Samantha Greenspan ’21 delivered the Pitching 101 lecture for the Athena Center’s Startup Summit in 2023

When deciding what to name her new app, Samantha Greenspan ’21’s mind traveled to ancient Greece. She chose “Skolay,” which means “purposeful leisure.”

Samantha Greenspan '21 headshot
Samantha Greenspan ’21

While free time in 2024 might be spent bingeing a show or scrolling through social media, leisure in ancient Greece meant engaging in elevated discussions and learning. This, Greenspan felt, had become a lost art. The young entrepreneur created the Skolay app with a desire for increased human connection and spoken conversation in mind.

The platform connects people with best-selling authors and writers, including historians, and academics, for one-on-one meetings online. “Simply put, Skolay is a marketplace for conversations that otherwise can’t happen,” wrote Greenspan.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Barnard’s DNA is all over the company. “Barnard’s focus on the liberal arts directly informs everything we’re doing with Skolay,” she said.

In creating this business, Greenspan, who majored in anthropology, saw another need beyond connection. She knew writers who were struggling to make a living and looking for supplemental income. Skolay offers them the opportunity to earn some extra income, while devoted readers benefit from intellectual conversations with literary luminaries. 

Over the two years that Greenspan worked on the project — along with her two brothers, who serve as co-founders — she engaged with the Athena Center for Leadership and the Columbia Startup Lab. While Greenspan never envisioned starting a company, the unflinching support she received from the Athena Center helped her realize that not only could she pull it off, but she could make Skolay the booming business that it is today. 

“The best stroke of luck a founder can have is to find one or two mentors early on who have enough experience and dedication to lend a supporting ear and hand,” said Greenspan, referring to Umbreen Bhatti ’00, the Athena Center’s Constance Hess Williams ’66 Director, and Chriss Sneed, the director of applied learning.

Greenspan’s partnership with the Athena Center helped mold her vision while creating space for her to give back to fellow Barnard women entrepreneurs. For example, Greenspan hosted three dinner chats with students to share the business strategy behind Skolay and what it was like to learn the ropes of co-founding a business as a young woman.

“Students left these sessions energized and intrigued about [Greenspan’s] journey and, by extension, their own possibilities as budding entrepreneurs,” said Sneed.

In addition to guidance, the Athena Center offered financial support — providing nearly two-thirds of the necessary funding for Greenspan to participate in the Columbia Startup Lab, which equips alumnae with the tools to launch their entrepreneurial ventures. Three Barnard alumnae have participated in the lab so far — Greenspan, Claudia Polgar ’19, and Samantha Brody ’08 — with two receiving sponsorship through the Athena Center.

The Athena Center propels students into the entrepreneurial mindset by giving them access to many different experiences. There are fireside chats and field trips to local businesses, like Haven Boxing in Williamsburg; the Athena Incubator, a yearlong community of practice for students who are in the early stage of business development; and mentorship and one-on-one guidance from Athena’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Alexandra Ruiz-Olivo.

“This year, we accepted 10 businesses into the Athena Incubator, and 66 students signed up for three entrepreneurship pipeline events that were held this academic year,” said Sneed.

The support doesn’t stop after students leave campus. Alumnae can stay connected through the Barnard Startup Summit, in partnership with BEnet, and networking lunches all the way from New York City to California. 

As Greenspan’s time at the Startup Lab nears its end, the sense of camaraderie and partnerships facilitated by the experience — particularly with the Columbia Journalism School and the Brown Institute for Media Innovation — remain long lasting.

With a focus on growing Skolay’s community of writers so that the platform can serve more people, Greenspan and her team continue to plan Skolay-sponsored events, including Skolay Book Clubs — a series currently in the works — and author talks at venues around the world. Wherever she goes, Greenspan is confident that Barnard will be there to back her up.

“It’s a great joy to have the continued support of Barnard and the Athena Center,” she said.