Startup@Brown: A review

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With all the well-deserved hype around the events of this weekend’s Better World by Design, now in its eighth year, it was easy for many students to forget about the newcomer to the already-ample lineup of fall conferences at Brown: Startup@Brown. Organized and run by Hack@Brown (Valentin Perez ’18 is lead organizer for both) and the Brown Entrepaneurship Program, Startup@Brown was a weekend-long conference in Alumnae Hall and Smitty B focused on connecting students with startups. Through a series of speeches, fairs, office hours and workshops taking place from the 26th-27th, Startup@Brown gave students a crash course in entrepreneurship. Blog checked it out to see just what exactly startup culture is all about, and whether its correspondent’s idea for a chain of nightclubs inside giant floating zeppelins could make it to an initial seed round.

The conference opened with a keynote by Eveline Buchatskiy, director at Techstars Boston, on the general path of beginning a startup, and was followed by lunch and the general startup fair. At the fair, roughly 20 startups and startup-related firms gathered to speak with students and recruit potential candidates for internships and jobs.

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The Startup Fair

The general atmosphere was one of enthusiasm. According to Jason Miller, a representative from data software firm Cloudera, “the fact that [Startup@Brown] was selective was really special. It was branded well, and it makes sense why the companies you invited are here.” Miller also emphasized the extent to which Brown alums and students are enmeshed within startup culture across the country. At Cloudera, “two of the core engineers went to Brown, and about almost a third of our entire data science department is Brown-educated.”

This recurrent theme — Brown’s close relationship with the technology industry and startup culture — often helped make the event feel like less of a professional networking event and more of a gathering of friends and former fellow students united by an interest in entrepreneurship. Brown student and Startup@Brown attendee Hans Wang ’17, a CS and Economics dual concentrator, noted that he’d “seen a lot of former TAs here with the companies.”

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An interview with Startup@Brown lead organizer Valentin Perez ’18

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Even in an era of startup culture, where buzz terms like “disruptive innovation” and “knowledge economy” dominate headlines, College Hill stands out for its potential for digital creativity and innovation. The presence of both Brown and RISD on this elevated land has given rise to events like Hack@Brown and a Better World by Design, programs dedicated to the marriage of tech and aesthetics. And yet, for all these opportunities, there remains a notable lack of events focused solely on the startups themselves–with all the creative, financial, and corporate challenges that actually “starting up” a startup entails.

Filling this niche was the idea behind Startup@Brown, a self-described “weekend-long conference from Sept. 26–27 at Brown University that brings together innovative startups and talented students.” Blog sat down with Startup@Brown’s lead organizer Valentin Perez ’18, a sophomore dual-concentrating in CS and Applied Math. Originally involved with both the Brown Entrepreneurship Program and Hack@Brown, Valentin talked to us about some of his influences, the goals of the conference, and what attendees can expect from the first ever Startup@Brown.

What led to your decision to revive Startup@Brown?

I was looking through a Google Drive with photos from Hack@Brown and happened to see a logo for Startup@Brown, so I asked what it was. I’m really into startups. The original creators–Mackenzie Clark and Molly Long–had the idea together, but it had never fully happened because they didn’t have the time to follow through with the event. For me, when I saw it, I asked and they explained what happened and I told them that I had actually been thinking of doing something like this, partly because of my involvement with the Brown Entrepreneurship Program. I was thinking it could be a collaboration between the Brown Entrepreneurship Program and Hack@Brown. Then Atty and Sharon (Atty Reddy ’17 and Sharon Lo ’16, co-directors of Hack@Brown) put us in contact with the CS department in May and that’s when we started talking about what the event could end up being. Jeff Huang, a professor in the CS department, and Ugur Cetintemel, the department chair, were all excited about it, and said that we could take the lead of organizing it as students and that they would sponsor the event. They helped us a lot with contacts and people in the tech world. It was also super useful to have Lauren Clarke, who is the manager of the Industrial Partners program, helping us. After that I just started cold-calling startups. It was a pretty cool experience because some didn’t reply and some replied right away. Sometimes the CEO would even respond.

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