Startups at YU
Many would have you believe that the rigorous and time-consuming schedule at YU would crush the entrepreneurial spirit of students and make it impossible for them to create start-up companies while on campus. However, a recent YU event highlighting companies developed by current YU students has indicated otherwise.
Ben Yehoshua and Binyamin Lewis, Presidents of the Engineering and Entrepreneurship club, hosted an event for leaders of start-ups in YU to present their own companies and network with other entrepreneurially-minded students. Instead of seeking outside speakers to enlighten students, Yehoshua capitalized on the resources within the YU community by using speakers from within the pool of current students.
Yehoshua envisioned the event as being beneficial to both the business owner and the student. While certain business owners may already be running a successful business, talking to others who have encountered similar experiences and challenges can help the owner immensely and serve to “open up avenues of creativity for [him].” As well, the event enabled companies to meet potential employees. In his role as President of the Engineering and Entrepreneurship club, Yehoshua has asked other companies to look into hiring YU students for internship credit. Bogglo, a marketplace for college students, already employs YU students.
The speakers also provided insights relevant for students who do not yet own their own company, but are looking to do so. Yehoshua told The Commentator that he knows how challenging the initial steps of creating a startup are, so he hoped students would take advantage of the event to hear about others’ experiences. Finally, networking with seasoned startup leaders could potentially lead to jobs for other students at YU.
Yehoshua got involved in helping start-ups at YU through his brother, who ran the Engineering and Entrepreneurship Club at YU last year. With entrepreneurial experience gained from running his jewelry startup studio18ben, the younger Yehoshua assumed his brother’s role this year. After learning of Lewis’ interest in becoming involved in the club, he brought him aboard as well.
Yehoshua and Lewis were able to bring in leaders from a diverse group of startups with a plethora of stories to share about their own experiences. The first to address the crowd were Aaron Hakakian and Menachem Leib Brenner, representing the company Accomplysh. As they explained, Accomplysh’s goal is to connect students from all walks of life with information on teachers (similar to RateMyProfessor.com), to buy and sell textbooks (similar to Chegg.com) and other goods (similar to YU Marketplace, a group on Facebook). Accomplysh is up and running in YU, Columbia, and Binghamton.
Next, YU graduate Adam Moisa shared the story about how he got the idea for Agora, a cloud storage software that enables users to mesh various cloud services together with the added benefit of sharing documents with people from all the different cloud services. He spoke about how he was once pressed for time to submit an application and he knew the document he was looking for was stored somewhere in one of his cloud programs, but couldn’t remember which cloud it was located on and ultimately wasn’t able to locate the document. With the help of Entrepreneur-in-residence and Associate Dean Michael Strauss, Moisa created the company and has seen much success thus far. Moisa explained that his biggest challenge was finding the right partners to make his vision for a product become a reality. When asked where he sees his company in ten years, Moisa replied that his long-term strategy is to position the company for acquisition.
Two YU sophomores, Eli Kraiem and Daniel Schwartz, presented the ideas for their money-managing app, Mula. While companies such as Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley cater to the upper class, even companies like Fidelity, which market themselves as catering to the lower class, still require minimum investments of around $25,000, which still leaves a huge segment of the population without a money manager. Kraiem and Schwartz explained that Mula, geared towards the middle to lower class, is comprised of both a budget and an investment feature. Consumers can add their credit card information and the app/website will analyze this data and suggest ways for them to save money. With the money saved, people can then use the app/website to invest. Their product offers different investment models, with several different levels of risk-appetite.
Daniel Simkin presented his company, Bogglo, which he believes will change the way people buy and sell items online. When asked about his motivation for creating this start-up, Simkin elucidated that he was motivated to be a part of change in the world and wants to do it through a “better, faster, safer Craigslist,” in the words of one of Simkin’s employees.
Lastly, David Dachoh of TextBookText explained the simple process his company has developed for buying and selling textbooks. With TextBookText, users either text the ISBN number of their book or submit it online, receive a price quote, and then drop the book off and receive payment through the mobile payment system, Venmo. In Dachoh’s words, “our biggest challenge was creating a system that would work nationwide to buy and sell textbooks physically on campus.”
When asked how his company is unique, compared to the myriad of textbook buying and selling companies already in existence, Dachoh explained that buying and selling textbooks on campus through a network of friends is something no other textbook company does. Additionally, their website is unique in that it is guaranteed to be 10% cheaper than Amazon.com, and 10% of all profit is given to charity.
Dachoh’s advice to all students thinking about creating a startup is to make sure there’s a demand for the product or service before investing time and money into it, and, if possible, running some kind of test for the product or service. Dachoh also recommends that entrepreneurs should always be open-minded to new ideas and constantly think of new ways to stay up to date and expand their business.
In summation, Yehoshua and Lewis are clearly onto something in working to cultivate the YU startup scene, since so much is occurring without us even knowing about it. The large number of startups at YU covers a wide range of sectors. It’s possible that in a few years, the way we store information on the cloud, buy and sell textbooks, and invest our money will be radically different, thanks to these and future startups.