4 College Students Share Their Big Ideas in TEDxPenn’s “What Lies Ahead” Screening Session

*This was first posted in my column in the Huffington Post

Hosting TEDx talks are a powerful way to share ideas and inspire people to take action. Yet there are an abundance of ideas out there that it’s hard to give everyone the opportunity to share their big idea. At an institution like the University of Pennsylvania, there are countless of students out there constantly working on their ideas, and chasing the dream.

With a desire to highlight these ideas and get students to learn more about the TED ethos, the TEDxPenn team has recently decided to hold “talent search” and screening sessions every month leading up to the actual TEDxPenn event in Spring 2015. In these mini-events, Penn students get the opportunity to share their big idea to the rest of the Penn community in talks that last between 5 to 7 minutes.

‘Ask what if questions’

The first speaker Rajat Bhageria, a freshman at the School of Engineering and founder of ThirdEye, started out by explaining the Google Glass application his team created that helps blind people be able to see again. This application was inspired by Rajat’s teammate Joe, who had a grandfather who was blind. With a desire to help his grandfather live a normal life again, the ThirdEye image recognition application was born.

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He then highlighted how this only just the start, and went on to talk about the importance of asking “what if” questions and exploring the possibilities of technology. Bhageria went on to challenge the crowd to take advantage of all the open platforms we have today. He said, “Google didn’t make this application. We did. Three college freshmen did. We saw things that others didn’t see. We were able to ask the “what if” questions that Google wasn’t able to ask.”

Bhageria ended by saying, “Quite honestly, only the power of our computer vision algorithm limits us. So as our algorithms mature, this technology will just keep on advancing.”

‘Live a simpler life and focus on things that matter’

The second speaker Yagil Burowski, a sophomore in the School of Engineering and founder of the BlackV Club, talked about his experience wanting to expand his application Notice. He expressed how last summer, he realized that we have so many small decisions to make everyday like choosing what food to eat, and what clothes to wear that takes up so much of our time. He asked the audience to think about how many hours a day, they spend thinking about these small decisions instead of doing what we really want and have to do.

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With all the choices we have today when it comes to clothes and food, it becomes very hard to make decisions. So Burowski decided to take matters into his own hands, went to Zara, and bought 5 Black V-necks. And this was the start of the BlackV Club. This quickly picked up steam on social media and ended up getting featured on Forbes, ABC News, Daily Mail and much more.

Burowski concluded by talking about why the likes of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg choose to wear the same thing everyday. “When you make fewer decisions, you are able to focus on the things that matter.”

‘Explore new places, understand the people, and make an impact’

Molly Liu, a Junior at the Wharton School of Business and founder of fashion startup Black Box Denim, started out by talking about her all-time favorite college class, “Anthropology 086: Desire and Demand” where the professor takes his/her students to different places in Philadelphia.

This class challenged her to get out of the bubble she lived in. And why is this so important? Molly stressed how a lot of us college students live in a bubble, or here at Penn, “we’re all Penntrified, overwhelmed by our classes and work” that we become separated from the real world. She stressed how there’s so that much we don’t know, so much that we haven’t seen and so much that we haven’t learned.

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She then talked about how her startup Black Box Denim forced her to travel around China, visit different factories, talk to different workers, and see what went behind the denim jeans we wear everyday. She mentioned how “every single person involved in every single step of the process behind them.”

Molly ended her talk by highlighting the importance of exploring, and how every person she has met, and how every place she has been to helped shape her vision of the world, and what she wants to do with her life. She ended her talk saying, “You can’t build the second floor of house, without building the first. And you can’t impact the world if you don’t even understand the world you live in.”

‘Don’t be afraid to face the uncertainty of what lies ahead’

Yash Kothari, a Senior at the Wharton School of Business and founder of Prayas Analytics, started out by telling the audience to look back to their childhood dreams when we all said that we wanted to become astronauts or superheroes. He then asked everyone why they aren’t chasing these audacious dreams. His analysis: we’re afraid of uncertainty, we’re scared of facing the unknown.

He then analyzed this by talking about this fear of uncertainty in the context of his choice to pursue his own startup. Last year, he, along with his cofounder, was unsure whether to get a job in consulting or banking, or work on his startup in the summer. Given the fact that startups more often than not fail, they had a huge opportunity cost of not going to consulting or banking.

After speaking with friends, family and mentors, Kothari and his cofounder Pranshu Maheshwari decided to just take that leap of faith. According to Kothari, “It’s really freaking scary but if we really want to chase our dreams, we should become comfortable with this fear of uncertainty.”

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Even right now, he admitted that they aren’t sure how they’re going to pay themselves or what lies ahead. But he ended by saying that this uncertainty is okay and challenged the audience to, “Think about the decisions you’re making right now. And if you’re in a position where things feel very comfortable, spend a second and think about it. Think about whether you’re achieving your childhood dreams, and whether you’re achieving your full potential.”

‘What Lies Ahead’

TEDxPenn hopes to continue these mini-events and screening initiatives leading up to the main event in Spring 2015. For more information on TEDxPenn and our different initiatives, visit our website: http://www.tedxpenn.com and like our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/tedxupenn.

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