Yosef Mirakov Cohen, a student at the University of the Commonwealth of Virginia, a graduate in marketing at the School of Business, is passionate about saving animals and protecting the environment. He founded a company, C’est Lä Vé, which makes boxes of vegan snacks in sustainable packaging. Last week, he pitched his idea to investors and members of the Richmond business community, hoping to secure $5,000 in funding.
“We often take life for granted,” Cohen said during his speech. “Each year, more than 72 billion animals are slaughtered for food and more than 380 million pounds of plastic are produced. That’s where C’est Lä Vé comes in.
The presentation was part of Demo Day, the annual gathering of the da Vinci Center for Innovation where student entrepreneurs pitch their ideas. C’est Lä Vé was one of the six teams selected to present on stage at the event.
“It was such an amazing experience,” Cohen said after his speech. “I was really nervous during the pitch. But I think the pitch went really well. After the pitch, I spoke to a few mentors, and they gave me great feedback. They gave me some good things to think about. I also found some potential partners.
A reception was held following the presentations at the Shift Retail Lab, a multifunctional retail space where VCU student innovators and entrepreneurs can showcase their work to gain insights and test their products, services and ideas with real-world customers. . This week, Shift Retail Lab was selected by Fast Company as an Honorable Mention in the Urban Design category as part of its 2022 World Changing Ideas Awards.
At the reception, visitors explored over 40 additional student founding projects and presentations. Among these, the People’s Choice Award went to Bella Lubinskas, Brenna Gill and Hayden Taylor, advertising students at the Richard T. Robinson School of Media and Culture at the College of Humanities and Sciences, for Better2gether, a nonprofit organization nonprofit 501c3 that provides nonmedical services helps families with children with complex illnesses.
At the event, VCU Provost Fotis Sotiropoulos, Ph.D., said Demo Day and the da Vinci Center align with the university’s emphasis on providing students with real-world experiences. and access to results-oriented transdisciplinary learning.
“The da Vinci model looks like the classroom of the future,” Sotiropoulos said. “I want to use this model to roll it out across the whole university. We want the whole of VCU to look like the university of the future.
The goal is to provide students with the skills they need to succeed in a more technology-dependent future, Sotiropoulos said. Students must develop critical thinking skills and other higher levels of learning to be competitive in the job market. They must work with people from other disciplines to solve problems and complete tasks, he said.
Cohen built the foundations of his business as a student, gaining valuable experience. He has rented a professional kitchen space and processes orders through his website. He had to understand the logistics and made the Shift Retail Lab a collection point for food. He wants to start selling the products in local breweries and gift stores soon and hopes to enter national grocery stores later this year.
“I’m starting small,” Cohen said. GCOM Software CEO Kamal Bherwani was the Demo Day keynote speaker. Bherwani is a successful venture capitalist and entrepreneur and visited VCU with First Lady Jill Biden last year. He was impressed with the da Vince Center and the experiential learning initiative at VCU.
“I looked around and thought, ‘VCU stands for Virginia Commonwealth University, but I really think it should stand for Venture Capital University,'” Bherwani said.
Bherwani said he dropped out of college during his third semester because he didn’t find it convenient.
“If I had been here, I wouldn’t have dropped out of college because everything you do is relevant,” Bherwani said. “Classrooms like this are colleges of the future.”
Peyton Spangler, a Brandcenter graduate student, was due to showcase her product at the event: Noodlers, a construction toy for kids made from pool noodles. His goal was to raise $10,000 to patent the product and launch a fundraising campaign via Kickstarter.
Spangler is a product designer and developed the Noodlers during his undergraduate studies. She has no interest in running a business but wants to develop the product and sell the rights. Spangler said support from the da Vinci Center and the Shift Retail Lab boosted his project.
“There’s an opportunity to get funding and talk to more people about the idea,” Spangler said. “After the event, a number of people came up to me and gave me their cards. They encouraged me to contact them. »
Both Spangler and Cohen said Garret Westlake, Ph.D., executive director of the da Vinci Center, did a great job preparing them for the pitch. Cohen participated in the da Vinci Center’s two-week pre-acceleration program before the demo day, and Spangler trained with people from the center.
“The da Vinci Center really gives you all the tools and things you need to start a business,” Cohen said.
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