Since Tsai CITY’s launch in 2017, we have been dedicated to cultivating and celebrating student innovation here at Yale. In 2021, our dedication was recognized when we won the Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers (GCEC) award for Emerging Entrepreneurship Center. As world experts on successful innovation, Tsai CITY’s Director of Student Programming, Matt Gira, and Director of Mentor, Advisor, and Partner Networks, Victor Padilla-Taylor, traveled to the GCEC conference in Las Vegas in October to share their knowledge and expertise.
A former student entrepreneur himself, Matt is no stranger to successful entrepreneurship. Before joining Tsai CITY in 2020, he co-founded Fathom, a tech start-up that raised over $190,000 on Kickstarter in six days alone. As Director of Student Programming here at Tsai CITY, he has helped students achieve their goals through a carefully designed curriculum. Matt has advocated the use of no-code tools to help students realize their business ventures, whatever they may be.
A student may come to Tsai CITY with a great vision but have no idea how to make it a reality–that’s where no-code tools come in. Without having to know a single line of code, a student can create customized workflows, apps, and systems for their venture using these tools. Matt’s talk focused on the many benefits of these no-code tools and how to harness their potential for students’ entrepreneurial endeavors.
Matt showcased Airtable as an exciting example of a no-code tool in which a database’s features are combined with a spreadsheet’s applicability. Using Airtable, Matt showed how everything from information collection to room reservations is managed here at Tsai CITY. Airtable also allows for an impressive amount of automation–we host about 100 events a year at Tsai CITY, and it can be difficult to keep track of all of them. Airtable allows for event information to be added to a communal calendar in real-time, meaning no one is ever left out of the loop. Matt also explained how no-code tools could help maximize your time: by sorting through a database, Airtable can send hundreds of personalized emails straight from your account with only a few clicks.
Matt also detailed how these no-code tools have been put to great use already by student entrepreneurs. Last year, a team of students at Tsai CITY worked with Edwell, a service that matches students with mental health experts. In just a single weekend, a student built the base for Edwell’s matching service entirely using Airtable. Edwell has grown significantly since then, winning thousands of dollars in grant money thanks to this no-code tool. These platforms are not only the basis for a great learning experience for students at Tsai CITY, but also powerful tools to realize their ventures.
Victor, the Director of Mentor, Advisor, and Partner Networks spoke on mentorship programs to a packed room of event organizers and faculty members. At Tsai CITY, he has worked to build support networks for students interested in innovation and entrepreneurship; before, he was a Global Leadership Fellow at the World Economic Forum, where he tackled urgent humanitarian issues by bringing together key decision-makers from business and society. In his talk, titled ‘Why is my Mentoring Program not Working,’ Victor shared his insights on how to make programs at entrepreneurship centers more rewarding for student innovators.
Victor presented a series of fun and engaging “eye-openers” to the participants, with each activity intended to bring to light a perspective with which to view mentorship differently. One such “eye-opener” involved dividing the audience into groups of four and having each group stand on a large flip chart. Their goal: to flip through the pages without ripping them or stepping off the flip chart. The groups initially struggled to accomplish this task, with some completely ripping their flip charts. Eventually, they could cooperate, with groups hopping between different flip charts so they could take turns flipping the pages. By working on this challenge together, the participants discovered that focusing too much on an intended outcome can mean missing out on opportunities outside of one’s box.
All of Victor’s activities for the group led to some critical insights for them to take back to their own mentorship programs. Although affirming a mentee’s thinking can be valuable, challenging their ideas can sometimes be incredibly productive, too. In addition, Victor taught the importance of not being too attached to an idea or way of thinking and allowing oneself to be open to new ideas. The audience loved his talk and interactive tasks and came away with many practical applications for their own entrepreneurship centers.
At Tsai CITY, we welcome students with exciting ideas to make them a reality with us. If you have been inspired by Matt and Victor’s presentations and would like to learn more, you can reach out to them at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Story written by Oscar Sweeting, Tsai CITY's Storytelling Associate)