2023 Most Disruptive Business School Startups: Crossroads, Cornell University (Dyson)


Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business

Website Link: shop-crossroads.com

Industry:  Custom Merchandise

Founding Student Name(s): 

Brief Description of Solution: We provide Nigerian artisans economic opportunities by selling their products in the United States. We then use our profits to fund a health clinic and school in Jeida Village, Nigeria.

Funding Dollars: $12,000

What led you to launch this venture? Crossroads came out of conversations with Kelechi Umoga, Founder of Crossbonds. Through Crossbonds, Kelechi has built a school and health clinic in the Jeida Village of Nigeria. He discussed the challenges of not having a sustainable revenue source – constant fundraising presented significant challenges. We came together with Kelechi and, through a variety of research and market analysis, we launched Crossroads to provide sustainable revenue for the work of Crossbonds. Not only did we intend to further the impact of Crossbonds, but we also wanted to ensure that the socially impactful mission of Crossbonds was present at every level in the launch of Crossroads. We not only use profits to fund the work of Crossbonds, but we also create economic opportunities for artisans in Nigeria as well as ingrain service in all that we do for our partner artisans, team, our customers.

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture? Crossroads is incredibly proud to have supported Nigerian Artisans with thousands of dollars in revenue while donating profits back to the Jeida region. This has been facilitated by the growth of our team not only on Cornell’s campus, but across the University of Pennsylvania, Brown University, Yale University, Georgetown University, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst in the last three months. This expansion has opened avenues to scale impact at an incredibly fast pace while exposing students to the intricacies and nuances of entrepreneurship across the Northeast.

How has your business-related major helped you further this startup venture? The diversity of business-related majors in our team allows Crossroads to benefit from a wide variety of perspectives. On our team, we have people studying Applied Economics and Management in the Dyson School, Hotel Administration in the Hotel School, Economics in the College of Arts and Sciences, and Policy Administration and Management in the Brooks School of Public Policy. Each of our different experiences propels Crossroads to be multi-dimensional.

The Entrepreneurs-In-Residence program within the Hotel School ‘s Pillsbury Institute has also been foundational in the operations and brainstorming within Crossroads. This program allowed us to meet with different successful entrepreneurs to discuss our business model, brainstorm solutions, and pitch our business. Within the Dyson School, we have accessed support from the Office of Student Services, the Office of the Dean, professors in entrepreneurship, and the greater student community. These offices have connected us with various resources on campus such as the Dan Cane Scholarship Program, while supporting our business through fulfilling some of Dyson’s merchandise needs with our products.

Dyson’s student community is also incredibly supportive and tight-knit and has lent to supporting the distribution, engagement, and publicity of our business on campus. We are so grateful for the community that Cornell has lent Crossroads as a whole and continue to give back in any way we can, whether that be through team opportunities or other means.

Which business class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it?  Entrepreneurial Marketing and Strategy, taught by accomplished entrepreneurs Brad Treat and Nick Nickitas, was fundamental in building and sustaining Crossroads. The class, structured in the form of case studies based on our professors’ real-life startup experiences, gave us insight into the process of each challenge that comes with building a business. What was most valuable was our professors’ candidness. They addressed the parts of entrepreneurship that aren’t glamorous, fun, or exciting – the parts that often define a point where most give up. In this sense, as an organization, we learned grit and perseverance. We were taught the importance of never quitting, maintaining enthusiasm, and pushing ourselves through the most difficult moments in our startup journey.

What business professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? Professor Mark Constas had a significant impact on the launch of Crossroads. Professor Constas teaches a class titled Strategic Responses to Poverty and Hunger in Developing Countries. In this class, Prof. Constas details the incredible hardships individuals living in developing nations face. The class was a weekly reminder that so many in this world do not have access to the bare necessities of life that we would regularly take for granted: clean running water, nutritious food, basic healthcare, and access to fair wages. Learning that hundreds of millions of people live in extreme hunger certainly puts friend group drama or a bad grade into perspective.

Crossroads emerged from an attempt to do something about the incredible hardship we learned about from Prof. Constas. At Crossroads, it is our mission to drive revenue into these communities because revenue changes realities: everything from nutrition to healthcare access.

What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you?  Rachel Doyle, CEO and Founder of GlamourGals as well as Cornell University alumna, instilled an entrepreneurial spirit within our founders that inspired the start of Crossroads.

The mission of GlamourGals is to connect teen volunteers with senior citizens in nursing homes. Not only does the organization encourage intergenerational connection to end senior isolation, it is supporting volunteers with the key leadership skills to make an impact in any space they enter beyond their time at the nursing home. Crossroads co-founder Anna Haraka started a chapter of GlamourGals in her hometown and has been mentored by Rachel since the start. Rachel taught Anna the importance of always being driven by your mission, leveraging your community as supporters to amplify your impact, and creating opportunities for volunteers beyond their time with the organization. In this way, Crossroads was inspired to create a model where students are empowered to lead a business and make an impact. We aim to provide foundational business development opportunities that will create the next generation of social entrepreneurs beyond their time in college. We are grateful to Rachel for her lens on empowerment, community engagement, and gratitude that we have used to shape the values of our organization.

What is your long-term goal with your startup? Crossroads is creating a sustainable system of cyclical funding for our partner nonprofit Crossbonds, supporting the healthcare clinic and school in the Jeida region. Throughout these cycles, we are both building infrastructure in Nigeria, while building the entrepreneurial experiences of the students that collaborate with us. They touch every part of the business, including searching and receiving orders, managing the supply chain, and coordinating with partnered artisans, while facilitating business operations such as filing taxes and overseeing marketing strategies. We are empowering every stakeholder involved, with both education and ample resources.

How has your local startup ecosystem contributed to your venture’s development and success? Crossroads is a Dan Cane Scholarship Startup, a Cornell University program that facilitates mentorship and the opportunity to network with like-minded students who have also started their own businesses on campus. We have received support from the program and get to learn from the strategy, marketing, and customer acquisition processes of how other startups operate.

Through the Cornell E-hub and EShip community, we have grown tremendously through accelerators, pitch competitions, and grants. Dyson and Entrepreneurship@Cornell funded our trip to Boston for the Hult Prize Semifinals. At the Hult Prize, we met and learned from co-founders from around the world – meeting companies from Spain, China, and Brazil. We spent the weekend refining our business model, asking the hard questions, and practicing our pitch. Similarly, Crossroads was a participant in the Life Changing Labs 2023 Summer Accelerator Cohort, in which we were exposed to industry leaders on topics like brainstorming, creativity, goal setting, vision, and branding. We met with expert communication strategists who have helped craft our pitch; founders who have taught us how investors derive value from startups; and brand strategists who have taught us how to highlight our impact. Through mentorship and community, Crossroads has thrived in building a tight-knit culture that is supportive in driving our team members’ skills and growth to success in various industries and career paths, while contributing to our mission.


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.