Fordham welcomed some of the world’s most innovative entrepreneurs to its Lincoln Center campus on Dec. 6 while helping to launch the inaugural cohort of New York City Venture Fellows.

NYC Venture Fellow Naveen Selvadurai is co-founder of Foursquare, a social networking site that, as of November 2010, reported it has 4.5 million registered users. Photo by Ken Levinson

A collaboration with the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), the yearlong program is designed to assist 23 “rising star” entrepreneurs by providing office space, key networking opportunities and mentors.

Among more than 50 mentors are investors, CEOs and serial entrepreneurs from world-class organizations such as Barclays, NBC Universal, Lord & Taylor, venture capital firms, universities and more.

Seth Pinsky, president of NYCEDC, said the program is a way to ensure New York City continues as the world’s business capital.

“We in the [Mayor Michael] Bloomberg administration have come to realize that it’s very important for us to foster the next generation of great businesses and industries here in New York City,” he said. “We also need to support businesses that have gotten off the ground and are looking to receive support at a new level.”

The group of fellows includes international digital media pioneers, nonprofit entrepreneurs and clean-tech innovators from countries including China, Germany and India. Leaders of fast-growing NYC-based ventures including Foursquare, Gilt Groupe and SecondMarket are in the group.

Stephen Freedman, Ph.D., provost of the University, welcomed the NYC Venture Fellows to Fordham. Photo by Ken Levinson

Stephen Freedman, Ph.D., provost of the University, said the collaboration with NYCEDC resulted from more than a year of planning.

“Fordham is the proudest partner in a relationship with the City of New York,” Freedman said. “Together we will work to develop the entrepreneurial talent and business expertise for a new generation of leadership from New York, the region, the country and the world.”

This was the first event for the inaugural class of 23 Venture Fellows, who, after networking and formal introductions, got to work with their mentors, discussing various topics dealing with innovation and creativity.

Following completion of the program, NYC Venture Fellows will remain engaged and connected through an alumni network.

Erick Beckman, who founded the New York International Children’s Film Festival and, more recently, GKIDS Inc., said he is excited about being a NYC Venture Fellow.

“I’ve met two of my mentors and know they’ll have a lot to offer,” said Beckman. GKIDS Inc., which uses digital and social media to distribute films to American families via multiple media platforms, is taking advantage of what he sees as a “market failure” in United States motion picture distribution.

“You have economies of scale that lead to $250 million films like Shrek, but those same economies of scale turn into diseconomies when you’re dealing with medium-sized films,” he said.

“GKIDS provides an alternative. By utilizing digital distribution, non-traditional marketing and 12 years of audience-based film programming expertise, we deliver American families an assortment of exciting, entertaining children’s films while sidestepping the huge costs that make Hollywood so risk-averse,” he said.

NYC Venture Fellows and mentors brainstorm at the launch event. Photo by Ken Levinson

So far, so good, Beckman said, as GKIDS turned a profit and snagged an unexpected Academy Award nomination for The Secret of Kells in the Best Animated Feature category—the only independent film nominated in a field of big studio productions.

“Now we’re looking for $3 to $4 million for the second quarter next year to expand,” Beckman said. “I’m excited to meet people [through NYC Venture Fellows]who invest in start-ups and entertainment companies. I’m hoping to share my thoughts and get their advice and, maybe, some partners.”

Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham, served on the selection committee, which sifted through an array of nominees before choosing the inaugural cohort. Several members of the University’s Board of Trustees will serve as mentors.


Gina Vergel is Senior Director of Communications. She oversees the digital news coverage, public relations, and social media for the university. Before joining Fordham in 2007, Gina worked as a reporter for the Home News Tribune, and The Ridgewood News, where she won Society of Professional Journalist (New Jersey chapter) awards for breaking news and feature writing, respectively. She can be reached at [email protected] or (646) 579-9957.