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So You Want to Own a Company?

YU is a school that truly fosters entrepreneurship. At the Sy Syms School of Business, students are mentored in developing skills to build, market, and sustain a company. For example, one Sy Syms course invites leaders of the business world weekly to speak about their endeavors. Setting aside the mentorship and guidance that YU has to offer, being in New York – at the apex of finance, fashion, tech, and nearly all other industries – makes even the most ambitious ends tangible.

Enter Dean Michael Strauss. Strauss worked in the corporate world for twenty years – the last twelve of which were at American Express where he held one of three Executive Vice President positions. He then moved on to private equity where he became CEO of several companies in turnaround situations. After private equity, he created his own small consulting firm which he led for approximately 10 years. Then, about four years ago, he was invited to speak on a Friday morning as part of the Kukin Lecture Series which Sy Syms offers. Following his experience at YU, Strauss was asked to return the following semester to develop and teach a course in Sy Syms, and then was asked to assume the role of Entrepreneur in Residence. At that point he had been working part time as an adjunct professor and full time at his consulting firm. He soon stopped working at the firm entirely (though he still owns the rights to it) and devoted 100% of his time to the university.

The Entrepreneur in Residence program offers students the opportunity to meet with someone with 35 years of quality experience in the business world in order to grow a successful business. Dean Strauss helps students with just about everything – obtaining patents, assessing demographics, designing a marketing plan – everything that is necessary to launch and sustain a successful company. Strauss usually sees about a hundred to a hundred and fifty students per semester, and is currently in the midst of at least five different projects with students. The program is open to all students of the university, and, despite his packed schedule, is readily available to students. “I’ll pick up the phone at 7 a.m. or 10:30 p.m.,” he said, “I love this job. My only regret was not coming here sooner.”

The course which Dean Strauss created initially was called Turnaround Business Strategy (TABS) which he will be teaching again this spring. TABS educates students on how to successfully “turn around,” or fix, an ailing company. There are specific tactics which professionals like himself employ to make a company more profitable and efficient in a limited amount of time. The course is a hands-on seminar that teaches students the basic principles of turning around a company. In addition, students examine real companies that have either benefited or faltered due to turnaround strategies. This semester, Strauss is teaching Business Communications, which just goes to show how integrated into the faculty Dean Strauss has become.

Among the beneficiaries of the Entrepreneur in Residence program is Daniel Hazan, a Sy Syms senior and cofounder of Java Ads Inc. He was filling up a disposable cup in the caf with water when an idea struck him, why does Starbucks get free advertising from every fountain drink purchased in the caf? Hazan pitched the idea to his friend and co-founder, Jonathan (Yoni) Kranzler. Java Ads Inc. aims to sell advertising space on coffee cups and to sign contracts with stores and institutions to purchase those cups in bulk. It is a simple and intuitive idea at the essence of marketing; brand recognition will lead to brand preference. Coffee cups, invaluable in our society, are a medium which have not been successfully tapped from an advertising end.

Java Ads Inc. was slated to appear on the popular show Shark Tank, a television show which features a panel of potential investors who hear business proposals from individuals seeking seed money in exchange for a stake in their company. Hazan and Kranzler were ready to go, and even had their tickets to fly to L.A. Just before their trip, a very successful investor and manager of several start up companies, found out about the idea and decided he wanted to be on board. It was then that Hazan and Kranzler had secured the funding as well as the strategy they needed to perpetuate their business.

When I spoke with Hazan about how YU contributed to the success of his venture, his response was Michael Strauss, the CDC, and his Syms classes. He said Dean Strauss was invaluable for the process. Strauss’ experience and connections, as well as his passion to mentor, make him the best asset YU has to offer. He also mentioned his career advisor at the Wilf campus Career Development Center, Laurie Davis, for helping him research and map out specific details of the project. Lastly was his sports management class with professor Bob Tufts, who Hazan says “really pushed [him] to go big.”

Ultimately, Java Ads stands as just one student-developed business. With Sy Syms gaining traction and speed under an invigorated administration and faculty, YU can expect to see more homegrown entrepreneurial power going forward.