November 11, 2012

Students Create Startups At Entrepreneurship Event

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On the third floor of Upson Hall, 40 students gathered this weekend to begin turning their ideas for new startup companies into reality.

The event, called “3 Day Startup,” took “the most talented engineers, designers, M.B.A. students and entrepreneurs on campus and [helped] them create startups over the course of three days,” said Najla Elmachtoub grad ’12, the lead organizer of the event.

“We bring in mentors from industry, venture capitalists, people who are experts in their field to help these students,” she said.

Because of the success of last year’s 3 Day Startup event — in which two companies emerged from the ideas students pitched — the organizers decided to hold the event again this year, according to Elmachtoub.

“This is definitely something we want to do every year,” said Sohan Jain ’12, last year’s lead organizer who returned this year to serve as the participants’ mentor.

Jain organized the event at Cornell last year after developing an interest in entrepreneurship while working at Facebook the summer before his final semester at Cornell.

“At Cornell, I never felt like I was exposed to tech entrepreneurship. When you think of tech entrepreneurship in universities you think of Stanford, MIT and maybe Harvard,” he said. “Cornell was just not known for that. I wanted to bring the culture of Silicon Valley, of tech entrepreneurship, back to Cornell and expose other students to the environment I was surrounded by when I was at Facebook.”

The 40 students who participated in 3 Day Startup were chosen from a pool of 150 contenders through an application and subsequent interview process, according to Elmachtoub.

“We have 40 ideas in the room, and what we do is split them all into groups and [they] negotiate the ideas — convince each other that their ideas are the best,” Elmachtoub said.

Some of the ideas that emerged over the weekend included creating an app, primarily for college campuses, that identifies the locations of parties on a map; an app, suited for independent filmmakers, that allows its users to control a video camera from an iPad; a product that allows international students to have virtual guidance counselors over video for the fraction of the standard price; and a radio station that changes its music based on the user’s location.

Nick Nickitas grad, a participant in 3 Day Startup, worked on a team that developed Rosie, a smartphone app that will make its users aware when they run low on basic necessity items at home, like paper towels and groceries.

Nickitas said that 3 Day Startup gave students the ideal environment to create a new business.

“[3DS] creates the atmosphere for entrepreneurs to be able to grow and thrive. Bringing together a diverse group of people with different backgrounds, with different talent sets and putting them together, almost locking them in a room for a weekend,” he said. “It’s not just a great idea to try and create new ventures, but [also] to cultivate the startup culture that is so important to a place like Cornell.”

Tim Novikoff grad, a mentor for this year’s event, co-started his company — Vantageous — through 3 Day Startup.

Novikoff acknowledged that there are obvious benefits to joining a large, well-established company and evident risks to founding a startup.

“Definitely the safe and smart thing to do is to join a large company,” he said. “You make plenty of money, you can live a comfortable life and you have a lot of security. Starting a startup is an insane life choice. It is extremely difficult, you have no money at all for a long time, it could result in absolutely nothing and total failure, and even worse, humiliation if the whole thing falls apart.”

After last year’s 3 Day Startup, Nick Fishman ’12 and Arthur Soroken MBA ’12  co-founded the San Francisco-based company sonicpanther. The company’s smartphone app enables users to choose the music playing in the restaurant they are dining at by using their smartphones, according to Fishman.

“I was planning on doing a Masters of Engineering degree, and then I helped organize 3 Day Startup last November and it got me thinking about entrepreneurship in a way I hadn’t before,” Fishman said. “[Soroken and I] didn’t think [sonicpanther] would go anywhere, but the more and more we worked on it after this event, we realized that this was an actual company and we could actually take this and make it big.”

Fishman said that he supports events such as 3 Day Startup because they encourage students to “get their hands dirty” and delve directly into the world of startups.

“I really like events like this because they encourage people to talk less and do more,” he said. “You can read about entrepreneurship all day, but if you actually dedicate time to try and build something — even if it does not succeed — you are already attempting and getting into the entrepreneurial spirit, which is the difference between talk and action.”

Despite the challenges associated with creating startups, Novikoff said that it was ultimately worth the risk for him to pursue startup work.

“I haven’t gotten a nickel from Vantageous … but it’s not about those things. It’s about the journey of creating a company and creating an organization and hustling. And for me, it’s been worth it because I have enjoyed the journey so far,” he said.

As he strives to get his own startup off the ground, Novikoff said that he has seen an explosion of entrepreneurial spirit at the University that is not limited to 3 Day Startup.

“I think that there is a bigger story about 3 Day Startup … that’s part of a growing spirit of entrepreneurialism at Cornell University, both in Ithaca and at the incipient Cornell tech campus in New York,” he said. “I think you are going to see Cornell becoming the world’s top institution [for] turning out entrepreneurs in the next few years.”

Original Author: Jonathan Swartz