Student Innovators


The following are among the many student-run businesses that have taken launch with the aid of the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute (YEI):

A team of Yale students have merged an event calendar and a map and created a real-time interactive application that with a touch of a cell phone screen can tell you what fun things are happening all around you.

At the 2011 Bulldog Days at Yale, a thousand freshman learned when and where to find  campus tours, receptions and sample classes with a mobile application sponsored by the admissions department.

After spending last summer at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute’s summer boot camp, the company under the leadership of CEO (Chief Exploration Officer) Jessica Cole (YC ‘12) is actively seeking buyers for their product.

And they can set up the Roammeo application “anywhere there is a map and events,” Cole said.

The company was created by a student team  - which also includes Tyler Elkington '12, Avery Faller '11, Zach Kagin '11, Harriet Owers-Bradley '11 and Kartik Venkatraman '13.

Set the time on a bar on computer screen, iPad or cell phone, and the viewer can the exact location of a sale at a clothing store, a piano recital, or open mike at a local bar.

“You can be right outside an event you would like to go to and not know it,” Cole said. “Now, that never needs to happen.”


In hospitals, bacteria and fungal infections raise havoc with the health of susceptible patients and people who eat contaminated food.  Results of tests to determine which microbes are causing potentially deadly infections can take a day or more.  Dr. Hur Koser, associate professor of electrical engineering, and School of Management student Arjun Ganesan believe they have found a way to identify pathogens within minutes.

Ancera is developing a rapid diagnostic device that uses cell separation technology to flag infectious agents in less than 10 minutes. Blood cultures are the gold standard for identifying infections but can take 3 to 7 days to see results. Other methods to analyze DNA called polymerase chain reaction can take from 24 to 96 hours.

“Finding a pathogen is like looking for a needle in a haystack,” Ganesan said.

There is a huge market for such a product, he added.  The nation has experienced has experienced several widespread outbreaks of foodborne pathogens such as e. coli. Food inspectors and health officials need such a device to rapidly respond to such outbreaks.
Bacterial and fungal infections in hospitals often trigger sepsis, a massive immune response to infections, which kill 215,000 people annually at a cost of $17 billion.

Ancera has received some early stage financing. The technology has been shown to work in laboratory setting and currently can identify pathogens in two hours.  In the next year, Ganesan and Koser hope to reduce the time of diagnostic results and the size of the device until it is fully portable.

College students are notoriously mobile group. Now thanks to Zachary Rotholz, so is their furniture.

Rotholz who graduated in 2011with a Bachelors of Science in Mechanical Engineering, has designed furniture, made of cardboard, that folds up for easy moves.  As a student, he became fascinated with the properties of corrugated cardboard.  He began designing furniture to solve two problems. First, students often simply throw out bulky, cheap furniture rather than trying to move it.  But folding up a chair or desk is much easier than lugging it up or down three flights of stairs.  Second, low-end furniture students end up throwing out is not recyclable and is made of engineered wood with resins and glue.

“Our products are completely recyclable, glue-free, and made from sustainable materials,” Rotholz said.

He said the furniture design makes it easy to ramp up production.

Watch a YouTube video on the company.


Tutor Trove Whiteboard

Teaching from afar in real time

Tutoring students in math and physics is not an easy task in the best of conditions, but Eli Luberoff, a 2009 graduate of Yale College, found it particularly frustrating to coach students remotely. He saw their answers to complex math questions pop up on his computer screen, but could not follow in real time exactly how his pupils were coming up with the answers.

 “I thought that there really had to be a better way to do this,” he says.

So Luberoff, who has a double degree in math and physics, wrote a computer program that allows him to see, on his computer screen in real time, exactly how students working at remote sites approached those problems.

The result was the Tutor Trove Whiteboard, a product that spawned a new company of the same name. Tutor Trove allows teachers and students miles apart to interact in real time, just as math teachers and pupils have done for decades working together with chalk on a blackboard.

In this case, tutor and pupil computers are linked via a common server. As equations fill up both screens, the tutor can follow pupils as they work through the process of solving the problem and can correct the students’ missteps as they happen. The platform has a couple of other twists not available to chalk-wielding teachers. On the new whiteboard, the user can drag an equation onto a blank graph of an XY axis, and the software automatically plots the value and creates, say, the graceful contours of a parabolic curve. The software also allows both users to work on files such as an Excel spreadsheet, which can be uploaded and opened directly on the whiteboard.

Luberoff plans to sell the product to tutoring companies, a diverse but huge market that accounts for $4 billion in annual sales. After attending the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute’s summer boot camp, which helps launch student enterprises, the founder believes that his product could be of value to all educators.

He and the Tutor Trove team have also begun discussions with publishers of textbooks, makers of educational hardware and other software developers who are looking to the future of Web-based teaching.

“They are all very excited about a product that will make their content more interactive and collaborative,” Luberoff says.


Making the grade on the stage

Doug Rand and his brother Jonathan saw a lot of theatrical productions while running a New York theatrical licensing company that matches playwrights with producers. And they became irritated because they saw audiences flock to bad plays and avoid many fine productions because of the opinion of a single critic.

 “We saw many great plays that did not have a snowball’s chance in hell because one critic did not like it,” says Doug Rand, who holds an M.B.A. and a law degree from Yale. “Nothing against The New York Times, but there is no reason to expect we will agree on every play we see.”

Their irritation eventually spawned the development of a new Yale-based startup called StageGrade (, an aggregator of opinions on New York-based theatrical productions that mimics Rotten Tomatoes, a similar site for movies, or the travel site Kayak.

 “If you don’t like a movie, you are out 90 minutes and 10 bucks, but if you don’t like a play, you can be out $100 or more,” says Rand. “This is something the community here desperately needed.”

StageGrade actually first came to life thanks to theater journalists Rob Weinert-Kendt and Isaac Butler, who had launched a simpler but similar site and now serve as managing and associate editors, respectively, of StageGrade. The Rands also recruited software engineer Martin Gordon to help develop a much more interactive website and Shinhyoung Sohn from the Yale School of Drama to serve as a marketing specialist.
The team’s idea was to create a dynamic search tool along the lines of the travel site Kayak and with the sort of community-building capacity of Yelp, a site dedicated to restaurant reviews posted by everyday diners. StageGrade solicits reviews of the 50 or 60 plays and musicals being produced at any one time in New York, but has a library of hundreds of shows.

The site will generate money from ticket sales, advertising and content partnerships with publications such as in-flight magazines and tourist guides. And the team members are looking for creative ways to drive traffic to the site. For instance, Sohn visited dozens of hotels in Times Square to tout the site to concierges in the hope that they, in turn, will mention it to theatergoers.

“Theater insiders already use the site frequently, but tourists are every bit as passionate about the stage,” Rand says. “They just tend to like different kinds of shows.”

The team is now looking for investors to support the company as it builds business. Eventually, the company plans to expand to Chicago and London.


Counting trees from outer space

It used to be that determining the number and species of trees in a given area of land was a time-consuming and laborious task. But a new company called SilviaTerra aims to change all that.

SilviaTerra was co-founded by Zack Parisa, a 2009 alumnus of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES), and Max Uhlenhuth, a junior in Yale College.

 “Zack told me that to know what’s in your forest, you’d have to send out a bunch of lumberjacks, and they’d go out with a pencil and paper and physically count the trees,” says Uhlenhuth.

But then, while working on a community reforestation project in Armenia, Parisa discovered a much easier way to do the work using satellites and complex mathematical algorithms.

The two students decided to patent the technology and turn the project into a business venture — with the encouragement of F&ES Professor Chad Oliver, who is also a co-founder of SilviaTerra.

Using satellite images of forests, the new technology can extrapolate the species and number of trees in a given area based on, among other things, the coloration of pixels.

SilviaTerra’s algorithmic approach is more successful than previous attempts to collect forest data, such as the light detection and ranging (LIDAR) method, which uses lasers to determine the top height variations in an area. The problem with LIDAR, explains Uhlenhuth, is that you can’t determine whether two points that are adjacent to each other but are of different heights belong to the same tree or different trees.

Uhlenhuth sees a growing need for the services SilviaTerra offers — especially by governments in the developing world, global carbon-trading initiatives and groups dealing with absentee landowners, those who own acres of forest as an investment or for a summer home but do not manage their properties.

 “In the year 2050, there are going to be something like 18 billion people on the planet, and it is important to have information to properly and smartly manage forests,” says Uhlenhuth.

The Yale undergraduate says the company received substantial assistance from the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute (YEI), which provides mentoring, legal guidance and financial resources for Yale entrepreneurs. “Without the YEI’s help over the summer, we would be nowhere near where we are now,” Uhlenhuth says.

Ultimately, Uhlenhuth hopes that because SilviaTerra is able to provide information about forests much more affordably than rival methods, it can help private landowners become better managers of the natural resources in their care.

 “The thing I’d really like it is that, as entrepreneurs, we can contribute real value to the world,” he says.


Keeping it green on many fronts

A group of Yale University students have figured out a way to turn the black remnants of burnt organic waste into green — as a potentially lucrative and environmentally friendly way to keep golf courses, lawns and even farms green and healthy.

Organic waste is most often viewed as a nuisance to be disposed of and, more recently, as a potential alternate fuel source. Biochar is the largely overlooked by-product of the burning of organic material.

But Michael Sesko, who graduated in 2010 with a joint degree from Yale’s Schools of Management and of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES), saw biochar as an opportunity to both do good and make money.

The charcoal-like substance is a soil enhancer and acts like a sponge to retain water and fertilizer. This means gardeners, farmers and golf course superintendents need to fertilize and water less often. Biochar also makes a nice home for beneficial microorganisms and can fight climate change by locking carbon into the soil for hundreds of years.

These potential benefits led Sesko and his partners (and Yale alumni), Justin Freiberg of F&ES and Peter Kuhn of the School of Engineering, to create Encendia Biochar, which eventually hopes to sell the product to golf courses, gardeners and farmers.

“Both the addressable market and environmental impact are potentially huge,” says Sesko, the new company’s CEO.

The company is currently working with the Economic Development Corporation to find a suitable site for a pilot facility in New Haven. The company will use this site to produce biochar from local waste streams and also plans to conduct tests they hope will prove its efficacy in keeping things green.

“The impetus for us to create the company was purely environmental, but we are sure that biochar also has significant commercial applications and appeal,” Sesko says.


Ringing In The New Day With More Energy

Arun Gupta first thought of inventing a way to wake up at just the right time while attending high school, when he was alert some days and groggy on others. He learned that those who wake during REM sleep were more likely to start the day feeling energetic. The Yale College student and a partner from Boston College developed a wristband that monitors hand movements during sleep and relays the information via Bluetooth to a cell phone alarm. The alarm will sound during the optimal REM-sleep time in a 20-minute window. The business plan and prototype were developed during YEI’s Summer Fellowship Program.

Paper G

Taking Cyberspace Advertising to the Next Level
Victor Wong (YC'09), Ka Mo Lau (YC'09), and Victor Cheng (YC'08) co-founded with Harvard undergraduates an advertising technology startup called PaperG. The company's PlaceLocal technology revolutionizes online and mobile local display advertising. It can build custom advertisements in 30 seconds using just the business name and city to start. Their goal is to make all online advertising local by getting rid of all the untargeted, impersonal banners on the Internet and replacing them with highly geo-targeted, personalized advertisements.


Turning Electronic Recyclables Into Cash
Rich Littlehale and Bob Casey had a bunch of old electronics and no easy way to recycle them. While the devices were no longer of any use to them, they thought the items could still be worth money. So the two Yale College juniors hit on the idea of a website to enable people to get paid quickly to recycle their electronic stuff. Their aim was to avoid the usual hassles associated with selling used items online, such as opening an account and providing credit card information. On, consumers search for their kind of device, answer a few questions about its condition and receive an offer price. If they accept, customers complete the transaction through a quick checkout process and get a free shipping label for sending the device. Users can be paid by check or PayPal or donate proceeds to a non-profit organization. is a service of TwigTek LLC, based in New Haven, with offices in the YEI Incubator.