Entrepreneurs in Residence: mentoring students with entrepreneurial dreams

September 18, 2015

By Sandi Mulconry

At cafes where the drinks are delicious but culture is king, Nick Bayer, A&S ’00, founder and chief executive officer of Saxbys Coffee, seeks to “make life better” for his 20,000 daily guests.

Saxbys is not your typical coffee shop—it’s a hospitality business fueled by coffee. And Nick is not your typical entrepreneur. He opened Saxbys’s first outlet in 2005 with neither a business plan nor—interestingly—a taste for coffee.

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Nick Bayer, A&S ’00, founder and CEO of Saxbys Coffee, and participant in the Leland C. and Mary M. Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship Entrepreneurs in Residence program.

He was attracted to the business, he says, by “the energy and ambiance of cafes.”

His “aha” moment came while visiting a friend’s coffee shop and witnessing “people from all walks of life—old, young, rich, poor—enjoying this shared space. I immediately fell in love with it,” he says. After learning all he could about the industry, he quit his job as a management consultant and set out to create a company “about people and culture.”

Today—with more than 30 cafes across the country and a newfound appreciation for four-shot iced Americanos—Nick shares his journey through the School of Hotel Administration (SHA) Leland C. and Mary M. Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship Entrepreneurs in Residence program.

His first piece of advice to students: Write a business plan. “I didn’t, and I struggled for the first few years as a result,” he says.

"The entrepreneurs willingly tell you about their mistakes and successes and what worked for them. It's so inspiring to have someone say, ‘Yes, you can do it too.'" - Kristan Baker, CALS '15

“That, and follow your passion.”

Through the Entrepreneurs in Residence program, ten entrepreneurs spend a few days on campus each semester, giving guest lectures and providing personal direction to students so that they can conceive, launch, and manage their own companies.

Because the entrepreneurs provide industry-relevant advice, the program draws participation from students across Cornell.

When Nick returned to campus September 8, it marked the start of his fifth year with the program. He also plans to be in residence October 1 and November 12.

Among the dozens of students he has mentored is Chris Kirby ’15, founder and CEO of Ithaca Hummus. Chris’s company was just an idea when he first met with Nick; today, Ithaca Hummus is available in more than 70 outlets, including Wegmans and Whole Foods, and the company is growing rapidly.

Other students mentored by Nick have joined Saxbys as interns and full-time employees.

Kristan Baker, CALS ’15, who studied entrepreneurship through SHA, had always wanted to be an entrepreneur and create something for herself. Her sights were set on marketing before she developed an interest in franchising and met with Nick the fall of her senior year.

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Nick Bayer, A&S ’00 with Kristan Baker, CALS ’15. Nick mentored Kristan through the Entrepreneurs in Residence program, and now Kristan is part of the Saxbys leadership development team.

“I learned that he had created something out of nothing, and that was totally inspiring to me,” she says.

The two stayed in contact throughout her senior year, and today she is part of Saxbys’s leadership development team, in training to operate a hybrid franchise.

After being mentored in the program, Chris Kirby ’15 launched Ithaca Hummus, now available in more than 70 outlets and growing rapidly.“Entrepreneurs who take part in the Entrepreneurs in Residence program willingly tell you about their mistakes and successes and what worked for them,” she says. “It’s really rewarding, and at the same time it’s so inspiring to have someone say, ‘Yes, you can do it too.'”

Through his participation, Nick says, “I’ve seen so many people grow as individuals and business professionals—learning entrepreneurial skills, applying those skills to jobs as interns or out of college, and launching businesses. It’s one of my greatest passions. I’m so proud of the work we’ve collectively been able to do.”

Visit the Entrepreneurs in Residence page for more information on the program, including a list of this year’s participating entrepreneurs. For dates the entrepreneurs will be in residence, visit the Pillsbury Institute’s events page.

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