Dr. Deborah Streeter, a highly regarded expert in entrepreneurship, women in leadership, and digital media, has played an instrumental role in instructing regional I-Corps courses and mentoring startup teams through the UNY I-Corps Node.
As Sr. Professor Emeritus of Personal Enterprise and Small Business Management at the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University, Dr. Streeter dedicated her career to supporting entrepreneurs and small businesses. In her current role as Faculty Director of the Bank of America Institute for Women’s Entrepreneurship, she oversees a free online learning portal that provides women entrepreneurs with the skills, knowledge and resources to build, manage, and scale a successful business.
She is also the founder of Prendismo, LLC, offering users access to a premier collection of digital video content—more than 18,000 assets—on business, leadership, and entrepreneurship, and has authored several Women in Leadership certificate courses for eCornell.
Serving as Curriculum Chair of the UNY Node since 2017, Dr. Streeter has worked to shape the UNY I-Corps regional course and regional instructor training program. In 2020, she instructed two I-Corps regional courses hosted by Cornell University and UNY I-Corps, one of which was offered exclusively to underrepresented student entrepreneurs participating in W.E. Cornell and Black Entrepreneurs in Training. Most recently, she instructed the September 2021 I-Corps regional course at Cornell University. We recently connected with Dr. Streeter to learn more about her experiences as an I-Corps instructor.
Q: Why did you want to become an I-Corps instructor?
Deborah Streeter: Having worked with primarily undergraduate teams at Dyson, I was anxious to teach with more experienced deep tech entrepreneurs. I’ve seen how much such teams can benefit from the lean startup model of customer discovery and it is rewarding to see the evolution in their mindset.
Q: What one piece of advice do you have for new entrepreneurs?
DS: Two issues kill new businesses: cash flow and people issues. The former is well covered in entrepreneurship curriculum, but entrepreneurs should spend time developing their “soft skills” to deal with the inevitable issues that arise with family, co-founders, employees, investors, and other “heartbeats” in their entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Q: Of the startup teams you have instructed, are there any success stories that come to mind? Where is/are those team(s) now?
DS: The most successful teams are those who really listen during the problem validation stage. Stas Zinchik, principal at ZiTechnologies, Inc., a renewable energy technology, comes to mind, as his team had many “light bulb” moments because they listened carefully to their potential customers.
Q: Can you recall a startup team that went above and beyond during customer discovery?
DS: I was particularly impressed with one team, led by an entrepreneurial lead from China, who managed to interview U.S. farmers despite the language and cultural issues. That required a lot of grit!
Q: After learning about so many different customer markets, can you share a market or customer problem that still requires a solution/has great demand?
DS: One problem that has been identified by various teams has been communication issues among health care workers and patients. Complicated by language issues and incentive systems that are at cross-purpose—it is really challenging to incorporate patient-reported outcomes.
Q: What important lesson(s) or insight(s) have you learned from being an I-Corps instructor?
DS: No matter how much of a “slam dunk” we see in terms of technology, if it does not solve an urgent problem, need, or desire, an entrepreneur cannot make progress.