The Charger Blog

Professorship Creates Exciting Opportunities for Entrepreneurially Minded Chargers

As the University's inaugural Smerd Family Professor in Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Vasiliki Kosmidou, Ph.D., has been educating and mentoring students in the classroom, through the Entrepreneurship Club, and as part of a unique annual pitch competition.

May 2, 2023

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Dr. Brian Kench, Rupesh Lankipalli '23 M.S., Harsha Balla '23 M.S., Amaya Guzman '23, and Dr. Vasiliki Kosmidou
Left to right: Dr. Brian Kench, Rupesh Lankipalli '23 M.S., Harsha Balla '23 M.S., Amaya Guzman '23, and Dr. Vasiliki Kosmidou.

Vasiliki Kosmidou, Ph.D., is excited about entrepreneurship and its potential to make an important impact in the creation of businesses – and beyond. It's something that, she believes, drives creativity, job opportunities, problem solving, and contributing positively to society.

Dr. Kosmidou is confident that the innovation principles she teaches her students will make a positive impact on their lives, whether or not they start their own business. She's been sharing her passion with students as an assistant professor at the University, and, now, as Smerd Family Professor in Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

"I am humbled and honored to be the inaugural recipient of the Smerd Professorship, as it is not only a recognition and endorsement of my work, but, also, a gesture of faith in my dedication to entrepreneurship," she said. "Professorships are an excellent way for a university to reward its faculty members and to promote its presence and focus on specific areas of expertise."

'Power and passion'
Vasiliki Kosmidou, Ph.D., speaking
Vasiliki Kosmidou, Ph.D., speaks during the Smerd Pitch Competition.

A mentor to her students, Dr. Kosmidou has also conducted extensive research in entrepreneurship. She teaches "Introduction to Business and Entrepreneurship," a required course for first-year students, as well as upper-level entrepreneurship courses. She also serves as faculty adviser for the University's Entrepreneurship Club, which she helped students create. She's excited about how the professorship will continue to spread an entrepreneurial mindset at the University.

"The Smerd Professorship is a great way for our university to strengthen its focus on and belief in entrepreneurship by creating unique opportunities for our entrepreneurially minded students," she said. "It will also support and encourage cutting-edge research in entrepreneurship."

The three-year professorship was established thanks to the generosity of Peter Smerd '82 MBA and Susan Smerd. The Smerds also support the University's annual Smerd Pitch Competition, that, this past fall, the Entrepreneurship Club organized.

"Peter and Susie Smerd's generous support of the Smerd Pitch Competition provides the seed funding for University of New Haven students who have successfully pitched their business idea to a panel of expert judges," said Brian Kench, Ph.D., dean of the University's Pompea College of Business. "The power and passion that the Smerd Pitch Competition unleashes at the University of New Haven is transformational."

'They did a remarkable job'
Students pitch their ideas to a panel of judges
Students pitched their idea to a panel of judges as part of the Smerd Pitch Competition.

Open to students of all disciplines, the five-week program enables entrepreneurial students to identify a problem, develop a solution and a pitch, and compete to earn awards that help them launch their ideas. It's an exciting and hands-on way for students to cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset while building their leadership and public speaking skills.

The competition inspired students such as Rupesh Lankipalli '23 M.S. to get creative. Realizing it can be challenging for international students to find accommodations, he wanted to create a platform that would offer housing services just for students.

Lankipalli and his classmate Harsha Balla '23 M.S. created Zutopa, which they later renamed Gamyam. It enables students to list empty rooms or residences they are leaving while giving incoming international students the ability to search for available housing through their university's search filter. They hope to build Gamyam into a "unicorn" business by creating a tool for the next generation of international students around the world. Their pitch captured first place in the competition.

Lankipalli says the Smerd Pitch Competition and the workshops leading up to it that enabled him to network and learn from entrepreneurs and business leaders were invaluable. He says the most important lesson he learned was the importance of executing their idea – not simply imagining it.

"The knowledge we gained has really assisted us in questioning what we are doing and why," said Lankipalli, a candidate in the University's business analytics graduate program. "We have applied many concepts that the guest speakers taught us, which helped us in developing our idea. The team from the Entrepreneurship Club taught us how to organize and delegate duties within a group, and they did a remarkable job."

'Grateful for their generosity'
Aidan Dowsett '24
Aidan Dowsett '24 at the Smerd Pitch Competition.

The competition is also open to undergraduate students. Aidan Dowsett '24, a business management major who captured second place, pitched OnTheGo!, an on-campus food delivery service exclusively for students that allows them to use their meal plan when ordering. It would also enable students to earn extra money by making food deliveries. He says the competition was a wonderful experience that helped him build his confidence and public-speaking skills, as well as his business.

"Knowing there are people such as the Smerds who are willing to support students in this huge way is incredible," he said. "The business had just started out as an idea, and I thought it would always remain an idea, but, thanks to the Smerds, that idea is now in the works of becoming a reality. Without them this competition does not exist, so all the participants and I are beyond grateful for their generosity in giving us this opportunity."

'A high level of entrepreneurship scholarship'

Dr. Kosmidou looks forward to continuing to be a part of the Smerd Pitch Competition – the Entrepreneurship Club's signature event – which the professorship will support. It will also enable her to continue her own innovative entrepreneurship work, something she is deeply committed to.

"I aim to continue mentoring and providing resources to our entrepreneurially oriented students through extra-curricular activities and other events that our Entrepreneurship Club organizes and runs," she said. "My goals include maintaining a high level of entrepreneurship scholarship as I advance in my career, as well as fostering scholarly collaborations among faculty and students interested in conducting entrepreneurship research."