Columbia Social Entrepreneurship Accelerator

New York // April 19 – 23, 2017


What: Columbia University is uniquely positioned to host the Social Entrepreneurship Accelerator, offering an environment that is vibrant, brilliant and cutting edge. We exist to provide social entrepreneurs with the skills, resources and networks they need in order for their ventures to thrive. We seek to encourage partnerships between schools and institutes, students and alumni of the NYC and international communities to become a center of excellence for social entrepreneurship.

Get Involved: Apply to be an entrepreneur, become a mentor, be a sponsor, or help our Lab team find entrepreneurs. Read on to get involved!

The Design Studio @ Columbia University (490 Riverside Dr, New York, NY 10027)

The Problem

The early stages of a startup are marked with questions. Who is my customer? What problems do they have? Do I have a solution to their problems? What are they willing to pay? Will I be able to break even? An entrepreneur’s ability to quickly convert these questions into answers is one of the few characteristics that separates successful startups from failed ones. The problem is that few entrepreneurs know the rapid and systematic approach required to answer these questions. They go too slow, they focus on the wrong things in the wrong order, and they move forward without truly validating a business model.

The Lab & Curriculum

The Business Model Validation Lab is designed to do one thing: provide entrepreneurs with a step-by-step methodology to rapidly and systematically validate their venture’s business model. Entrepreneurs will:

Identify the foundational assumptions that underpin your venture.

Through customer discovery and rapid prototyping validate the foundational assumptions.

Meet with mentors to get feedback and develop next steps.

Daily Schedule

The curriculum of the Lab oscillates between in-classroom workshop time and in-market customer interaction time.

  • Connector.

    Day 1

    Starts with orientation and workshop on assumption mapping in the morning. The afternoon is spent interacting with target customers.

  • Connector.

    Day 2

    Starts with a workshop in the morning on how to rapidly prototype. In the afternoon entrepreneurs will physically build a prototype.

  • Connector.

    Day 3

    Starts with a workshop on how to build powerful, long-term relationships with mentors, funders, and partners. In the afternoon, entrepreneurs spend time validating cost assumptions.

  • Connector.

    Day 4

    Mentor Day Part 1! 10-15 mentors will attend the Lab to work directly with entrepreneurs. The afternoon is dedicated to strategic planning.

  • Connector.

    Day 5

    Mentor Day Part 2! Entrepreneurs will meet with even more mentors after their reflection the previous day. The afternoon builds momentum and concludes the Lab.

Tangible Outcomes

By the end of Lab entrepreneurs will have something to show for their work. They will have:

  • Learned a repeatable methodology for how to do customer discovery
  • Built 2-3 prototypes of a key element of their venture
  • Tested prototypes with real customers
  • Learned how to build and maintain mentor relationships
  • Met and received feedback from 10-12 world-class mentors
  • Conducted a break-even analysis of their business and identified the key cost and financial assumptions of their business
  • Built out a basic budget and financial model
  • Created a 6-month operating plan


This Lab will actively involve a diverse set of mentors. These mentors will be custom-selected after selecting the Lab ventures to assure mentors meet their needs. Interested in mentoring? Email Malgosia.

Bruce Usher
Director of the Tamer Center for Social Enterprise & former CEO of EcoSecurities Group, the world’s largest carbon credit company.

Adam Royalty
Adam heads up The Columbia Design Lab to use as a set of tools, methodologies, and resources for turning ideas into action. 

Alveena Bakhshi
Former Ratings Analyst at Moody’s. Currently at Brillio she advises clients on how to extricate value through digitally transforming credit risk for customer experience management.

Angela Hansen
Angela is as Advisor at Dalberg in New York and former Partner and Director of the firm’s Johannesburg office. She is also a lecturer at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business, where she teaches design thinking and strategy for emerging markets.

Lorna Solis
Founder and CEO of Blue Rose Compass, a nonprofit which impacts conflict regions by identifying brilliant young adults – especially girls, and mostly living in refugee camps – and arranging scholarships for them to world-leading universities.

Varun Gulati
Varun (SEAS ’10) co-founded UClass (a Dropbox for K-12 districts), raised over $1 million in seed funding, and sold his company to Renaissance Learning in Feb 2015. 

David Lavin
Founder and Managing Director, Spark Impact. Co-Founder, Brazil Business Guru.

Manal Kahi
Co-founder & CEO at Eat Offbeat

Ashley Zwick
Director of the Lang Center at the Business School; Aslhey has also been teaching social entrepreneurship for many years (currently at Notre Dame)..

John Eley
With more than 25 years of experience in trading, capital markets and financial technology. He is responsible for the strategic vision, overall management and business leadership of GoldenSource Corporation. 

More Mentors Yet To Come :: Check Back Soon!

FAQ’s & More About This Program

Application and Selection
Apply by scrolling up and clicking on the pink button at the top of this page. This is not the pink button in the upper right. Instead scroll up and look for the button that says “Applications Open // Apply Now” in the center of the header section.
Entrepreneurs who are eligible are:

  • Committed to social and environmental impact with their venture
  • Idea-to-early-stage in their venture’s development
  • Based at Columbia University’s Design Studio (more on location below)
  • For-profit or non-profit

Here’s a bit more on location:

  • If I am an entrepreneur not related to Columbia nor in New York. Can I apply for this Lab? If you are outside New York you can still apply. If you can make a compelling case, we might consider your application.
  • My venture’s headquarters are here in New York, but my operations are elsewhere. Can I apply? It depends. The Business Model Validation Lab is designed for ventures to interact directly with their target market during the Lab. For example, during the Lab entrepreneurs will go and do “customer discovery” by interviewing people (in-person) in their target market. If you are unable to do this because your venture’s operations are elsewhere, then the Lab will be less valuable to you. In any case, please feel free to reach out us if you have specific questions about this.
This Business Model Validation Lab is designed for idea-stage to very early-stage entrepreneurs who are trying to figure out:

  • Who their target customer is
  • What, exactly, is the problem their target customer has
  • What their product/service offering looks like (they haven’t built a prototype yet or have just begun building prototypes) and if it meets the needs of the target customer

Entrepreneurs are too late if:

    • They know (with a very high level of confidence and specificity) who their customer is
    • They know (with a very high level of confidence and specificity) what problem their customer has
    • They know (with a very high level of confidence and specificity) that their solution solves their customer’s problem
    • They have a product/service that is in mainstream production
    • They have substantial sales


Entrepreneurs will complete the short online application (link above). Then the Unreasonable Lab Team will review all submitted applications and schedule 30-minute interviews with those who move on. After the interviews, 10-12 entrepreneurs will be offered a spot in the Lab.
It’s free for entrepreneurs to attend.
Lab Details
If you are accepted to attend the Lab, we will ask that you attend the Lab in its entirety. The curriculum is cohesive and builds upon itself, meaning that if you miss a day, you will be at a significant disadvantage.
Each Day is different!

The Lab will feature both time in the classroom (learning principles of how to validate your business model) and time in market with your customers where you will be interviewing them and having them interact with your prototypes. There will also be one entire day dedicated to working with mentors. Throughout the course of the Lab, you will have plenty of time to work and rest. Taking time to digest the material is an important piece of acceleration!

Day 1: Day 1 starts with a brief orientation and workshop in the morning, followed by an afternoon interacting with target customers.

Day 2: Day 2 starts with a workshop in the morning on how to rapidly prototype. In the afternoon, entrepreneurs will physically build a prototype and then go out again to meet with target customers.

Day 3: Day 3 starts with more time interacting with target customers before having an afternoon workshop on how to build powerful relationships with mentors, funders, and partners.

Day 4: Day 4 is a mentor day when 10-15 mentors will attend the Lab to work directly with entrepreneurs.

Day 5: Day 5 begins with a workshop in the morning on how to validate the cost assumptions in each venture before spending the afternoon working on strategic planning. Then the Lab concludes.


No, you are responsible for your own housing.
You will only gain access to the network of mentors and entrepreneurs who attend this Lab.
Be a Supporter
If you are interested in being a mentor we would love to share a conversation with you.
Click here to email Malgosia to discuss becoming a mentor.
We call the people who help us find venture Pipeline Partners. If you are interested in helping us find ventures we would love to share a conversation with you. Click here to email Joe to discuss becoming a Pipeline Partner.
We would love to explore sponsorship opportunities with you. Click here to email Veni to discuss sponsorship opportunities.
We would love to explore collaboration opportunities with you. Click here to email Nanna to discuss any opportunities.

The 2016 Lab

The Investment Preparedness Lab was created to help entrepreneurs be more prepared to raise funding. Ventures from New York to Kenya working on sustainable cars to rooftop farms, the 2016 cohort NYC Lab ventures are creating huge impact:
Click here to check out the 2016 Investment Preparedness Lab.

True School
Empowering educators to reimagine learning and actualize change.

Eat OffBeat
Delivery of authentic ethnic meals made by refugees in NYC.

Empowering underserved children to take their learning into their own hands.

Dagmy Motors
We build and sell affordable battery packs, electric vehicles, and EV tech.

Catapultian Foundation
Your Charitable Giving Savings Account.

Torus Teens
Connecting teens to life changing out-of-school programs.

Up Top Acres
Commercial Rooftop Farming

A virtual college counselor to guide students to (and through) college

Poa Post
An on demand courier service focusing on rural areas of Kenya.

Flip it Forward
Social Dreaming: Build the World You Want to Be a Part of.

Our Team

Here is the team that made this happen.

Joseph Lee-Heritage
Founded a 25 acre farm in Kenya that employed 20 refugees and financed 75 scholarships for secondary education.

Nicolas Toro
Co-founded an immigrant advocacy NGO, a social sector consultancy, has worked in extreme poverty resolution for several international governmental organizations.

Veni Jayanti
Founded a venture creating commercialization channels for victims of violence & led curriculum for an Indonesian impact accelerator.

Malgosia Rejniak
Management consultant  in technology, media and telecommunications.

Nanna Jakobsdóttir
Lawyer and journalist. She was a co-founder of the National Union for Icelandic Students. She has served the University Council for the University of Iceland.

Gio Zenteno
Previously an Investment Analyst for the International Finance Corporation (World Bank Group) in the Manufacturing, Agribusiness, and Services Department and former Board Member for a BoP Distribution Company in East Africa