Immersive program exposes students to 'fascinating complexity' of startup businesses

Sept. 9, 2016 10:30 a.m.

This summer, 30 students worked at 19 early-stage startup companies in New York City as part of the Keller Center's new Princeton Start-Up Immersion Program (PSIP). Participants lived as a group in University-sponsored housing at the Princeton Club of New York, and participated in programs — including speakers, workshops and visits to other companies — aimed at broadening their understanding of entrepreneurship.

Through their daily work with startup companies, the students experienced the fast-paced world of emerging businesses. Students and employers have been enthusiastic about the program, said Cornelia Huellstrunk, the Keller Center's executive director. Next year, the center plans to expand the program beyond New York City to Tel Aviv, Israel.

As part of the program, students keep journals of their summer experiences. Here they share some of their insights:

Princeton Start-Up Immersion Program Amos Chiou, digital strategist at Trendalytics, talks with juniors Victoria Scott, Denise Chan and Sarah Muse

Thirty Princeton University students participated this summer in a new program that places students in internships at startup companies, while housing them together and providing shared opportunities to learn about entrepreneurship. The Princeton Start-Up Immersion Program is an initiative of the Keller Center, which plans to expand the program next year to Tel Aviv, Israel. From left Amos Chiou, digital strategist at Trendalytics, talks with juniors Victoria Scott, Denise Chan and Sarah Muse, who worked at Trendalytics as part of the immersion program. (Photo by Danielle Alio, Office of Communications)

Victoria Scott, a junior majoring in computer science, worked at Trendalytics, a market-intelligence platform for the fashion and beauty industries: "It is extremely rewarding to log in to the testing platform and see the implementations I suggested being using in production. Overall, this internship has been a great learning experience — a lens into the startup world and what entrepreneurship looks like in practice and how to effectively run a business."

Aana Bansal, a junior majoring in operations research and financial engineering, worked at Carmera, which maintains a visual database of city streets: "Startups are always pressed for time, so it speaks to how important culture is that my coworkers and I spent an entire day discussing culture. As an engineer, the best analogy that I can think of to explain this is that talking about what kind of culture a company wants to create is just as important as nailing down the design specifications for your product. If people aren't on the same page, no matter how great everyone is at their individual jobs, you just won't be successful."

Princeton Start-Up Immersion Program Juniors Daniel Liu, left, and Anid Laoui, right, listened to a talk by Ro Gupta, founder and chief executive of a new company called Carmera and a 2000 Princeton alumnus

Student participants lived at the Princeton Club of New York, where the Keller Center organized speakers, workshops and other activities. Juniors Daniel Liu, left, and Anid Laoui, right, listened to a talk by Ro Gupta, founder and chief executive of a new company called Carmera and a 2000 Princeton alumnus, at one of the program's evening events. (Photo by Danielle Alio, Office of Communications)

Anid Laoui, a junior majoring in operations research and financial engineering, and Aaron Schwartz, a senior, worked at Compit, which provides data tools for the real estate industry: "You are never more than 10 feet away from an incredible conversation, and during the day, we talk business. The real estate industry is not all just cement and wood. With each successive week, we peel back one more layer only to reveal another dimension of fascinating complexity to navigate and explore."

Raoul Rodriguez, a junior majoring in electrical engineering, worked at AbilTo, a behavioral healthcare company addressing depression, anxiety and stress: "I didn't know the slightest thing about web development a short four weeks ago, but I've really surprised myself with what I've been able to learn equipped with the skills taught to me in my engineering classes at school. Now I'm building my own full feature to the platform. This is coded entirely on my own, after enjoying the tutelage of a couple of senior developers. It's in a language that was foreign to me a month ago and it's serving a purpose that I, back then, could hardly comprehend."

Princeton Start-Up Immersion Program juniors Raoul Rodriguez and Daniel Liu (seated left to right in foreground) work with Boris Boroda (standing), vice president of engineering at AbilTo

Princeton juniors Raoul Rodriguez and Daniel Liu (seated left to right in foreground) work with Boris Boroda (standing), vice president of engineering at AbilTo. (Photo by Danielle Alio, Office of Communications)

Daniel Liu, a junior majoring in operations research and financial engineering, also worked at AbilTo: "The greatest highlight of work is being given a difficult task, solving it and seeing the finished product on your computer screen. Some of the tasks are things that were completely new to me. Seeing my changes on the platform's navigation bar was very gratifying because everyone in the company uses the platform almost daily."

Emily Miller, a senior majoring in architecture, worked at City Hive, a software company that enables the seamless commercialization of online content: "I adjusted pretty quickly to the office vibe. I like their sense of humor. I've learned to be equally open with my commentary. They like me — I was even offered a job after the internship is done! And I like the work that I'm doing."

Antoine Crepin-Heroux, a senior majoring in electrical engineering, worked at Shade, a company that developed a wearable ultraviolet sensor to help people with lupus avoid complications associated with sun exposure: "It's my second week of work and I've just finished updating a piece of the firmware code for our wearable device. I'm sitting there by my mentor as he's looking over the lines. He finally goes: 'OK, upload it on the server and we'll push it over the air on the field.' I'm stunned. Are you sure? My code? I'm nervous, and excited at the same time."

Princeton Start-Up Immersion Program Junior Raoul Rodriguez, left, senior Aaron Schwartz, middle, and junior Simran Mathews

Junior Raoul Rodriguez, left, senior Aaron Schwartz, middle, and junior Simran Mathews, right, participate in a conversation at the talk by Gupta. (Photo by Danielle Alio, Office of Communications)

Leif Grosswiler, a junior majoring in electrical engineering, worked at SeatSwap, a platform to allow fans to swap tickets for events: "I knew that I had made the right choice in my internship search the moment I sat down on the first day, and one of the founders turned to me and asked, 'So what do you want to do?'"

William Hinthorn, a junior majoring in computer science, worked at Noodle, an education website that helps parents and students find colleges, tutors, classes and other resources: "Before joining Noodle, I had absolutely no exposure to information retrieval. After five weeks of reading academic papers, of stress testing and modelling techniques such as 'tfidf' and 'random forests,' and of listening to the guidance of some brilliant mentors, I am starting to better understand the trade-offs one makes for each method. The algorithms behind services that I have used every day such as Google and Amazon are slowly being demystified."

Princeton Start-Up Immersion Program in New York City

The participating students traveled to New York City May 2 for a pre-summer introduction to the startup immersion program. (Photo by Sameer A. Khan/Fotobuddy for the Office of Engineering Communications)

Anastasia Cifuentes, Class of 2010 and founder of Gatsby, a mobile platform for one-stop shop home improvement, which hosted juniors Jackson Springer and Rani Jaiswal: "Jackson and Rani have wings to fly. Jackson has a knack for product ideation and user experience and design, and a natural ability to think from different creative angles. Jackson was able to produce an app design that has impressed and enticed new industry and strategic partners. Rani is not daunted by the unfamiliar, jumping into foreign programming tasks that she conquered like a pro. For example, she was able to quickly learn about how to integrate a mail API [application programming interface] into our application and, by doing so, help us complete a build in a short amount of time. Both Rani and Jackson stepped out of their comfort zones, tackling new hurdles with zeal. I look forward to seeing where their paths lead and hope that their journeys come back to Gatsby. The PSIP program was a tremendous success and I look forward to the opportunity to participate again."

Princeton Start-Up Immersion Program map