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An eLab Spotlight on Fello

This month we would like to introduce the Fello team—an undergraduate duo seeking to create a collaborative online platform that "empowers college students to bring their ideas to life.” Cheick Camara (‘22) is studying in the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management with a concentration in finance and a minor in Computer Science; as such, Cheick is fascinated by the intersection between technology and financial services. This summer, Cheick will be interning at The D.E. Shaw Group in fundamental equities. Making up the other half of the pair, Abenazer Mekete (‘22) is an Information Science major in the College of Arts and Sciences with minors in business, entrepreneurship, and computer science. Abenazer is an incoming Software Engineering intern at Microsoft.

A true entrepreneur pursues many paths to success. Abenazer and Cheick certainly fit that mold: Fello is neither of their first projects. Tapping into his passion for finance, Cheick co-founded BlackGen Capital—an investment fund at Cornell owned by minority students seeking to increase financial literacy amongst historically underrepresented groups in finance. As the first minority-owned fund at Cornell, BlackGen Capital offers a community for students with shared interests in exploring finance while challenging the racial inequity that plagues the financial sector. Abenazer co-founded a podcast called Break’n it Down—a talk show that aims to break down the barrier between upperclassmen and underclassmen— that is set to launch in a few weeks.

Fello’s origins can be tied back to a casual conversation between Abenazer and Cheick in Cook dining hall last spring. While both pursuing their individual projects—BlackGen Capital for Cheick and the Break’n it Down podcast for Abenazer— they found that, while their initiatives were quite different, they faced the same problem: identifying other students which they could collaborate and explore their ideas. When recounting his experience trying to put together a production team for the podcast, Abenazer described the struggle of finding the perfect students to join the team: “for 20 or 30 days I would meet with a new person for lunch or dinner, trying to discover who was out there, what they were interested in and whether there was any overlap with my own project. Even after all those meetings, I couldn’t find anyone that really fit.” Realizing that this problem was likely not limited to their experiences, the two began their research and Fello came into fruition.

The Fello team was introduced to the eLab cohort after having watched a few of their peer mentors participate in the 2019-2020 cohort. Cheick spoke of how their peers’ experiences drew them in saying, “Abe and I were watching them very closely as they went through the project and saw how much tangible value it offered. They built their networks and gained access to all the eLab resources such as the demo days, the grant, AWS... all of those aspects brought us to believe that it was the perfect wholistic incubator that would bring our startup to the next level.”

Since joining eLab, Fello has found the “emotionally detached feedback” to be the biggest value add. “When you’re starting your own business, it’s like your baby. You may know certain aspects of it aren’t perfect, but you’re so invested that you might not want to admit it,” says Abenazer. Feedback from their mentors has allowed them to broaden their perspective to gain a more complete view of their project.

While the pandemic posed a threat for many businesses, Cheick and Abenazer used this opportunity to commit to Fello. With more flexibility in their schedules and the transition to online meetings, Fello was able to meet with students from around the country to form their team over the summer. The pandemic introduced some thought-provoking questions that have guided their process. In planning out the future of Fello, the team must wonder if these changes in virtual communication permanent or if things return to “normal” once the pandemic is controlled.

Right now, Fello has returned to the customer discovery phase after having put out their initial MVP. With the results of their MVP, the team is in the process of using the data to identify their target customer group, gain a better sense of their pain points, and determine how best to solve the

ir problems with the Fello platform. Through their customer discovery efforts, the team hopes to test their hypotheses and solidify their next steps. While Fello currently helps students bring their ideas to life, Fello will ultimately aim to help people—beyond the scope of students—make “passion pursuit a priority.”

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