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Innovation at Core of Swartz Center Program

2024 Innovation Scholars bring startup mentality to Carnegie Mellon

Media Inquiries
Peter Kerwin
University Communications & Marketing

Coleman Isner and Roshni Surpur, two members of the recently announced 2024 class of Innovation Scholars(opens in new window) at Carnegie Mellon University's Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship(opens in new window), have something in common.

They've both done this before.

Isner and Surpur each came into the Innovation Scholars(opens in new window) program with their own experience in the entrepreneurship realm. Isner previously founded a startup aimed at improving communication gaps in the K-12 schools, and Surpur led a philanthropic clothing brand whose profits were donated to her high school's financial aid department, helping to fund tuition and educational expenses for students at the school.

The Innovation Scholars program was conceived for students just like Isner and Surpur, innovative thinkers and doers with an interest in entrepreneurship. The program exposes those students to the Carnegie Mellon innovation ecosystem through coursework, networking and mentorship.

The two-year Innovation Scholars program gives rising juniors mentoring opportunities from experienced entrepreneurs and investors; funds a trip to Silicon Valley for networking events; provides stipends if the scholar has their own startup; and gives access to fellow students with an entrepreneurial mindset. Thirteen students were chosen to participate in the 2024 class.

"We're very proud of this program and the huge number of successful entrepreneurs that have participated over the years," said Sonya Ford, program manager for the Swartz Center who manages the Innovation Scholars program. "Coleman and Roshni will be great additions to the Innovation Scholars community, and we look forward to helping them reach their goals. One of the main pillars of the program, which was created in 2013 through an endowment from the McCune Foundation, is to foster innovation and entrepreneurship among CMU's undergraduate students, and a key focus is on mentorship and engaging the alumni community."

Isner, who is pursuing majors in business administration and computer science from the Tepper School of Business(opens in new window) and the School of Computer Science(opens in new window), found the like-minded, entrepreneurial students in the Innovation Scholars program motivation for his own endeavors.

"Talking to the other students, some of them have the same experience I had, working on a startup that didn't work out. There is definitely a culture of supporting those failures and finding motivation to persist," Isner said. "Being an Innovation Scholar, you have coaches, mentors and peers working with you, putting an emphasis on continuing to make progress."

That lesson took root and led to Isner reforming the work of his original startup into his new project, Mycelium.

Mycelium is an intelligent assistant that aims to aid in managing communication and information. The project is named for the root-like structure that fungus grows underground, and uses, in its own way, to communicate.

Surpur studies information systems(opens in new window), a joint program from the Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy(opens in new window) and the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences(opens in new window). She also has minors in business and software engineering.

No stranger to the startup world, Surpur is a board member of the Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Association(opens in new window) (along with Isner), a software engineering intern at a Pittsburgh technology startup called Troutwood(opens in new window) that was founded out of the Swartz Center, and an instructor for a Student College (StuCo)(opens in new window) Course where students spend eight weeks conceiving a startup company and learning business strategy.

Surpur applied to be an Innovation Scholar at the suggestion of multiple friends.

"They spoke so highly of the program, and not just aspects like the trip to Silicon Valley or the eye-opening workshops. Instead, there's this entrepreneurial problem-solving mindset that you're exposed to," Surpur said. "Students in the Innovation Scholars program just have this unique drive. It changes what you think is possible."

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