For Philadelphia to reach its potential as a startup mecca, it must fully take advantage of its young talent.
So say Abhiroop Das and Dias Gotama, two students in The iSchool, College of Information Science and Technology. They think that for Philadelphia to catch up with entrepreneurship hotspots like Silicon Valley and Boston, college students need hands-on startup experience and information training.
It takes more than what you learn in the classroom to successfully run a new business, Das said.
“It’s more a learn-as-you-go process,” he explained.
Startup conferences and workshops began popping up in Philadelphia a few years ago, but they typically catered to people “well-established and in their 30s and 40s,” Das said. He knows because he and Gotama went to a few, and each paid between $75 and $250 to attend—a price tag they say deters a lot of student attendees.
So Das and Gotama came up with the concept for nvigor, a nonprofit company that works to fuel the Philadelphia student tech and entrepreneurship scene. It gives students interested in startups an opportunity to attend events, like Lean Startup Machine, a three-day workshop that teaches interested entrepreneurs how to build disruptive products, for a reduced price. Nvigor’s mission, Das said, is to bring the Philadelphia startup community to students, and let the creativity unfold.
“Silicon Valley has been long-established and the community there has organizations like nvigor, actually several of them, so that’s what we’re trying to create here,” Das said. “Philly is in its early stages of growing and developing; investors are starting to look at it, so we’re in a good position and a good time right now to bring that one missing piece—the young community—into this equation.”
After Das and Gotama recruited other students—one from LeBow College of Business and another from the University of Pennsylvania—to be part of the nvigor team in October 2012, they planned nvigor’s first event, Philly Student Startup Summit. The event, held at Penn, was part of this year’s Philly Tech Week.
Luckily, Das and Gotama already knew how to plan an event. In early April, the pair helped create the iSchool’s first Philly Health Codefest, where they hosted a 36-hour event for programmers and health care professionals to get together and create software and application solutions that serve health care needs. Das and Gotama are currently planning for Codefest 2014, which will have a focus beyond health. More details will be provided in the fall, Das said.
This past spring, Das and Gotama helped launch a mobile-optimized Web application with Code for Philly for the Independence Visitor Center. Das and Gotama designed an app that helps tourists map stops for the Philly Phlash, a seasonal bus that loops around the city’s museums and attractions. They also helped get a group of computer science majors from Drexel in on the project as programmers.
“The Phlash application development was an illustration of Philadelphia's student community getting in on helping the community solve real problems,” Das said. “The Visitor Center is one of Philadelphia’s most visible brands, but it operates on a limited budget, so even though they had wanted to create an app like this for many years, they just couldn't afford the cost of an app development firm to build it for them.”
Drexel students volunteered to create the app for the Visitor Center, because, Das said, it’s one that will help boost the image and experience of the city that they love.
“The Phlash app is also a great example of how collaborative and open the Philadelphia startup community is,” Gotama said in an email from Washington, where he’s been interning at Microsoft Corp. since June.
With side jobs and school work this summer, Das and Gotama still managed to grow nvigor, now an official 501(c)(3) company.
With such a determined and innovative duo, you can't help but ask: What's next?
Das said nvigor recently added members to its team from Swarthmore College, Temple University and Saint Joseph’s University, as well as more from Penn and Drexel. The new team is currently outlining a plan for a joint kickoff event in collaboration with the City of Philadelphia and Philly Startup Leaders, a group of entrepreneurs in Philadelphia, to be held mid-October. Das said the event will give students the opportunity to interact with a variety of startups, incubators and special-interest groups.