ou have to be better than the ‘back’ button, and better than a cat photo,” joked Alexis Ohanian, cofounder of social news website Reddit, sharing the challenges of a tech startup in this rapidly evolving digital age.
During a joint panel discussion on October 6 with Jared Hecht CC ’09 of messaging app GroupMe and Zach Sims, formerly CC ’12, of interactive coding platform Codecademy, Ohanian shared his experience with Reddit and his thoughts on the tech entrepreneurship sphere. Around 300 students attended, engaging via cyber space by voting for their favorite questions on the Columbia subreddit, a sub-forum on the Reddit website specifically pertaining to Columbia.
“If anyone claims to know what they’re doing, they’re lying, or they’re delusional, or they’re just not trying hard enough,” Ohanian declared. He urged Columbia students to push their boundaries and never be afraid of failure, something regularly accepted as part of the path to a successful entrepreneurial career.
This spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship forms the culture that undergraduate society Columbia Organization of Rising Entrepreneurs (CORE) has worked to foster at Columbia since it was founded in 1999. By organizing events that run the gamut, from all-star speaker panels to recruiting sessions, CORE provides tools that allow aspiring Columbia The audience on October 6 at CORE's joint panel discussion with Jared Hecht CC Jared Hecht CC ’09 of messaging app GroupMe, Zach Sims, formerly CC ’12, of interactive coding platform Codecademy, and Alexis Ohanian of Reddit. PHOTO: Jacqueline Luo
entrepreneurs to take advantage of the vast opportunities Columbia and New York have to offer.
CORE has hosted prominent entrepreneurs including Jack Dorsey of Twitter (listen to his keynote address here
), Cyrus Massoumi of ZocDoc
, an online medical care scheduling service, and Howard Marks of ActiVision
, a video game publisher. But inviting all-star speakers does not fully encapsulate all that CORE does. It also brings in useful resources to help students learn necessary, practical skills to launch businesses.
“Driving and inspiring student interest is important, but converting that interest into actual action is even more important,” says Kevin Zhang CC ’14, president of CORE and an economics and political science major who also runs a college admissions consulting business.
CORE-sponsored monthly Town Halls do just that. The two-hour sessions are platforms to bring alumni entrepreneurs back to campus, and for campus startups to pitch ideas and engage the student body for feedback. Other initiatives include a coding workshop, a jobs board
where startups post job and internship opportunities throughout the year, and office hours with venture capitalists. “The VC Office hours initiative is different from other career-focused events because it’s specially geared towards people who are either thinking of or have already started their own company. It’s for them to get advice on their product or ideas and may even result in funding from the venture capitalists they meet,” says Aditya Naganath, a CORE executive board member and head of the VC Office Hours initiative.
CORE also aims to inform a larger community through its newly launched blog Curriculum, where writers post event recaps, interviews with entrepreneurs and weekly digests of news in the startup and business world.
These initiatives are intended to enable any Columbia student to become an entrepreneur. “It’s true that there’s been a focus on engineering, but Columbia College students have a track record of doing phenomenally well as entrepreneurs,” Zhang says, citing Sims and Hecht.
University resources and administrators have also played important roles in providing support and enabling CORE to make its dreams a reality. For instance, CORE is organizing the inaugural Startup Internship Program this year in collaboration with the Center for Career Education (CCE). This program matches and subsidizes students with startup internships in the city and aims to expose Columbia students to the work environment of young companies.
CORE board members with representatives from Google, during a CORE-sponsored career event. PHOTO: Courtesy of CORE
Beyond CCE, multiple branches in the university are supporting entrepreneurship with their unique resources. Columbia Entrepreneurship, a new organization under the President’s Office that is partnering with the University Office of Alumni Relations and Development, has been proactive in bringing in speakers and providing resources for startups in a more established, stable stage. Dean of Columbia College James J. Valentini has also voiced his support for entrepreneurship at Columbia on numerous occasions.
Nonetheless, CORE and its partners on campus still have a long way to go. Zhang notes that the largest barrier for Columbia students to become entrepreneurs is getting started because, according to Naganath, “Columbia students are reasonably risk-averse. We get where we are by doing everything right. But entrepreneurship is not about that. … One of the most valuable things CORE has done is to foster an entrepreneurial culture by exposing students who have entrepreneurial aspirations to a host of resources that include pitch opportunities, venture capitalist connections and influential speakers.”
CORE’s vision is that in the next five to ten years, more Columbia students will choose working at a startup as one of their top career choices. “We want people to say, ‘Columbia students – all they think about is investment banking, consulting, and startups,’” says Zhang. “We want to be one of those three things.”
Submitted by Qiuyun Tan CC ’16 and Jiaying Lim CC ’17; Edited by Mihika Barua CC ’15.
Qiuyun Tan CC ’16, an Economics and History Major, and Jiaying Lim CC ’17, a Political Science and Business major, both are members of the Executive Board of CORE and editors of CORE's entrepreneurship blog CORE Curriculum.
Mihika Barua CC ’15, from Mumbai, is a student web editor for the Columbia College website. A political science major, she is also editor of Spectrum, the blog of the Columbia Daily Spectator.
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