HB ON THE SCENE: Cornell Honors Lee Pillsbury

ITHACA, NY—Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration (SHA) celebrated entrepreneurship with a two-day conference, capping the event off with a dinner to honor Lee Pillsbury as 2016 Cornell Entrepreneur of the Year. A Cornell graduate in 1969, Pillsbury is the founder and chairman of Thayer Lodging Group; he also created Thayer Ventures, a venture capital fund targeting technology companies in the hospitality and travel space.

Pillsbury was honored for his work encouraging and facilitating entrepreneurship at Cornell University and SHA. A decade ago, Pillsbury and his wife Mary endowed the Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship at SHA with a $15-million contribution. Pillsbury is active with the university, including his membership to the Cornell Board of Trustees and of the SHA Dean’s Advisory Board. In addition, the Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship has helped to fund numerous courses and programs based on the spirit of entrepreneurship since its inception. As the founding investor in Thayer Ventures, Pillsbury helps fund companies like Duetto.

The celebration banquet to honor Pillsbury included speeches by Steve Gal, advisory council chair for Cornell University; Zach Shulman, director of entrepreneurship; and Michael Johnson, SHA dean. The Touchtones, an a cappella group of students from Cornell who perform pop songs, provided entertainment.

When Pillsbury took the stage, he thanked his wife and told the audience he appreciated the honor. He spoke about his background at Cornell and then addressed the School of Business merger, saying that students who come to Cornell need to take the knowledge they learn and apply it to their life outside of college, and that “the school of business will take the knowledge and bring it into the world as part of its strategic mission.”

In addition, Alexandra Jostrom, who is set to earn her MBA from Cornell University in 2016, announced the Cornell Venture Challenge winner. Fon Powell accepted the award check on behalf of her venture, Salt Counts, a smartphone device that measures daily salt intake to manage blood pressure. According to Powell, the catalyst for her invention was her father, who had issues with blood pressure and passed away when he was 49 years old.

According to Michael Hodess, a member of the board of the Big Red Venture Fund, which awards the funds, the five finalists presented to a panel of alumni and other venture capitalists. The top three finalists will receive funding in addition to legal and mentoring assistance. One finalist came up with a platform for connecting small-scale clothing companies with manufacturers in China.

Day one of the event kicked off with alumni, parents, students and faculty convening at the university campus preparing to attend a variety of symposiums covering topics from artificial intelligence to food entrepreneurship.

On the welcoming night of the event, guests ventured to David Call Alumni Auditorium to see a movie screening for She Started It, which takes an in-depth look at women entering into entrepreneurship and asks why more women don’t enter the field of entrepreneurship. The screening included guests Nora Poggi, director and producer, and Insiyah Saeed, producer and co-director.

The next morning, SHA’s Statler Hotel, run by SHA students and seasoned hospitality staff, was occupied in both its hotel rooms and conference rooms. Early morning events also included a discussion on the Cornell College of Business merger of the university’s three accredited business programs including SHA, the Charles Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management in the College of Agriculture and Life Science; and the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management.

Soon after, Adam Slutsky, a graduate from the class of 1985 and cofounder and former COO/CFO of Moviephone, delivered a keynote address. Slutsky is also president of event management company Tough Mudder, Inc.  

Look for more coverage in the May 7 issue of Hotel Business.

—Katherine Klahn