VentureBridge Program Brings Startups From Concept To Reality-Silicon Valley Campus - Carnegie Mellon University

VentureBridge Program Brings Startups From Concept To Reality-Silicon Valley Campus - Carnegie Mellon University

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

VentureBridge Program Brings Startups From Concept To Reality

This summer, the College of Engineering welcomed four Carnegie Mellon-based startups into its inaugural VentureBridge class. The pre-accelerator prepares companies for commercialization through individual workshops, semester-long programs and coursework at the Silicon Valley campus (CMU-SV).

"We wanted to create a program where students could pitch their ideas and network with the industries around them. We help students get their ideas out of an academic environment and into the world," says Ravi Thomas, software management faculty member in the Integrated Innovation Institute. Thomas, who is consulting CFO for several startups, serves as VentureBridge's Entrepreneur in Residence. He and other faculty and alumni mentors provide business consulting, strategy assistance, marketing and communications help, and a wealth of other types of support to the teams.

"The VentureBridge is a powerful opportunity for CMU students to bridge their classroom and research activities into viable ventures in the Valley," says Jonathan Cagan, Director for Innovation and Entrepreneurship for the college and professor of mechanical engineering. "The program evolved from a recognized need by the faculty committee in Silicon Valley that developed the concept and proposal for the program." 

One way the program bridges classroom and research experiences is through its optional workshops and courses offered before the start of VentureBridge. These opportunities are designed to help students develop their ideas and prepare them for the pre-accelerator experience.

With innovation and excitement coursing through the veins of Carnegie Mellon students, the initial class of VentureBridge was chosen from a competitive set of applicants. "The ideas are all very interesting, and there is a distinct market out there for their goods or services," explains Thomas. "Most of the companies have spent two to three semesters working on forming this idea, and now they are ready to begin commercializing."

One of these companies is Request.to, a semi-professional networking platform that helps users easily discover people and initiate brief conversations. The startup, headed by graduate student Piyush Gupta of the Software Management program, has recently started onboarding users for product testing and is looking forward to building their user base through the course of VentureBridge.

"There are many important benefits to being a part of this type of program," says Gupta "Your best support is the people who know you. What better than the academic relationships that we form here?"

The teams will be prepared to either talk with investors or join an accelerator by the end of the program — a significant evolution in just 10 weeks. "We hope for all of the companies to have an advanced prototype to take to investors, or at minimum, a product to test on customers," says Thomas.

Of the four startups, one came from Carnegie Mellon's main campus in Pittsburgh. Podium Technologies, a speech recognition software, is led by graduate student John Widdifield of the Integrated Innovation for Products and Services program. "VentureBridge will provide the platform I need to take this project to the next level," says Widdifield. The company hopes to launch a beta version of their product by the end of the program.

VentureBridge provides a unique opportunity for Pittsburgh students like Widdifield to network at CMU-SV. "There is an interesting aura that surrounds the idea that you can make things happen in Silicon Valley," says Widdifield. "It is really exciting to be a part of that."

With about 6,000 Carnegie Mellon alumni in Silicon Valley, there is a well-developed network in the area for startups like Podium Technologies and Request.to. Many of these alumni are interested in getting involved in programs like VentureBridge and giving back to Carnegie Mellon.

The inaugural class will complete the summer program on August 16, but the mentorship won't end there. The teams will continue to receive advice and support as they work to either raise funds or join an accelerator.

"It feels great to be part of this program," says Ramesh of his experience this summer. "We are happy to pave the road for future VentureBridge classes!"