*This was first posted in my Technical.ly Philly Column
As part of the Penn Innovation Week, the Weiss Tech House brought together a student entrepreneurship panel composed of Dan Fine, Aaron Goldstein, Christopher Gray, Roopa Shankar and Alina Wong — the founders of Glass-U, Fever Smart, Scholly and NOMsense Bakery, respectively.
- Glass-U is a Dorm Room Fund-backed sunglasses company that sells foldable shades to both consumers and businesses, even partnering with FIFA during last summer’s World Cup.
- Fever Smart is a smart thermometer patch that allows you to monitor temperature continuously and remotely using your smartphone.
- Scholly is a soon-to-be seen-on-TV mobile app that helps high school students find scholarships by aggregating all available scholarships and then connecting you to them.
- NOMsense Bakery provides uniquely designed and handcrafted cookie sandwiches to the Penn community.
Here are the lessons they hoped to impart.
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF UTILIZING PENN’S RESOURCES
Wharton junior Aaron Goldstein started it off by emphasizing the importance of being vigilant about finding resources, and taking advantage of everything that Penn and Wharton has to offer.
He mentioned programs like the Wharton Venture Initiation Program, Weiss Tech House’s Pennvention Competition, PennApps and more. He also stressed the fact that you want to build something real first before starting to look for money.
ON THE PROCESS OF PROTOTYPING
The conversation then switched to the topic of prototyping and the importance of doing research before launching. Wharton senior Dan Fine shared his story of how the first 200 Glass-U pairs he ordered were defective and snapped whenever you folded it.
For Fever Smart, they 3D-printed 50 different versions of their hardware then tested it before coming up with their final product. While NOMsense started out by doing small focus groups and testing more than 100 recipes before officially launching.
ON TURNING AN IDEA INTO A COMPANY
When asked how to take your idea and turn it into a product, Fine was quick to answer, “Stop talking and go and actually build something. Talk to people around you. Make wireframes. Draw your app on paper and show it to people. It shows people you have something rather than just having an idea like everybody else.”
He also added, “Keep a notebook with your ideas, and you’ll eventually get better at going into detail and explaining things.”
Drexel student Christopher Gray, who is the founder of Scholly, mentioned the importance of connecting your idea into your own personal story. Being a recipient of over $1.3 million in scholarships, Gray is able to inspire others to seek scholarship help through his app.
“It was easy because I was my own customer,” he said. “When you have your kind of idea that stems from your own problem, these companies are a lot more fun to build.”
For the NOMsense team, represented by cofounders Roopa Shankar and Alina Wong, who are both Penn juniors, baking has always been a hobby. It was when their friends started telling them how good their pastries tasted, and a realization that there weren’t really any dessert businesses around campus, that NOMsense Bakery was born.
ON BALANCING SCHOOL AND RUNNING A STARTUP
Being a student entrepreneur is not easy, and although each of these businesses require different responsibilities, all five student entrepreneurs agreed on the importance of choosing your priorities.
Gray also emphasized the different phases of a company.
“If you’re in the ideation phase, I think you should be able to balance school and starting a company,” Gray said. “It’s when you go further along and have all the day-to-day stuff that it becomes hard. That’s when you fork the road and ask what’s really important for you.”
Fine ended by pointing out that starting a business as a student is not a science. There’s no one situation for student entrepreneurs.