Happy ten-year anniversary, Pillsbury Institute

May 30, 2017

“We are all entrepreneurs of our own lives and careers. We make endless choices: where to live, what job to take, whom to marry, how to save versus spend our money. Entrepreneurship is really creating the life you want. The more you know about entrepreneurship, the better you will be able to make sound choices in your life.” – Lee Pillsbury ’69

Pillsbury Institute Ideation for Impact

Pillsbury Institute Ideation for Impact

While there has always been a strong entrepreneurial culture at Cornell, it wasn’t until the Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship at Cornell was founded with a gift from Leland C. and Mary M. Pillsbury that a specific entrepreneurial curriculum was developed at the Hotel School.

For Leland “Lee” Pillsbury ’69, entrepreneurship is more than an academic focus or career track; it is a way of life. His own entrepreneurial journey began at the early age of nine when he started mowing neighbors’ lawns to save money for a ten-speed bicycle, though it wasn’t until 20 years into his business career that he came to realize that his passions, ambitions, and approach to business had a name—entrepreneurship.


[Institute] helped me to turn an idea, a concept, a plan on paper, into a reality. What started with a vision became a detailed and researched plan, which became a pilot, and finally, today, an active company with proof of concept: Saira Hospitality.” — Harsha Chanrai, MMH ’14

The Pillsbury Institute was founded at a time when very few schools offered entrepreneurship as an academic discipline. The institute directly enables students to realize their passions and helps them build their own businesses from conception onward.

To this day, the mission behind the institute is to connect students with experienced faculty and accomplished entrepreneurs so that they can translate classroom learning into the real-world experience necessary to pursue their entrepreneurial ambitions. The institute has experienced tremendous growth since its beginning and functions as a critical hub for entrepreneurship on Cornell’s campus.

Highlights from years past

Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship Roundtable

Participants in the 2016 Center for Hospitality Research (CHR) Technology Entrepreneurship Roundtable.

2006: Leland C. and Mary M. Pillsbury provide the gift to support the establishment of the Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship

“We want the institute to be the catalyst that brings students, faculty, and entrepreneurs closer together to collaborate on all aspects of entrepreneurship education. Research, course offerings, and hands-on, real-world experience come together at the institute to drive the success of our students and faculty with the active engagement of entrepreneurs from industry.” — Lee Pillsbury ’69

Leland “Lee” Pillsbury ’69, a longtime supporter of Cornell, recognized the future of hospitality entrepreneurship and wanted to create an institute that would better connect students to entrepreneurs and provide them with opportunities to gain hands-on experience.

2007–2009: Entrepreneurs in Residence program is created

“I keep in touch with some of the entrepreneurs in residence today. But far and away, Marco Benvenuti was the most impactful… and it’s not just because I work for his company, Duetto. In addition to being a visionary in the field of revenue strategy and technology, the most important lesson Marco taught me was that being different is a strength, not a weakness. We are always at our best when we can truly be ourselves, and working with Marco and Duetto I know I can always be me.” — Khalid Ladha, MMH ’16

The Entrepreneurs in Residence program invites successful entrepreneurs, including alumni and industry leaders from a variety of backgrounds and industries, to the Cornell campus to meet with students and faculty alike. This year, the institute hosted 20 entrepreneurs in residence who each spent at least four full days on campus. The program gives students direct access to movers and shakers in the hospitality entrepreneurship community who advise students on topics such as business planning, networking, and career development. All of the entrepreneurs that participate hold one-on-one office hours for students.

Pillsbury Institue Networking Social

Pillsbury Institue Networking Social

2009–2010: First Annual Hospitality Business Plan Competition

“The Business Plan Competition was a thrilling experience that goes way beyond the classroom. Countless hours of ideation, research, team debates, planning, and practice (not to mention real sweat and tears) for a chance to get Shark Tank–style feedback and win prize money. Pushing myself alongside my teammates … helped me build tougher skin and sharper business skills. I can’t tell you how much more prepared I feel for the next time I look future investors in the eye and convince them that we can reward their risk, and perhaps, also change the world.” — Antonio Miceli, MMH ’17

The Cornell Hospitality Business Plan Competition has become a landmark feature of the Pillsbury Institute and the Hotel School. The annual contest runs throughout the academic year and provides entrepreneurship students with firsthand learning experiences specific to the hospitality industry. Students are asked to propose an idea for a new and unique business venture that is in its seed, start-up, or early growth phase. Of these executive proposals, a group of ten semi-finalists are invited to write full business plans. Those plans are then evaluated by alumni and Pillsbury Institute board members, and five finalist teams are invited to present at the Hotel School’s premiere alumni event, Hotel Ezra Cornell, to compete for a $25,000 first prize. The competition is an excellent platform for providing students access to advice and guidance in developing their businesses, as well as valuable exposure to industry leaders. Participants of the competition receive a great deal of support from faculty, and many have gone on to create their own successful companies.

2013–2014: Networking Socials and Roundtable events established

Roundtables, mixers, and office hours were crucial to us in our early stages of development so we could get the right feedback. I would be remiss if I did not mention the amazing staff (Kristen C. and Leslee K.) and faculty (Susan Fleming and Mona Olsen) who helped guide our vision and didn’t hesitate to make introductions for us if asked.” — Khalid Ladha, MMH ’16

Roundtables give students an insider’s look among thought leaders on cutting-edge issues and topics relevant to hospitality entrepreneurship. Students participate by being “flies on the wall” and sometimes help to generate discussion. This year, three roundtable sessions were held with a focus on technology, sustainability, and the food chain. Networking Socials connect students to the industry professionals who attend the roundtables.

The Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship Roundtable

The 2016 Center for Hospitality Research (CHR) Technology Entrepreneurship Roundtable

2015: Entrepreneurship concentration established

“Entrepreneurship in my view is ‘taking responsibility’ for what happens in your world. Learning how to create it, manage it, grow it, engage others in it, celebrate it, and recover from your failures is what creating a meaningful life is all about.” — Lee Pillsbury ’69

The Hotel School offered just one entrepreneurship course in 2006 when the Pillsbury Institute was founded. Today it boasts 13 entrepreneurship courses ranging in topics from restaurant entrepreneurship to entrepreneurial finance. This broad offering of courses, which are taken by students from across the university, allowed for the launch of entrepreneurship concentrations that are open to all Hotel School students, both undergraduate and graduate.

One Comment

  1. MelindaBush June 26, 2017 at 4:14 am - Reply

    What an amazing 10 year history
    congratulations to all, but most importantly to Lee and Mary Pillsbury for their brilliance and generosity and foresight in establishing the fund.


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