Breaking into Silicon Alley: Entrepreneurship at New York University

The passion from this celebration was contagious, emanating to everyone who attended. Photo courtesy of NYU Entrepreneurs Festival.

Written by Michelle Huang

On the weekend of March 3 and 4th, Tisch Hall was filled with people for the annual New York University Entrepreneurs Festival. More than 1,000 people were in attendance, including high school and college students, NYU faculty, staff, and alumni, as well as various technology entrepreneurs who all brought their enthusiasm and passion for building companies to the event.

Participants engaged in numerous activities at the festival: the CTO of ClarifAl, an artificial intelligence technology company, hosted a mini-hackathon; EOS hosted a product design workshop; alumni and current student founders demo’d their products during the networking breaks. Several roundtables sparked conversations ranging from finding funding to smoothing out legal matters, panels featured NYU affiliates that covered topics on everything from medical technology to social entrepreneurship. Frank Rimalovski, Executive Director at NYU Entrepreneurial Institute, kicked off the festival on the first day with an apt quote from Richard Branson,  “Business is an idea that’s going to make other people’s lives better. That’s all there is to it.”

Speaking more to the history of Entrepreneurs Festival, Rimalovski details planning the first one at NYU, dating back to 2011: “When I first started here, 6 plus years ago, I was trying to take inventory of successful entrepreneurs who had gone to NYU – no one had anything approximating a list; I was getting it piece-meal from some people,” Rimalovski said. “Dennis Crowley from Foursquare was the name that everyone seemed to know, but even the fact that Etsy, started by three Gallatin students, wasn’t well known at the time.”

Rimalovski continues to talk about the underlying mission of the festival and what he hopes that students will take from it: “The goal was: to invite all of these alumni back, but also to hold up current students and faculty that were currently working on their startups, to celebrate them as role models but also to help them inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs, and to help them learn from the mistakes that they’ve made and the lessons learned along the way,” Rimalovski said. “While it is part conference, it is also really intended to be a celebration of starting a startup.”

The passion from this celebration was contagious, emanating to everyone who attended. For some, the festival was a great breakthrough and first exposure into the world of opportunities entrepreneurship at NYU. Michael Ding, a freshman at NYU Stern, describes experiencing the festival for the first time: “Before I came to NYU, I never really understood what ‘entrepreneurship’ meant until I came into contact with people who were so passionate about certain industries that they started their own companies,” Ding said. “The showcases were very engaging because they displayed ventures from a variety of industries. I got a chance to talk to some of the current students and alumni, and saw that they were all so supportive of each other, regardless of how far they were in their own companies, which was extremely inspiring. It’s amazing how they are able to see trends and patterns across different industries and create something in that intersection. I had a personal idea that I was thinking of working on before the festival, and now I feel like I am ready to jump into it.”

The showcase of alumni who have graduated and have started companies of their own further illustrates how supportive and valuable the network of entrepreneurs can be. Seeing them serves as inspiration to student entrepreneurs, and shows them the potential of their projects. Gallatin sophomore Tim Nugmanov, concentrating in Entrepreneurship and Computer Science, has been heavily involved in the entrepreneurship community at NYU and speaks to his experiences in creating a company: “The lightbulb moment came shortly after my interest in entrepreneurship started growing,” Nugmanov said. “I was really interested in fitness and data, as I was in a phase of measuring workouts and everything about my health. After reading a Forbes article about a man who collected patient data from hospitals and used machine learning to predict diseases, I realized I wanted to help people in the same way – to track their health in a smarter and more efficient way.”

As this was Nugmanov’s first endeavor into starting a company, he attests to how NYU has helped him build everything from the ground up by providing invaluable resources through funding and various workshops.

“After going through the Prototyping Fund, the 200K Challenge, and the InnoVention competition, I realized that it was time for me to go forward and plan my company,” Nugmanov said. “After several rounds of feedback and discoveries, we are now a sports technology company that helps collegiate athletes and coaches to quantify strength and sports performance. We wouldn’t have gotten this far if it were not for all of the mentors and advice that NYU has provided for us. The community and space that the university has invested for entrepreneurs is really invaluable.”

In terms of navigating the NYU ecosystem, Tim names the Entrepreneurial Institute, Future Labs at NYU Tandon (incubator), and W.R. Berkeley Innovation Lab as the three main umbrella organizations. Many of the student-run clubs of the university that center around entrepreneurship are unified through the Entrepreneurs Network. As there are a world of of opportunities at NYU and in the man neighborhoods of New York, featuring an explosion of new startups and investment opportunities, the city is accurately coined “Silicon Alley.”

To the up-and-rising potential entrepreneurs, Rimalovski leaves with a piece of advice, “Do more than think,” Rimalovski said. “It doesn’t mean don’t think, but it just means to be more action-oriented. The most important thing an entrepreneur can do is just started: it doesn’t mean build it and ship it, but it means: get started learning, get started testing your ideas, get started collaborating with someone else. Come to Leslie eLab, get started. Do something. Coffee’s on me.”

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