumptions, and most importantly, how to align our academic goals with our clients’ business goals. We have also been able to tap into the broad network of Cornell’s existing schools to reach the experts that can help us deliver on our projects."

As they prepare for their trip to Israel in January, participating students anticipate meeting face-to-face with their startup company executives.

“Often touted as the Startup Nation, Israel intrigues and excites me,” Wong says. “The key benefit of the iTrek program is the intimate exposure we get to the shakers and movers of Israel’s tech ecosystem, from the top design and engineering institutions to venture capitalists and angel investors to the startup founders themselves.”   

“I am looking forward to meeting with the companies we’ve worked with and seeing what my colleagues have done,” says Johanan Ottensooser, Cornell Tech LLM ’17. “I’m also excited to meet with the larger players in this market, and to visit Israel, even though I’ve been there many times.”

Ottensooser, who holds a law degree from the University of Technology Sydney in Australia, brings a background in asset finance, derivatives, and financial services to Cornell Tech. His iTrek team also includes a Johnson Cornell Tech MBA student and a Master in Computer Science student. Together, they are helping an Israeli media company called Fusic to iterate beyond its genesis as a social music video app.

His team’s second corporate project is to advise a startup named BE Financial Technology Ltd., which developed a platform to analyze and compare exchange-traded funds (ETFs) based on lowest total cost of ownership. The firm is currently exploring entry into new geographic markets.

For Ottensooser, the Cornell Tech experience has been transformative.

“I always knew the power of diversity, but I underestimated the cross-pollination of skills I would receive at Cornell Tech,” Ottensooser says. “As a lawyer, I get to work on coding, and Computer Science students can work on product pitching. Also, I’ve witnessed first-hand the power of iterative development. In three months of working in the Product Studio, my team built five different products, each one tested with consumers. In the end, we ended up in a much more powerful place. Our Product Studio team mantra was to build, test, and reflect.”

According to Wong, that team approach is an essential component of the Cornell Tech DNA.

“The Johnson Cornell Tech MBA is inextricably linked to the rest of Cornell Tech, and this bond is reflected in the curriculum and culture,” says Wong. “We collaborate closely with other Masters students in engineering, design and law to tackle company challenges, iterate in hackathon sprints, and build our own startup from scratch. The experiential learning gained from working in cross-disciplinary and multi-functional teams is critical for those who want to work in tech.”

Total: 0 Comment(s)