Undergraduates Explore Startup Industry at Conference

Thirty-two Harvard undergraduates spent their Columbus Day weekend sitting not with a mountain of homework, but with a network of entrepreneurial-minded university students from around the country at this year’s “Start @ a Startup” conference in New York City.

Hosted by Business Today, Sequoia, and Yik-Yak, Start @ a Startup is a conference in its fourth year that “connects the brightest college students with startups from across the country for a weekend of educational and recruiting events,” according to its website. Harvard’s delegate class was comprised of 32 students, mostly upperclassmen, with varying degrees of interaction with the startup world, according to attendee Tomas A. Reimers ’17.

Keynote speakers at the event included industry tycoons like Tyler Droll, founder of the social media application Yik Yak, and Dustin A. Moskovitz ’06-’07, a co-founder of Facebook. Topics covered at the conference ranged from anecdotes about the developmental stages of startups to discussions about how to create competitive companies in today’s industry.

Reimers, who attended the conference for his second year this weekend, said he enjoyed the diversity of the presentations. “Every founder’s story is super interesting–the founder of Yik Yak dropped out of med school to start it. I think just getting the ensemble of perspectives was valuable,” he said.

Of the Harvard students who attended the conference this weekend, many of them said they have never experienced working at a startup. Others, like Akshar Bonu ’17, are part of the founding teams of tech startups currently attempting to carve out a niche in the industry.

For Bonu, whose mobile platform “Masquerade” uses an anonymous concept similar to Yik Yak’s, the conference was an “ideal opportunity to speak to thought leaders and CEOs who are in a similar space,” dealing with many of the same growing pains that first-stage startups experience.

For other students, the highlight of the experience came not from the panel of companies at the event, but from the smaller breakout sessions. In groups of about 10 students, these sessions paired conference-goers with industry representatives and facilitated open discussion about the experiences of working at a startup.

‘Start @ a Startup’ also gave students from across the nation the opportunity to talk to one another about startup concepts. “The obvious selling point is that you get to meet other interesting people who are also interested in startups,” said conference attendee Nicholas L. Larus-Stone ’17. “There's the advantage of potentially meeting someone who could be your co-founder.”

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