November 17, 2013

BUSINESS NEWS: Cornell Students Pitch Startups, Brainstorm Ideas at 3DS

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This weekend, aspiring Cornell entrepreneurs gathered at Sage Hall for the third annual 3-Day Startup, popularly known as 3DS. Students attending the event came from a variety of academic backgrounds and had the opportunity to present, learn about and get involved with business ideas.

“It’s a snapshot of what entrepreneurship feels like,” said Gizem Sakalli ’14, head organizer of this year’s event. “You form a team, you pitch an idea [to participants who can join your team] and present the idea to venture capitalists.”

While the event culminates with presentations to experienced entrepreneurs who have the option of investing in the startup ideas, the main objective of 3DS is not to raise funds, according to Sakalli.

“This is educational. The main purpose of this event is learning by doing,” Sakalli said. “We have 35 to 40 participants who come together the first day and brainstorm. People choose whatever team they are interested in working on, which is how it is in the real world.”

Sakalli said that 3DS invited mentors to help students form ideas and pitches for startups.

Sohan Jain ’12, who started 3DS at Cornell in 2011 and came back to campus this weekend to attend the event, said the event is intended to give participants real-world experience in entrepreneurship without the risks that are traditionally attached to startups.

“You don’t want to build a product, spend a year developing it, bring it to market and find that there’s no product or market fit,” Jain said. “In three days, you can actually validate your idea and talk to customers to prove that what you are working on is something people want. That’s one of the mottos of 3DS.”

After the first day, the participants were divided into six or seven groups, with each group having a designated leader. Over the weekend, Rahul Shah ’16 pitched and expanded Speare, a startup whose mission is to help news and media companies engage with their customers by intelligently summarizing and tracking topics that are important to the user.

“Each story can be followed through time. I might want to track that story, but there’s currently no mechanism for you or me to do that,” Shah said. “We’re creating a mechanism that allows people to follow news stories through time.”

Hussam Abu-Libdeh grad is another entrepreneur in the process of building a startup. His idea for a startup, Snowball, hopes to provide a degree of organization to the events in people’s lives.

“It’s kind of like Facebook for the future,” Abu-Libdeh said. “People describe their intents to do something in the near future, and [with Snowball], you can check out what people are about to do and set to join them or not.”

Sakalli noted that 3Ds is also intended to help students cultivate relationships with industry mentors, as well as to find fellow students to partner with.

“Mentors are not only here this weekend,” Sakalli says. “They are here for life. 3DS is a great opportunity to [meet] people who can help you down the road.”

Abu-Libdeh said that he was most impressed with the insight experts were able to provide in an around-the-clock fashion. The energy and enthusiasm of the participants makes it a fun, productive atmosphere, he added.

Bryce Evans / Sun Staff PhotographerTeams discuss ideas and work on potential startup ideas during the 3-Day Startup in Sage Hall on Saturday.