When Vince Ponzo, managing director of the Eugene Lang Entrepreneurship Center at Columbia Business School, took over his post four years ago, he noticed something lacking. “One of the things I noticed as an alum before working at Columbia was, I knew we had alums doing amazing things in the entrepreneurial space,” Ponzo says, “whether it was as founders or co-founders or early-stage employees helping to scale the business, or as venture capitalists or angels.” But the Lang Center had no centralized database or resource for CBS’s entrepreneurially inclined alums. In his new role, he says, he knew he had to create one.
Now, four years later, the Lang Center has launched a snazzy new site linked to a leading data platform. “There’s anecdotes and stories and those are nice,” Ponzo says — but what he and his team chiefly wanted to create was something “dynamic and cohesive” that would “show the world” the impressive stuff that’s happening at CBS. And that, he says, is what they’ve done.
The site, CBSstartups, is powered by Crunchbase, a highly respected platform for company information sharing. When CBS alums update their Crunchbase profiles — or the profiles of their startups or investments — it is automatically updated at CBSstartups. “By partnering with Crunchbase and using the Crunchbase information, we have a fairly comprehensive view into what our alumni are doing,” Ponzo says, noting that the information stays up-to-date because of how respected Crunchbase is in the entrepreneurial space. “We get that data flowing into our platform in real time,” Ponzo points out.
CBS ALUMS HAVE FOUNDED 10 COMPANIES SO FAR IN 2017
Ponzo says the site currently lists 447 startups, which includes companies that have been acquired. Some 320 venture capital funds are also listed, as are 132 individual investors.
A quick glance at the CBSstartups homepage reveals CBS alums have founded 10 companies so far in 2017, generating more than $340 million in investments. Curious about previous years? An interactive graph reveals how many startups were founded by CBS alums each year dating back to 1990. In 2014, for example, CBS alums founded 46 ventures — more than any other year. In 2015, companies with CBS alums as founders raised more than $788 million in funding — again, more than any other year. Meanwhile, 2016 was the best year for selling, with nine companies making exits.
Interestingly, according to Crunchbase, venture capital and private equity firms with CBS alums behind them have already raised more than $39 billion in 2017 alone. The next highest year was 2016, with nearly $21 billion raised.
Ponzo says the site, which launched in late June, has had widely fluctuating traffic, but the feedback has been consistently positive. “Surprisingly, it’s been all positive,” he says, noting the natural tendency for people to offer critical feedback on a digital platform. “This tool is perfect for what we need now.” So far in August, he says, CBSstartups has averaged more than 50 new users registered each day and has seen visitors from more than 60 countries.
Eventually, Ponzo says, he’d like to have a job board on the site.
NO OTHER SITE LIKE IT — YET
To the best of Ponzo’s — and Poets&Quants‘ — knowledge, no other business school has a site like this, at least not yet. Harvard Business School has a Startup Studio and Harvard University has its i-lab. Stanford has a startup list powered by angel.co, as well as StartX and the GSB Garage. But those sites are not nearly as comprehensive as Columbia’s. Nor do they operate in real-time.
Still, Ponzo says, the uniqueness of CBSstartups likely won’t last. In fact, he adds, many schools have already reached out to him.
“It’s a great resource for students, alumni, and others looking to stay up to date on Columbia Business School entrepreneurship activities,” Ponzo says, “and to also gain some perspective into the breadth of entrepreneurial activity coming out of Columbia Business School.”