MBA Startups: A Fast Track To Entrepreneurship At Cornell

Adam Tow

One could say that Adam Tow has always been a bit of a star. A 2012 graduate of the Cornell Johnson School of Business, he is the co-founder and CEO of Seraph Robotics, a 3-D printing startup based in Ithaca, NY. While at Cornell, Adam was awarded the Weil Entrepreneurship Fellowship and earned honors with distinction in his concentrations of private equity & entrepreneurship.  In 2011, he also won Cornell’s Hemmeter Award for being deemed the Johnson student most likely to launch a successful venture.

Prior to business school, he attended the University of Central Florida where he was accepted to that school’s accelerated four-year BS/MD program. But it wasn’t accelerated enough for Tow: he completed the program in just three years, earning summa cum laude honors. While at UCF, he led a research team that focused on MS and Stem Cell work. He also became published in the International Journal of Innovation and Technology Management during that time.  He matriculated directly from UCF into Cornell’s Johnson School.

My Story

I began my first forays into science and entrepreneurship at the University of Central Florida, filing patents on inventions I’d come up with and starting a biomedical research project. By the end of my college career, I deferred my acceptance to medical school and applied to Cornell as a ‘straight-through’ MBA and changed career focus from clinical medicine to entrepreneurship.

I co-founded Seraph with Jeff Lipton, a good friend of mine who was a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering while I was in business school. Our initial business plans centered around the applications for the technology Jeff had researched as a student; a few hundred pages of business planning later, however, we were onto something completely different – a near-term medical application based on a conversation I had with my Dad who’s a practicing physician.

Our company produces a technology that can be used to create three-dimensional objects on demand. In the lab, this technology has been used to manufacture living tissue implants – like a “replacement” ear. In the future, this technology may be used to help doctors in reconstructive surgeries by tapping into the ability of our robots to precisely manufacture parts that are patient-specific in both shape and biology. We are currently focused on the production of a printer that will solve another more immediate need for medical practitioners. We hope to start testing our platform in the latter part of next year.

Right now, we’re self-funded from the sales of our 3D printers to researchers (and some consumers) around the world.

I’m very fortunate to have had a lot of support from my family paying for business school and have been granted extensive merit scholarships to pay for my undergrad education. I also am the recipient of a Johnson’s Weil Fellowship, which will help me cover the cost of my outstanding loans, as I pursue a career as an entrepreneur.

Our biggest challenge has been having to substitute resourcefulness for cash (because we don’t have it) and having to negotiate without much leverage. At the same time, our ability to do this well has been our greatest source of success thus far. Obviously, it’s not easy living on less than minimum wage, but we are confident in our business model and our technology; so this is something we are willing to do in the short term. It is part of the price you pay for the freedom and the opportunity to make an impact that an entrepreneur enjoys.

I can’t really say enough good things about the Cornell Johnson network and how it has supported me. A long list of faculty, staff, and alumni has been instrumental in making Seraph a reality. There are literally too many people to thank and acknowledge.

Johnson has a great offering of courses in entrepreneurship and private equity, but more than that, the school provided the opportunity to gain skills that are important in careers like banking or consulting, which are great to have as an entrepreneur, especially when the balance sheet is low on cash.

Seraph is currently a resident on-campus in Ithaca at the McGovern Center Venture Incubator. The Center has been a happy home for us for the past few months, and a great resource for us as we move the company forward.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that there’s almost nothing better you can bring to a startup than a business plan with strong fundamentals — it all boils down to identifying a compelling market need and a sustainable way to turn that need into economic advantage for the company and its customers.

My advice to aspiring MBA-entrepreneurs: Start early. Listen to as many opinions as you can, but learn to trust your instincts and take your customers’ advice above all, even if it’s contrary to the experience of others.

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