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Kessler Fellows Program Connects Engineers to Startups

Hannah speaks to the audience on Demo Day.

Kessler Fellows Program Connects Engineers to Startups

Rev’s 2016 Hardware Accelerator program concluded on August 11th with Demo Day, showcasing the eight teams who spent the summer hard at work in Rev’s Prototyping Shop. Working throughout the Hardware Accelerator program to motivate, coach, and provide the support system for the twenty-one entrepreneurs were four stellar tech instructors. Each one brought a unique set of skills and experience to share with HA teams. A unique addition to the team was Hannah Rudin, a Cornell University engineering student who had come to Rev as one of Cornell’s Kessler Fellows.

“I really enjoyed getting to oversee different projects and jumping in when I could,” Hannah says of her summer at Rev. “I liked having eight different things going on.”


Hannah, right, works in Rev’s Prototyping Shop

The Kessler Fellows program is unique to Cornell’s School of Engineering. Students apply in the Fall of their junior year and are selected in spring; this year, fourteen applicants were chosen as Fellows. Funded through the support of alum Andy Kessler, the program is designed to place engineering students with a particular proclivity towards entrepreneurship in a summer job that allows them to interact with a startup.

The Fellowship gives students the support to work a selected company based on individual interests and compatibility; past fellows have worked as close as Ithaca and as far away as Berlin. “It’s frequent that entrepreneurial startups are so small that they don’t have the resources to bring students on for the summer,” explains Kessler Fellows program director Tracey Brant. “When I talk to people from startups about the resources we have to offer, they always say two things: one, we have vetted an entire class of juniors who are interested in entrepreneurship, and two, we’re fully funded.” The Kessler program is now in its eighth year, Tracey says, and the 86 past Fellows keep in close contact with the current ones, affording them a network of entrepreneurial contacts from which to draw skills.

Hannah, a senior at Cornell this Fall, says she chose Rev as her placement for the program based on a number of factors. “I wanted to get exposure to a variety of projects and I liked the idea of doing consulting for different teams. I looked at other Hardware Accelerators, and this was really the only one I found that did a summer program.” recalls Hannah. “And I would get to live in Ithaca,” she adds, grinning.

Living in Ithaca, Hannah explains, was a big plus for her. Many people want to escape Ithaca for the summer, but more and more students are realizing the value of staying put – both for the opportunities, and for the lifestyle. Hannah is actively involved in the local Ultimate Frisbee team, playing twice a week and traveling to tournaments on weekends. She also enjoys a farm share through Full Plate Farm, which affords her fresh vegetables and the opportunity to experiment with her cooking skills. Working in Ithaca over the summer let her stay involved in the life she’s developed here, while growing her resume and putting her education to good use.

“It was simple: I wanted a place where I could be involved with the tasks of running an incubator as well as helping out the different teams,” says Hannah of her choice to spend her fully-funded summer at Rev. “It’s been a collaborative effort.”

She says the most challenging part has been taking a more advisory role in the Hardware Accelerator teams’ progress. “I want to build things too!” she explains, and then notes that the flexibility at Rev has allowed her pursue her own entrepreneurial ideas while still coaching the Hardware Accelerator teams. “That’s been one of the best parts – I’ve been able to work on my own projects while furthering my technical skills through the Kessler Fellowship.” Hannah’s most recent project is a hand-held party plate designed for portable cocktail party-style dining, something she began working on during her sophomore year.

Hannah speaks to the audience on Demo Day.

Hannah speaks to the audience on Demo Day.

Hannah credits a great deal of her summer experience to her fellow Hardware Accelerator instructors, and to Tracey Brant. “She’s just wonderful,” says Hannah. “She’s the whole support system for the program, for whatever you need to get you through the summer.” Kessler Fellows work with Tracey not only during their respective summer jobs but also during the semesters leading up to and following their internship, meeting with her weekly to discuss their interests and their future. “Through the coaching process, the students’ levels of confidence and awareness increase, and their level of understanding of the entrepreneurial landscape increases,” says Tracey. She advocates for the creation of more programs like the Kessler Fellows that allow students to explore their areas of interest while benefitting community partners. “We’re one of the most distinctive, innovative undergraduate entrepreneurial programs. Right now, the College of Engineering offers the only program like this for Cornell undergrads; imagine if it was in every College, or at every school.”

What’s next for Hannah? She says her summer at Rev has introduced her to B-Corporations, citing local businesses Emmy’s Organics and Comet Skateboards as examples of companies that promote sustainability and fair wages. “Through Rev I’ve been able to meet other entrepreneurs in the area and talk with them, which has been so beneficial,” says Hannah. “I’m interested in humanitarian work and social entrepreneurship. So I guess my dream job would probably be something that allows me to use my engineering skills for community good.”

When asked what she wants to do when she graduates in May, Hannah laughs. “Every time somebody asks me, my answer is slightly different!” She does recall one thing she’s always wanted to do: own a small café. “I really like local and community-oriented food. I’ll do engineering first, and after that I’ll see about opening it.”