CMUSV Class Combines Engineering with Entrepreneurship-Silicon Valley Campus - Carnegie Mellon University

CMUSV Class Combines Engineering with Entrepreneurship

Team YAN member Sutapa Maity pitches their speech-to-text and news content filtering application to panelist member, Farrokh Billimoria, an experienced investor.
Team YAN member Sutapa Maity pitches their speech-to-text and news content filtering application to panelist member, Farrokh Billimoria, an experienced investor.

It is only natural that residents of the Silicon Valley, the epicenter of software development and venture funding, are teeming with ideas for "next big thing." The question remains, however: do you have what it takes to turn an idea into a marketable product and launch a successful start-up? Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley’s summer course, "Real World Software Engineering for Entrepreneurs" is uniquely designed with exactly this question in mind by placing students on an accelerated path toward launching a software application in the hopes of starting their own company.

In their third iteration of the course, Todd Sedano, Director of Software Engineering Program and co-instructor Bob Williams, Founder of Saratoga Technology Ventures, acted as coaches to guide eight student teams through the building, testing and pitching stages of their product. Class time is not only spent improving development abilities, but also devoted to teaching students how to deliver an effective pitch as well as how to find and engage potential users. "We have been taught that there’s no way we’ll know if the market likes our idea unless we can test it with potential customers, so we’re always trying to get as much feedback on our product as possible," explains Chris Oentojo, MS Software Management '12, a member of Team Poof, whose application allows users to instantly rate businesses.

After four weeks of building their product, students participated in their first evaluation panel where they gave a 6-minute pitch of their idea. After just another four weeks, teams pitched their products in a "consumer panel" during which industry experts evaluated the applications on issues of usability, pricing, longevity, pricing and audience. The course will then culminate by bringing in well-established venture capitalists (VCs) to evaluate the final products and choose a winner. "Having met and pitched their products to these big-time VCs," explains Sedano, "we hope that students will have the skills and confidence to approach them in the future with a real understanding of what VCs want to see in potential investments." Indeed, Ryan Lucio (MS Software Engineering), whose team is developing Lasso, a corporate recruiting tool, added: "Bob and Todd have connected us to so many important people in the Valley and showed us how to interact with potential customers and investors."

Beyond the practical aspects of the course, simply the environment has fostered an entrepreneurial spirit. Another MS Software Engineering student, Daniel Tao, put it, "Being in a class in which everyone is not only incredibly bright, but also has the same desire to launch a start-up has challenged me to create a better product. We are constantly bouncing ideas off of each other and all able to function much more efficiently and effectively in this kind of learning environment." His team has been working on an application called Instapie, which provides an interactive way for friends to settle disputes.

Though many people have great ideas, it is not always the case that they have the opportunity to explore the possibility of creating a company. Sedano believes this class is crucial for students with an entrepreneurial spirit because, "We provide students the 'cover' – that is, the time, resources and freedom to fail a bit – for exploring a start-up. We’re giving them the chance to answer, 'what would it be like if I really pursued my dream?'" Jesse Dwyer, a panelist who worked on early stages of Facebook, echoed this sentiment, finally encouraging students to communicate passion in their product pitches: "Passion will take you far. Don't forget that."

Top photo: Team Poof members, Chris Oentojo, Segun Bash and Ashwin Arun, are developing an iPhone application that allows users to rate businesses instantly.