November 8, 2011

Students Develop Startups in 54 Hours

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Over the course of just 54 hours, Cornell students in this weekend’s 3 Day Startup event built concepts ranging from a software application to improve athletes’ training to an application to turn three iPhones into a three-camera TV studio for multi-angle videos.

The event, in which 40 Cornell students worked in six separate groups, sought to promote a culture of entrepreneurship and start-up businesses, according to Najla Elmachtoub ’12, one of the organizers of the event.

The event culminated on Sunday night in final pitches from each of the six teams to several panelists and a networking event with several corporate sponsors and employers.

Previously held at 12 other locations around the world, this was the first 3 Day Startup, or 3DS, to be held at Cornell, Elmachtoub said.

Sohan Jain ’12, lead organizer for Cornell’s 3DS, first became interested in bringing the event to Cornell after developing an interest in entrepreneurship while working at Facebook over the summer.

“[This summer] got me thinking because Cornell doesn’t really have that same kind of [entrepreneurial] culture when we look at our peers. We all want to get jobs in tech firms and investment banks … I wanted to bring back some of that culture here,” Jain said.

After discovering the 3DS website through a blog, he connected with the 3DS umbrella organization in September, Jain said. Since then, the 10-member recruiting team, which includes many of Jain’s close friends, worked to organize this event, he said.

According to Elmachtoub, the team accepted the top 40 participants from the applicant pool. Half of the participants were programmers, a fourth were business students and the rest were other Cornellians, Elmachtoub said.

The team also recruited mentors and panelists from a variety of fields to critique and guide the participants throughout the weekend, Elmachtoub said.

According to Elmachtoub, the weekend began with Friday afternoon brainstorming sessions, and 14 initial ideas were pitched that night. After the initial pitches, participants broke into six teams, each structured around a different pitch idea, to prepare for the final pitches and networking on Sunday night.

On the whole, the participants were very committed to their teams and to the event, Elmachtoub said.

“[The majority of participants] have been staying here and coding. People leave late at night and come back early in the morning. It’s been awesome to see how people have been forming cultures with their groups,” Elmachtoub said.

Ashley Miller ’06, a mentor, said she was impressed by the way the participants and teams have evolved throughout the weekend.

“[In the initial pitches,] some were really good and some wouldn’t work. But you could tell they had taken feedback in. I can see from going around the room that things have changed from day to day,” Miller said.

Miller also emphasized the importance of the event in promoting engineering talent in start-up companies within the Northeast.

“In New York, there’s a huge need for engineering talent in start-up companies, which is growing fast. You have companies that Cornell alums founded that don’t have a Silicon Valley or Stanford next door. I would like to see more engineers come from Cornell to New York City to work,” Miller said.

Paul Heran Yang ’12, one of the organizers who also participated in the event, expressed his hope that engineers and business students will be able to form connections and relationships through this event.

“Cornell does have hackathons [and events similar to 3DS] … but we haven’t ever cooperated with business people, so we can’t maintain those connections,” Yang said.

Harrison Wong ’12, a participant in the event, worked on a team that developed Pocket Studio, an iPhone application that turns three iPhones into a three-camera studio, which is linked to a webservice for video editing.

“We had the largest team with nine members. One thing I learned is how to get a lot of people working on the same thing without constantly having to talk to each other. Doing a project on your own is easy, but when you have to coordinate with other people, it’s hard. One plus one doesn’t always equal two, but sometimes, 1.5,” Wong said.

Another participant, Ryan Chowdhury grad, was part of a team that built a software coaching system to help cycling enthusiasts improve their performance. Chowdhury said that his team had some difficulties communicating with each other.

“It was very tough to communicate through different disciplines. Seeing an MBA talk to an engineer is like the Apprentice meets Big Bang Theory,” Chowdhury said.

Although many teams from 3DS events in the past have gone on to develop their ideas into successful start-up companies, this depends largely on the person that had the initial idea, Chowdhury said.

Whether the idea becomes anything more, “honestly depends because it was one participant’s idea … We liked it and helped him out, but continuing onwards is the real challenge,” Chowdhury said.

Because of the success from this past weekend, the organizers hope to make 3DS an annual tradition to continue fostering the spirit of entrepreneurship, Jain said.

“We will have some leftover funds from this year, and we have already laid the groundwork. I have talked to so many faculty and entrepreneurial groups, and everyone is really excited in backing us [again in the future]. Because the groundwork has been laid, there will be fewer barriers to running another event next year,” Jain said.

Original Author: Cindy Huynh