Williams Summer Institute for Entrepreneurship
The Williams Summer Institute for Entrepreneurship (WSIE) is an eight-week program designed to allow students to pursue ventures across a wide range of industries. It is run by Tonio Palmer, director of entrepreneurship at the ’68 Center, and Adriana Roman, former Venture for America fellow and coordinator of entrepreneurship programs at the college. Because many entrepreneurial endeavors lend themselves to teams, this summer’s WSIE cohort was made up of four teams, each of which consisted of two members.
For my partner, Jamie, and I, the planning process for our summer venture began during the early part of the spring semester, when we entered into the Williams Pitch Competition with two of our friends and co-founders. During the competition, we pitched an industrial-scale green ammonia production facility. We were confident that we had identified a market with the potential for rapid growth and wanted to enter in a way that would maximize the impact we were able to achieve. As a result, we approached the beginning of the summer in the same way, with the same, production-focused idea.
However, as we began to form relationships with existing ammonia producers, renewable energy investors and commodity traders, it became clear that we would not be the ones to raise the capital necessary to construct an ammonia production facility. We pivoted, using our existing network of contacts and alumni, to build out an idea that we had earlier in the summer—a service provider that worked to connect firms on the supply and demand sides of the market. In doing so, we would be working to address the “chicken and egg” problem, the presence of high levels of uncertainty that hinder the adoption of infrastructure-intensive products.
Infrastructure investments are highly capital intensive and carry risk associated with uncertainty surrounding the eventual adoption of the products they work to disseminate. Facing this uncertainty, firms are less likely to engage in activities with high initial outlays. Consumers, in turn, are dissuaded from adopting new technologies until adequate infrastructure is constructed.
Thus, we offered a solution that works to address the obstacles presented by the paradox and capitalize on the arbitrage opportunities presented by the law of one price: a highly specialized firm that serves a hybrid consultancy-brokerage role for lean startups in the emerging green ammonia market.
By forming relationships with green ammonia consumers, the firm would lower search costs for lean startups while generating profits and providing a public good through reductions in emissions. Simultaneously, the broker might offer augmented services to green ammonia producers in order to cater to the specific needs of its customers.
The WSIE experience provided an avenue to learn how to conduct research, problem solve, and create relationships with professionals in fields that I am very interested in. WSIE has reaffirmed my desire to enter the renewable energy industry and emboldened me with confidence in my current abilities as well as my ability to continue to develop new skills. Without WSIE and the ’68 Center for Career Exploration, none of this would have been possible.