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Startup@Brown Connects Students With Startups

by Kevin Stacey (Science News Officer, Physical Sciences)

Lots of computer science students have dreams of one day going to work for one of the giants of the tech world — Facebook, Google, Microsoft and the like. But not Krishna Aluru, a Brown senior. Those are great companies, he says, but they're just not the right place for him.

“I’ve always felt like I really wanted to work at an early-stage company — somewhere I can have a real impact the product,” he said.

So when he heard about Startup@Brown, a conference held for the first time last fall aimed at introducing students to the startup world, he jumped at the chance to attend.

“It gave me a firsthand look at what startup founders are like, what they do and how they think about things,” Aluru said. “I walked out much more confident about the idea of working for a startup.”

Startup@Brown is one part startup career fair, one part mentoring experience for budding student entrepreneurs. It’s organized by members of Brown EP, the student-run entrepreneurship initiative, and Hack@Brown, Brown’s student-run annual hackathon, with support from the Department of Computer Science. The second annual edition of the conference, to be held on campus this Saturday, includes keynote talks, workshops and one-on-one counseling sessions with startup leaders, as well as a chance for students learn about job and internship opportunities. Organizers expect around 300 registered attendees. Leaders from companies like Casper, FiveStars, AirBnB and others will be on hand.

“For students, it’s a chance to see how the startup world works and get advice startup leaders,” said Valentin Perez, a junior computer science concentrator and one of the event’s organizers. “For the startups, it’s access to a lot of great talent at Brown.”

Aluru said he’s glad he was there for the conference’s first edition, and he’ll be back again this year, albeit with a different role. With a company of his own up and running, Aluru has gone from mentee to mentor.

This past summer, he launched a company that facilitates communication between doctors and patients in his native India. There are 1,000 patients for every doctor in India, Aluru says, which makes post-appointment follow up difficult. His solution, a mobile app called DocTalk, helps streamline those interactions. In just five months of operation, the company already has 2,000 customers and over 100 participating doctors, he said. Leading DocTalk will be Aluru’s full time job after he graduates in the spring.

Startup@Brown gives him a chance to share insights on how to balance school with an entrepreneurial venture. He’ll take part in a panel discussion on student entrepreneurship with several other student startup leaders.

One bit of advice he plans to share: Students should take advantage of Brown’s Open Curriculum to integrate their business ideas into their classwork. Aluru took that approach and turned two development tasks for DocTalk into independent study classes for credit. He’ll do a third independent study next semester.

“You’re basically creating a class that’s directly about building your product,” he said. “Brown is really the best place to do this. The curriculum is open and professors are open to student ideas.”

That’s the kind of advice that freshman Annabel Strauss is hoping to hear when she attends on Saturday.

“I'm really interested in entrepreneurship so I thought going to this conference would be a great place to start,” she said. “I hope I'll learn a lot about starting a startup from the ground up, from thinking of ideas to making a business plan to fundraising. Maybe I'll also be able to leave with a possible internship opportunity.”

According to Perez, leaving with an internship is a good possibility. He says that 37 percent of last year’s attendees who completed a post-conference survey got a job or internship offer out of the conference.

Another interesting statistic from last year that Perez hopes will be repeated: 79 percent of survey respondents said they conference made them more inclined to start their own company at some point. And that’s what Startup@Brown is all about, Perez says.

“One of our main goals is to inspire, grow and bring together a startup community on College Hill.”