Princeton Takes Silicon Alley for New York TigerTrek

Wednesday, Jun 20, 2018
by Peter Chen '19

Over the week of March 19th to March 25th, the second week-long New York TigerTrek brought 20 rigorously-selected Princeton undergraduates to “Silicon Alley,” a hub for high technology centered in New York City, to meet with founders and executives of cutting-edge startups, venture capital firms, and corporations. Through a series of closed-door, candid conversations with prominent entrepreneurs and industry leaders, NYTT provides an excellent opportunity for student leaders to connect with the East Coast’s top entrepreneurial talent and spirit.

“The trip opens up the NYC entrepreneurial landscape to students who otherwise might think that all entrepreneurship happens in California,” said NYTT director Theodor Marcu ’20 (Computer Science). “New York City has a very vibrant and strong entrepreneurship culture that is unique in its own way, and NYTT manages to dispel the myth that the city is only about finance and banking.”

PHOTO: NYTT '18 and Craig Limoli

The NYTT '18 cohort poses with Will Watts '09 (front row, 4th from left), Danielle Cohen-Shohet '12 (front row, 5th from left) and Craig Limoli '12 (front row, 6th from left). (Photo by Aria Wong, courtesy of New York TigerTrek)

NYTT was a transformative experience for its student participants, who had the unique opportunity to be mentored by seasoned entrepreneurs and experienced industry leaders across a variety of different companies. This year’s lineup included Rent the Runway, Bessemer Venture Partners, Chegg, Flatiron Health, Greycroft, Basecoin (now called Basis), Return Path, Rough Draft Ventures, Yext, Digital Currency Group, Lux Capital, ESPN, Box Group, Blockstack, Madison International, Two Sigma, Standard General, and GIPHY. “I really enjoyed our dinner discussions with Soo Kim ‘97 of Standard General,” noted Omar Mukadam ’18 (Computer Science). “I found it fascinating to hear about his experiences as an undergrad at Princeton and how he viewed himself as an underdog among his classmates, most of whom came from much more privileged backgrounds. He was also very frank and forthright when talking to us, which allowed for us to ask deeper, more probing questions.” For Evan Wood ’18 (Operations Research & Financial Engineering), “hearing about the innovative logistical solutions that Rent the Runway has implemented was absolutely fascinating, and made me aware of what I love and what I want to do.”

For others such as Anhar Karim ’18 (Religion), the most valuable memories were made with fellow students. “While walking, eating, and on the subway, we got into some of the most interesting conversations. We debated the implications of general AI, we discussed the possibilities of VR, and we picked apart why certain companies had sustainable business models and others did not. I learned so much from this group of people, as much as I did from the actual meetings.”

PHOTO: NYTT at Yext

NYTT at Yext (Photo by Aria Wong, courtesy of New York TigerTrek)

Students left the weeklong trip with newfound inspiration for their future entrepreneurial endeavors. For Eno Reyes ’21 (Computer Science), “my biggest takeaway was that there are many roads in life to take, and you can be successful in so many different ways. The commonality between the most successful people we met, however, was that they all were extremely dedicated to and passionate about their fields.” “Companies fail but people usually don’t,” explained Ashlyn Lackey ’18 (Anthropology), “and successful entrepreneurs are usually those who are passionate about a problem space and not a particular problem. The team, especially the founding team, needs to be passionate about the problem and understand the problem space very well.”  

NYTT also afforded participants the chance to hear and learn from those who have already experienced both success and failure in their field. “Through this trip, I came to the realization that, while there may be a multitude of paths one can take to become an entrepreneur, the key to success lies within your mindset,” said Dominic Whyte ’19 (Computer Science). “To be a successful entrepreneur, one has to exercise relentless determination in order to achieve one's dreams. This trip was incredibly motivating and reinforced my belief that I can use my love of entrepreneurship to generate positive, lasting social change in my community.” “You just have to be an independent thinker,” said Felix Madutsa ’18 (Computer Science). “Listen to what people who have done either way say, but do not follow what they say. Instead, live your truth and do what is the right thing for you, process the information you get to help you make informed decisions, and focus on honestly expressing yourself through the path you chose.”

PHOTO: NYTT with Justin Connolly of Disney & ESPN

NYTT with Justin Connolly, Executive Vice President of Disney & ESPN Media Networks. (Photo by Aria Wong, courtesy of New York TigerTrek)

NYTT continues to serve an important role on campus even after students have returned from the trip. According to Mayee Chen ’19 (Operations Research & Financial Engineering), “NYTT plays an influential role in campus entrepreneurship. So many students, including me, have gone on the trip and have stated that their career goals and interests have been broadened afterwards. NYTT provides exposure to entrepreneurship that on-campus events and programs do not have as much - being able to visit entrepreneurs of companies in all stages, executives at larger companies, and venture capital firms all in one week gives you a perspective on the entire ecosystem.” “NYTT inspires and produces knowledgeable student leaders who are able to act as entrepreneurial ambassadors to other students on campus,” explained Katherine Trout ’19 (Woodrow Wilson School). “NYTT was incredibly empowering for me as a student entrepreneur, and taught me countless lessons that I intend to share with my Princeton entrepreneurial teammates, fellow Entrepreneurship Certificate recipients, and other students on campus.”

For Theodor Marcu, another major focus of this year’s NYTT was “bringing students from all majors and backgrounds to the table. This means that we are trying to have a great diversity of majors, so that we can ensure entrepreneurship is not a topic discussed just by a small circle of people. This also allows students of different backgrounds to consider entrepreneurship seriously, which is extremely important, since not all new ventures are about technology.” According to Kate Northrop ‘19 (Art & Archaeology), “other than feeling completely assured that the entrepreneurial spirit will stay with me for a long time to come, I am encouraged by the accessibility of entrepreneurship to all majors and interests. I do not feel limited by my major, rather I am emboldened by the possibilities that it can offer me in my endeavors to create something with substantial value.”

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Students interested in participating next year should look forward to Silicon Valley TigerTrek next fall and New York TigerTrek next spring. Please visit svtigertrek.com and nytigertrek.com for more information.

Princeton Entrepreneurship Council is a partner of New York TigerTrek.