Show and Tell

Project Olympus

Inside Carnegie Mellon University's McConomy Auditorium, a crowd was buzzing.

Both campus and community members had gathered to see the Project Olympus Show and Tell 15, a showcase highlighting cutting-edge campus research and the latest Olympus start-ups.

Project Olympus was founded in 2007 by Lenore Blum, Distinguished Career Professor of Computer Science. Her goal: to help hopeful campus entrepreneurs explore the commercial potential of their innovations — to 'bridge the gap' between research and start-up.

"We're a member of the innovation ecosystem at Carnegie Mellon that goes by the name Greenlighting Startups," explained Blum in her opening remarks of the consortium of campus incubators designed to accelerate the commercialization of groundbreaking ideas.

"There are a number of key members and we're a very porous, very collaborative group," she added. "We have innovation going on all across campus and we're a proud participant."

Blum went on to note that in its five years, Olympus has worked with over 100 'probe projects' — as they term their very early stage startups — and helped in the the formation of 60 companies, two-thirds of these student-run.

Key research speakers were William 'Red' Whittaker, CMU alumnus and University Professor in the Robotics Institute, and Justine Cassell, the Charles M. Geschke Director of the Human-Computer Interaction Institute.

"Robotics is one of those things that Carnegie Mellon does well anywhere in the universe," Whittaker began, before he spoke of the progression in the field and his current work toward winning the Google Lunar X Prize.

"All I'm asking for is the moon," he quipped.

Cassell spoke of work toward a new model for education — an active, collaborative approach between computer and student.

"This kind of learning is going to give us the citizen of the 21st century," she noted.

Kit Needham, Olympus's senior business advisor, introduced four of the student winners of their Spark Grant Fund $3,000 micro-grants.

"I have the best job in the world," said Needham. "I get to work every day with scary-smart students."

The students pitched their new technologies to the crowd, ranging from improving college admissions consulting to streamlining car buying to managing diabetes.

The audience also heard from Amy Quispe, ScottyLabs director and co-founder of TartanHacks — a new campus hackathon aimed at encouraging women and first-timers — as well as three winners from the competition.

The evening closed with remarks from CMU alumnus, Josh Baer (CS'99), managing director of Capital Factory, an Austin, Texas incubator. He laid out his top-ten tips for starting a company before the group retired to a reception for conversation and networking.

As Needham said, "We're like a little economic development engine."


Related Links: Project Olympus | Greenlighting Startups