Startup Exchange shows promise

Photo Courtesy of Startup Exchange at Georgia Tech

One of the most unique aspects of Tech is its combination of business, technology and constant innovation. One group of students realized this and is leveraging all of these tools in the form of building startups, and is pushing their boundaries as far as they can.

The Startup Exchange is a connection space for students, a hub for entrepreneurial ideas and a place where students, businesspeople, designers-really, anyone- can bounce their ideas off of others. It was born in the old Presentation Rehearsal Room on the second floor of the library just last spring, and has since experienced tremendous success thanks to its team: Chintan Parikh, Will King, Sameera Omar, Deepan Mehta and recent graduates Aswin Natarajan and Jerome Choo.

Chintan Parikh, a second-year CS major, is one of its directors.

“You’ll find out there are way cooler things than sitting in a cubicle all day,” said Parikh.

The effort started with Startup Semester, a semester-long incubation project where students work in teams to formulate business plans into viable projects. The idea was to move the effort into a way to spread the startup culture across Tech. Throughout the semester creating Startup Exchange, the group involved held multiple events and outreach efforts to promote their goals. These included the 3-Day Startup, The Hacker Exchange and the graduating teams of Startup Semester presenting at Startup Riot and interviewing with YCombinator.

“It was clear that something had to be done at Tech. The administration had been fairly stagnant when it came to encouraging undergraduates to pursue startups, and we desperately wanted to change that,” Parikh said of the motivation behind Startup Exchange, as described in his blog.

He described the problem he saw in the stereotypical “Tech” options for matriculated students.

“When we started, students at Tech really had two major options presented to them—work hard and get a high paying job at a Fortune 500 or a similar big company, or work hard and get into research. We wanted to add a third option—work hard, start a startup and innovate.”

“The first thing that needs to be developed is a hacker culture in every discipline at Tech. I think this is, by far, the biggest challenge we’re going to face at Tech because it requires the support of upper level administration, and eventually, changes to the curriculum,” Parikh said on what he would like to see changed immediately, to produce a more conducive environment for an entrepreneurial spirit at Tech.

The team of Startup Exchange is working on expanding their influence to schools across Atlanta, and across the nation. Their project, The Hacker League, is a worldwide effort to create a group of startup leaders in other schools. Currently, there are over 250 members in this program from 27 other colleges and universities. They brought an event called 3-Day Startup to campus, in which college students create startups by working in a cross-disciplinary, hands-on environment over three days and are completely exposed to the startup culture. Students create business models, prototypes and contact with potential customers.

They are also working hard to integrate Startup Exchange with the greater Atlanta startup community. Close collaboration with Hypepotamous and mentors from all over Atlanta is just the starting point to their expansion.

They don’t stop there. Startup Exchange finds driven students across Tech who are interested in collegiate hack-a-thons, travelling all across the country in order to compete and take part in the sweeping startup age.

“I love the vibes and the energy that you almost physically feel once you enter the room,” said Sameera Omar, the Lead Storyteller, on her experience in working with the team and members of Startup Exchange. “You meet a lot of very intelligent, innovative students in that room. But you also get the chance to witness real passion and drive for ideas that people genuinely believe in. And that’s powerful. I’ve learned to always have faith in your abilities. And to never be afraid to hop over your comfort zone and really stretch yourself.”

On her unique role, as Lead Storyteller, Omar said, “It’s an awesome title, because I’m a fan of stories. Everyone has one, every project begins with one, and even great legends fall with one. I’m in charge of marketing, recruiting, social media, swag, and all out culture hacking.”

Startup Exchange is an organization that runs numerous different programs under it, including StartupChicks, Hack@Tech and Startup Semester.

The team has already achieved significant recognition and mention in the greater startup community. The organization has been featured in articles by Venture Atlanta, Atlanta Startup Community and Signal Tower.

The activities of the group are creating a mysterious and inquisitive buzz around all those who are or wish to be involved in startups. The fact that the coverage and passion exhibited by the students is growing at an exponential rate is a further attraction for more individuals to get involved in this effort at Tech.

Everyone should be learning to build things and create ideas, according to the Startup Exchange team. “That’s what got me so hooked on the startup lifestyle, and the reason I’m so passionate about it. I don’t want to be stuck behind a desk, debugging someone else’s code. I want to be building amazing products that reach millions of people,” Parikh said.