Jointly organized by Keller Center and Princeton Entrepreneurship Council, the certificate in Entrepreneurship just celebrated its inaugural cohort of graduates at the Entrepreneurship Symposium on May 10, where eleven seniors gave capstone presentations on their respective startups and projects. This marks a significant milestone in entrepreneurship education at Princeton. As Keller Center Director and PEC Chairman Mung Chiang remarked, “It is so important for us as a liberal arts institution to emphasize both broad mindsets in the liberal arts context and hands-on learning through, in particular, practical experience.” While each project’s practical experiences ran the gamut, every student came away with valuable learnings they can carry with them long after graduation.
For his project, Kevin Huang worked as a software developer at THIX, an EdTech startup that develops educational apps. Huang assisted in creating various visualizing tools for STEM disciplines. Reflecting on his experience, Huang stressed “the importance of establishing a very clear decision making process,” noting inefficiencies during multiple brainstorming meetings that could result in no concrete solution. This led to another key insight regarding the product development process. “It is better to release a product that might not have all the features that you want,” Huang remarked. “Just get the basic minimum viable product out there, make sure that it works and is really easy to use. Once you have a sufficient user base… you can release future updates that makes (the product) more advanced.”
Rebeca De La Espriella’s entrepreneurial endeavors led her to Keller Center’s Tiger Challenge program, where small teams of students implement Design Thinking to solve a variety of seemingly intractable societal issues. De La Espriella’s team worked with Princeton Career Services to design a system of continuous reflection for students in the career search process. From conducting extensive ethnographic interviews, De La Espriella’s main takeaway was her personal development in “action orientedness,” noting that no other class or extracurricular activity at Princeton helped her gain the confidence to “work (her) magic.” In subsequent synthesis phases, De La Espriella’s team implemented various creative tools to draw out precise pieces of knowledge regarding the student body, utilizing journey mappings that pinpoint the customer’s experience and gallery tours to interactively display information.
Also a Tiger Challenge participant, Tim Lau brought Design Thinking methods to Princeton’s campus in the form of the UMatter Bus. “We realized that students going from Prospect Avenue to their respective homes go from a public place where there’s a lot of people to a place where it’s just you and one other person.” This concern led to an initiative to provide bus services on most Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights during the academic year to safely escort students home from Eating Clbs. Reflecting on his experience, Lau remarked, “Meaningful change comes not from one big bang idea, but rather through…focusing on making an impact in small but effective ways.”
Max Greenwald is the founder of IgniteSTEM, a series of conferences designed to bring collegiate entrepreneurship techniques such as hackathons, Design Thinking, and maker spaces to secondary education. “Our goal at IgniteSTEM is to have every kid attend a hackathon or project-based learning initiative by the age of 18,” Greenwald said. Since its inaugural conference in May 2016, IgniteSTEM has launched numerous IgniteSTEMx conferences (following the TEDx model), with students working on the initiative at Columbia, Stanford, and University of Denver. For Greenwald, the biggest challenge “is just figuring out how to scale something in such a short time.” When IgniteSTEM began, it was just one conference with one goal. “Now we have online tools and a ton of conferences going on; we want to have a hundred IgniteSTEMx conferences around the country.”
For her project, Megan Tung founded the company No Chill, selling stickers with the concept of “school spirit at its saltiest.” “We wanted to offer (students) self-expression…we wanted (them) to be able to say things that you might not be able to say with an orange Princeton hoodie,” Tung said. The hand-drawn designs are based on Princeton-specific inside joke. As of May 10, No Chill has printed and sold over 1,500 stickers. Concerning future expansion efforts, Tung plans to bring No Chill to other universities by establishing ambassador programs to prototype designs and tailoring unique products exclusive to each campus culture.
Brooks Powell pursued his venture in the health supplement industry with Thrive+, a rehydration capsule that minimizes the effects of alcohol consumption. “One question that is raised with consumer packaged goods companies, specifically those that only have one product, is ‘are you a product or are you a company?’ We see ourselves as the latter,” Powell said. Powell emphasized the paramount role of research in his company, remarking that the core business of Thrive+ is finding ways to better their formula or use different delivery methods. “We always want to be a company that solves problems related to alcohol health,” Powell remarked.
Yossi Quint founded Jews for Animals to advocate for animal welfare within the Jewish community. “There are a lot of animal welfare organizations that exist already, but there very few, none actually, that do a good job in the Jewish community.” Quint’s organization had two primary goals, first “to make it easier to reduce animal products that people consume” and second “to create a community of people who care about these issues.” These objectives materialized in a strong social media presence, but Quint also learned through his endeavor that “digital is not everything.” Quint added that impact often comes from the hands-on, local level, and that much greater emphasis should be placed on vetting correct investors and business partners.
Josh Collins and his team of engineers created Slope, an algorithmic trading platform accessible to the common person without a background in investment. “Most people don’t invest, and when they do invest, they do it badly and the returns are often poor,” Collins remarked. Progress for Slope is steady; Collins’ team has the algorithm and are working on the platform, with further testing, expansion, and seed funding planned for the future. Collins credited much of his success to Princeton’s resources, specifically mentioning connections with venture capitalists through professors and the prospect of matched funding from the Alumni Entrepreneurs Fund.
Jen Lee and Andreas Dias co-founded Cartful, a fashion discovery engine that makes up-and-coming brands more accessible. “The main thing we learned is really how to manage a team,” Lee said. Through Princeton’s eLab accelerator program, Lee and Dias hired four interns to develop their product over the course of one summer. Lee recalled her personal development in leadership, including “being transparent in my communication, building a community in the group, and keeping up team morale.” For Dias, the most rewarding aspect was also how to manage a team effectively. “Each team member has different personalities, so coming in to work every day, we had to learn how each person worked, and how we could best motivate them to get things done.”
Vivek Dinodia and his team of developers created Hubble, a social app that connects friends on college campuses based on their locations. The application allows students to “check-in” to various locations and view whether friends are nearby, effectively creating a one-stop social hub. Dinodia emphasized the importance of the student body in providing feedback and motivating additional features, adding that “it’s not just the mentors who believed in us, it’s also the students.” Future expansion efforts for Hubble involve tailoring the application for Princeton events, such as theatre or athletics, and expanding to other universities through a campus ambassador program.