“A hallmark of the Polsky Center is that we work with entrepreneurs and innovators from all backgrounds and interests,” said Starr Marcello, executive director of the Polsky Center and adjunct assistant professor of entrepreneurship at UChicago’s Booth School of Business. “We connect people across campus, and across the community, to develop and grow their ideas. The programs working side-by-side in the space this summer are the perfect example of the Polsky Center’s dedication to forging connections that can have lasting, real-world impact.”
Morning: How to jump start a startup
From afar, Melissa Harris’ presentation to the Polsky Accelerator looks more like calisthenics than entrepreneurial advice. Everyone is asked to stand up, lift their arms to the sky and take a deep breath before they speak, getting into a confident posture for delivering a terse, snappy elevator pitch for their startups.
“Good presentations are like good songs,” Harris, an entrepreneur-in-residence at the Polsky Center, tells the group. “You need to project variation and enthusiasm.”
The morning session is part of a teaching doubleheader for the Polsky Accelerator, which provides 14 student startup teams with a $10,000 investment and dedicated working space at the Polsky Center as part of its 10-week summer program. Earlier, startup teams took a deep dive into product forecasting with Art Middlebrooks, executive director of the Kilts Center for Marketing at Chicago Booth.
For the rest of the day, the Polsky Accelerator teams work with student staff members and interns on the many challenges of growing a new business: fundraising, prototyping, marketing, human resources and—hopefully—sales. At one table, the founders of AI-meets-skincare startup Veda Grace Dermatology talk with the students and software developers working on Fiduscript, an online marketplace for the overdose reversal drug Naloxone. The collaboration goes beyond teams to alumni, Booth and Polsky experts, and entrepreneurs from the Chicago business world.
“Putting these entrepreneurs in one space and giving them an opportunity to bond, essentially it creates a strong sense of family,” said Crissy Ritter, assistant director for experiential entrepreneurship and venture support with the Polsky Center. “Entrepreneurship can be a really lonely journey, so this is a way for them to work with peers. They’re never working through things alone, they always have someone to bounce ideas off of and work through challenges and solutions.”
Kati Karrotki and Tyler Huggins of BTRFY, a company using fungal fermentation to create healthy and environmentally friendly snacks, said that the combination of resources and the open environment is providing their business with an essential boost this summer.
“It just gives you a home,” Karrotki said. “They have a tremendous sense of all the blind spots you have as a startup.”