By Tanisia Morris, Staff Writer, Fordham University
By providing entrepreneurial Fordham University students with a “beyond-the-classroom” support structure for their business ventures and hands-on experience working with local businesses in Bronx, NY, the Fordham Foundry is redefining how university-based incubators can be used to foster innovation in underrepresented communities.
“Lots of schools have these types of programs and facilities, but I think what makes us different is that we have a strong emphasis on spurring economic growth for social good,” said Chris Meyer, Ph.D., interim executive director of the Fordham Foundry and clinical assistant professor at the Gabelli School of Business. “We teach students about values-based businesses, and how values drive what they do. We see that undercurrent consistently with their ideas, but at the same time it happens organically.”
The Foundry, established in 2012, is a collaboration program between New York City’s Department of Small Business Services and the Gabelli School. Through its collaborative workspace, mentoring program, consultations, workshops, and business curriculum, it supports the Fordham community in developing and launching businesses that transcend profit-making.
Among the successful business ventures that have come out of the Foundry is the Concourse Group by alumnus Andrew Kingsley, GABELLI ’13. Originally established to help credit unions provide banking services in disadvantaged neighborhoods in the Bronx, the company has since expanded to provide consulting services for small businesses in the local community.
Most recently, the Foundry hosted an in-house hackathon at Fordham’s Rose Hill campus. Students came together to create a program or “hack” that could help area businesses grow, including the more than 300 shops along Fordham Road, the largest shopping district in the Bronx. Nicholas DiBari, FCRH’17, the winner of the hackathon, created a program that developed playlists based on song lyric sentiments. He hoped the program would facilitate a positive customer experience.
“The hackathon really appeals to the mission of the Fordham Foundry,” said Anthony Parente, GABELLI ’19, who uses the Foundry regularly and helped to organize the event. “We had all of these kids come in and they were given a challenge. They had to understand the problems that small businesses face and [then] create a solution.”
Meyer said the Foundry organizes events like the hackathon to also encourage collaboration and teamwork, which are important to achieve success as an entrepreneur.
“One of the things that the startup world has recognized—and that academia is also recognizing—is that our original concept of an entrepreneur working in a windowless room is wrong,” he said. “Successful people who work and implement changes often collaborate [in] teams. They share their ideas. They learn to work with people and seek out others who have skills that complement them. Those are things that are best learned in experiential exercises. It’s hard to learn that in a classroom.”
In addition to developing technical skills from coding to accounting, students and alumni who use the Foundry learn how to clarify and sharpen their ideas with help from experienced entrepreneurs, business professionals, and coaches. These interactions also help students build self-confidence, particularly in the early stages of the process.
“There are so many other entrepreneurs here who are pushing forward to make their ideas a reality and a success,” said Parente, who has been using the Foundry to develop an application for wearable technology. “Having access to mentors and directors every day who allow me to share my progress encourages me to keep moving forward.”
Other Foundry startups have been driven by their founders’ own personal challenges. Corinne Logan (GABELLI’ 17), who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as a child, created PumpStash, athletic spandex shorts designed to hold insulin pumps for women and girls with Type 1 diabetes.
But the Foundry isn’t just for students who are studying business or computer science. The incubator aims to nurture an entrepreneurial spirit in all students and alumni, irrespective of their majors.
In fact, Fordham students Alyssa Rose, FCRH ’17, and Kiera Maloney, FCRH ’17, co-founders of Radiate Market, an online marketplace that empowers women artisans in developing countries, are anthropology and economics majors.
“Across all sorts of fields, there is a real demand for people to be entrepreneurial,” said Meyer. “Regardless of what industry or field you work in, people are interested in innovations, and they’re interested in people who can both create and implement change.”
The Foundry will soon expand to Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus as part of a $ 1 million grant from the Nasdaq Educational Foundation to the Gabelli School and Fordham’s School of Law. Among other things, the grant will promote more opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration. As more students become familiar with the Foundry’s services, Meyer hopes to identify new ways it can support these emerging entrepreneurs in their quest to create positive social change. He said, “My primary focus is to build up student involvement so that we can have much more to offer the community.”
Tanisia Morris, staff writer in Fordham’s Office of Communications, covers the Gabelli School of Business.