The Couri Hatchery: Inspirational workspace nurtures student start-ups with resources and professional business mentoring


By Devon Braunstein '14 (NEW)

In an era of tech gardens, start-ups and non-traditional career routes, it can be difficult for enterprising young entrepreneurs to navigate and identify the opportunities and dead ends. The Martin J. Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University is changing all of that with its Couri Hatchery, a student-centered business incubator that focuses on streamlining and supporting innovative emerging student ventures.

The Hatchery, named after John Couri ’63 BA (Arts & Sciences), co-founder of Duty Free International and president of the Couri Foundation, provides Syracuse University (SU) student entrepreneurs with an inspiring workspace in which to collaborate and bounce ideas off of like-minded students.

“It’s a great environment to work in,” says Hana Fagut ’15 (pictured above), founder of SyrCa, a Syracuse cuisine delivery service that will bring high-end food from restaurants in Syracuse’s Armory Square to students around campus. “There’ll be twenty kids [in the Hatchery] on a Wednesday at midnight. It’s a fun setting to be in. People have common life goals to you.”

Altruistic, motivated, driven and supportive are just a few of the positive words Fagut, a neuroscience major minoring in Whitman’s Entrepreneurship & Emerging Enterprises (EEE) program, uses to describe the peers she works amongst in the Hatchery. She calls it a self-perpetuating motivational atmosphere.

Doug Messer ’15, another SU entrepreneur in Whitman’s EEE program, spends up to 40 hours a week in the Hatchery during his busiest times, utilizing the Hatchery in between classes and often working late into the night.

“Everyone’s there for a purpose,” says Messer. “They’re motivated, there to network and there to work.” Messer describes it as an office-like feel in a college-based setting, a hybrid of qualities he finds extremely unique.

Both Messer and Fagut recognize that not many universities have such a program.

“I was blown away by Whitman’s acceptance of me being an entrepreneur,” says Messer. He recalls one of his initial interactions with the Whitman faculty during his first co-founded business venture, DBfly, a company that sells reasonably priced, fashionable watches with interchangeable bands. “I was working on a licensing deal and had to submit a report. I walked over to Whitman and knocked on the first entrepreneurship teacher’s door I could find.” With no prior relationship with the professor, Doug was able to learn everything he needed to know to complete the report. He is currently working on his third company, University Beyond, a social recruiting and collaboration platform that will provide students with a centralized database of campus ambassador programs available at their universities and also serve as backend software for companies to more efficiently manage their programs.

Serge Efap ‘14, a psychology major with two businesses living in the Hatchery?digital profile mobile app ConnectNow and Thikteo, an online platform for the Greek life recruitment process?views the Hatchery as a hub for entrepreneurial thinking and networking, an atmosphere like no other on campus.

“The most valuable aspect of Couri Hatchery is the community that’s growing within it,” says Efap. “Being surrounded by like-minded people has allowed for a lot of great, honest feedback.”

Terry Brown, executive director of Whitman’s Falcone Center for Entrepreneurship, oversees Couri Hatchery with Administrative Specialist Susan Oot, and Events and Communications Manager Lindsay Wickham. Brown provides feedback and guidance to Hatchery tenants, drawing from his own corporate background. A strong believer in the value of project-based experience, he looks to offer 100 spots for student start-ups by next year. Currently, the Hatchery has 50 student-business tenants.

When a student approaches Brown with a business idea, he emphasizes a few critical factors: Is there a market? Is the product relevant? Will the idea make money? And, Brown says, a student’s passion is key.

“Our job here is to serve the students as our clients,” says Brown. “It’s our job to make every student successful, however they define success in their own minds.”

The Hatchery also connects its tenants with mentorship from outside resources. A few times each month, professionals from various segments of the business world visit the Hatchery to advise students about long-term planning, the back-end of a business plan and challenges that may lie ahead.

Matt Read, senior marketing services manager at Eric Mower + Associates, serves as the Hatchery’s marketing specialist. He helps students figure things out that they wouldn’t usually find until stumbling through the real world. “I’ve really seen people utilize my advice,” says Read.

One of Read’s biggest takeaways from the mentorship experience is the ability of students to keep him on his toes. “They push the boundaries of how business is going to work,” says Read. “I’m blessed to be a part of the process.”

Brad O’Connor, a CPA at local accounting firm O’Connor Financial Services, provides Hatchery tenants with a basic jumping-off point for financial analysis, business structuring and basic tax advisory services, helping students piece their business plans together from an accounting perspective and guiding them to the next step in implementing their ideas. O’Connor also prepares students to work with other professionals, advising them on topics, such as the legal structure of their company.

“I’ve gained a greater appreciation for entrepreneurship,” says O’Connor, who recently embarked on his own entrepreneurial venture upon establishing O’Connor Financial Services. “Seeing the drive students have is really an inspiration. I don’t see that kind of drive outside the Hatchery.”

Attorney Doug Gorman also serves as a mentor at Couri Hatchery. He recognizes that there is no cookie-cutter solution for starting a business.

“While each company is vastly different, one thing that’s very similar among them is the students’ ability to be creative in any situation,” says Gorman. “These students come up with an idea, believe in the idea and work tirelessly to bring that idea to fruition. There’s not enough time in the day, but somehow they do it. They spend a lot of money on coffee I’d assume.”

Like O’Connor, Gorman identifies with the Couri Hatchery tenants, as he went out on his own less than two years ago. “Listening to someone else describe the same issues you’ve experienced makes [the process] so relatable,” says Gorman. “Couri is a big piece of the puzzle and hopefully it’s one that people continue to recognize as a source of excellence.”

With a growing intellectual base from which to draw, the community of entrepreneurs in Central New York has a bright future. Couri Hatchery plays an active role in cultivating student entrepreneurs, providing them with the support, guidance and resources critical to their survival in the competitive business world.

“To become an entrepreneur, you have to face and understand failure, but it’ll make you better at what you’re going to do,” says Read. “These students are willing to put some skin in the game. That to me is really encouraging.”

Photo credit: Dennis Nett/Syracuse.com