Tag Archives: startup

Chatting with Challenge Winners: BeeLine Reader

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BeeLine Reader (Winner of Social-E Challenge 2014)

Have you ever thought of an idea that just might work?

That’s how Nick Lum, founder and CEO of BeelineReader (Winner of Social-E Challenge 2014), came up with a way to guide your eyes while reading. Last week, I was fortunate enough to hear Nick’s story. “I had a great idea, and decided to just try it out,” he told me. By using a color gradient to guide our eyes from the end of one line of text to the beginning of another, Nick built BeelineReader to help us read more in less time.

Initially, while tossing around the idea, experts and researchers were impressed: “Oh, you must have been combining the accessory search paper from 1992 and the other paper…”

“No, I wasn’t aware of the research paper, but please, keep talking… I’d love to hear more.”

Before long, Nick’s vision became more and more real, and he learned from users that his technology was actually really helpful for people with learning disabilities or dyslexia. Although some speculators suggested that BeelineReader could “jack up the price for people who couldn’t live without it,” Nick had another vision in mind.

“My cousin and I are the equity-holders of the company, so we can decide whether we want to be solely profit-seeking or if we want to also consider the social impact of our business model.”

With this mission, Beeline Reader entered the BASES Challenge competition, where the team received lasting insight from mentors and judges. “We learned about socially beneficial enterprises,” Nick recalled “[We] didn’t have to be a nonprofit, but instead, could be a for-profit that’s beneficial — that isn’t just about as many dollars as possible.”

I was surprised to hear that before Challenge, Nick was working as a senior-associate in a corporate law form. “I was at a point in a life in which I might not otherwise do this,” he told me. “After we won BASES, I quit my job.”

Largely contributing to Nick’s decision, BASES Challenge opened many doors for BeelineReader.  “Winning was great, because we had been talking to people at the American Optometric Association (the oldest in the country with 40,000 members), and our contacts were having a little bit of a hard time.” With the credibility of “winning BASES,” the AOA was doubling down, writing articles, and spreading the word. “I talked to the chairman of the committee,” Nick informed me, “and this was the first time they ever had an unanimous vote on a committee in favor of technology.”

Today, BeelineReader is moving forward with tremendous momentum. Nick has even been talking to the Office of Accessible Education (Stanford OAE) at the Charles Schwab Education Center to make his technology available to Stanford students.

When asked about the takeaways of his journey thus far, Nick responded, “It’s really cool to see how you’re trying to solve Problem A but end up also trying to solve Problem B and C.”

As BeeLine Reader teaches us, sometimes, impact isn’t something you can plan.

By Vincent Chen

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Women in Entrepreneurship Summit: Changing the 13% of Women-Led Startups

By Stephany Yong

I love startups.

Now before you let out a sigh and roll your eyes at just another Stanford student with startup fever, hear me out.

I remember the first time I set foot into StartX my freshman year. It was the third week of winter quarter, and I was set to meet Kyle, the founder of a startup called Pixlee, whom I had met at the BASES career fair the week before. Walking through the floor space to the room where the interview would be held, I took note of the interesting set up, with tables forming clusters of makeshift offices for the startups housed there.

It was unlike any office space I had ever seen – there were nerf gun bullets and swivel office chairs strewn across the floor, whiteboard paint walls with customer acquisition strategies half mapped out in marker. And another glaring thing – I was the only girl in the building that afternoon.

Over the next few months, I dove headfirst and worked there part time on marketing when I wasn’t in class. The experience transformed me and how I viewed myself and my work. I loved how I was making an impact, preparing sales decks, writing blog posts, and consulting with the CEO on my projects (of a 10-person company at the time but still pretty cool). Furthermore, I adopted a fascination with shipping and building things. At Pixlee, three engineers had built a service that delighted hundreds of thousands of people around the world. It inspired me to get more serious about my first computer science class, and ultimately, pursue a degree in computer science.

My first foray (if you can call it that) into entrepreneurship opened up an entirely new world to me. The environment was infectious, marked by cheeto-stained keyboards and standing desks, but more importantly, a scrappy and growth-driven mindset that made me want to improve, be sharper, and learn more about the space by asking good questions. When thrown into an unstructured setting, I was forced to find a way to add value to the team, and now it’s a skill I want to continue to improve over my career. But looking around me at StartX, I noticed how the Valley’s celebrated startup culture only featured a handful of women.

I thought back to all the remarkable women I had met at Stanford – amazing engineers, product gurus, designers, and marketers – I know that they would bring tremendous value to any startup, whether it be one they start or one they join. There are unique problems that can and should be tackled by the other half of the population, who are just as creative, strategic, and determined to solve the world’s consumer, enterprise, health, and energy problems as their male counterparts. And this is where I see the value in the BASES Women in Entrepreneurship Summit.

The summit is going to feature female founders who will lead intimate discussions with at most 15 participants about topics that they think are key discussion points: the things you should know as an entrepreneur, from splitting equity with co-founders to navigating the murky waters of defining your company’s culture and everything in between.

This naturally leads us to ask why we need a womens’ summit to begin with. And I think this statistic speaks for itself: Only 13 percent of VC deals went to women-led startups in 2013 (Pitchbook). I think this minority percentage stems less from an issue of competency or interest, but rather, starting a conversation around the unique challenges women entrepreneurs face. How do you pitch to a group of male investors and navigate any doubts they may have about the industry you are devising a solution for? How do you handle being a strong negotiator without coming across as overly aggressive? How do you build a network in a male-dominated venture capital scene? These are tough questions for anyone to address, let alone asking in front of 100 other people at one of Stanford’s several VC panel discussions and mixers throughout the year. We hope organizing groups of 15 entrepreneurial women in workshops led by female entrepreneurs will create an open and encouraging environment where women can freely ask questions, share their stories, and build meaningful relationships with one another.

I’m so glad that this spring we’re finally bringing together some of the most driven, entrepreneurial women across campus and the Valley to get to know each other and start a discussion about something that means so much to me.

We look forward to reading your applications, and can’t wait to see you in April!


Apply now at here at http://bit.ly/baseswomensummit

Alon Cohen, Co-Founder of Houzz: Realizing the American Dream

Alon Cohen, an immigrant who came to the U.S. in his thirties, first asked the room, “How many of you were born outside of the United States?” To everyone’s surprise, half of the students in NVIDIA raised their hands. In a room filled with people who identify as immigrants, entrepreneurs, or in some cases, both, Alon’s story was particularly inspiring – a vivid example of the American Dream.

Alon worked at eBay before taking a risk and starting his own company with his wife, Adi Tatarko. It didn’t make much sense to leave a stable job while raising a family, but Alon identified a problem that he wanted to solve. When discussing this transition, he smirked and said, “Of course I had trouble explaining it to my mom.”

Sometimes the most rational decision isn’t the best one.

A few years back, Alon and Adi wanted to remodel their traditional ranch house and were surprised to find that there was no efficient way of doing so. They spent hours at Borders shuffling through dozens of books and magazines to combine ideas and come up with a vision for their home. In the 21stcentury, when everything is streamlined, from online grocery shopping to connecting with someone who lives 10,000 miles away, this was an anomaly. Alon wanted to make the process of home remodeling easier. His motto is to try and “make complicated things simple.”

6 years later, his company Houzz, is disrupting the interior design industry and is one of the hottest startups in the Bay Area. Alon explains that there were many instances when he hit a wall along the way, but he had to keep moving forward. He bootstrapped through every hiccup. Although he knew that raising money and monetizing where important parts of the process, he couldn’t stress the value of the team enough. Alon and Adi personally interview every potential employee who walks through the door in order to decide whether they are the right fit for the company’s culture. His two key pieces of advice: 1) pick the people you work with carefully and 2) no matter how talented you are, work incredibly hard.

Alon’s story shows that there is no secret sauce to starting your own company. Sometimes, you just have to pinpoint a problem, take a leap of faith, and be persistent in trying to solve it. Whether you are oozing with Silicon Valley ideals, or feel like an outsider in this little bubble, you have the ability to make something complicated in this world just a little simpler.

For the full lineup of ETL, visit the website

By Zabreen Khan

The Winner’s Circle (Part 1): Switchmate

SwitchMate (Product Showcase Winner 2014)

“Every time we went to Home Depot, we got kicked out. But, every time we were there, we learnt a ton.”

When Daniel Peng, Co-Founder of SwitchMate, spoke to users about their perceptions of home automation, they responded with very similar answers. “Most people don’t know what it is, and if they did, they didn’t want to call an electrician. Or they were at an apartment, so they couldn’t rewire,” Peng said. The adjectives they chose to describe home automation were often “cumbersome,” “complicated,” and “expensive.”

Born in the Stanford Mechatronics lab, SwitchMate was inspired when Co-Founder Robert Romana “wanted to turn his lights off from bed.”

Along with co-founder and electrical engineer Ashish Dua, the team learned about an industry that could be worth $52 billion by 2020. “We all met in college 6 years ago in the Bay Area,” Daniel said. “At the time, we were working on different projects.”

Throughout their user research stage, they more clearly realized that most people were deterred from home automation because it was not simple enough. With continued feedback, Daniel revealed, “We were able to use a 3D printer and iteratively make prototypes to ship out to our beta testers.”

Before long, the team entered the BASES Challenge with SwitchMate. Their focus: “How are we going to make a demo stand such that when people come by and play around with it, they’ll get it immediately?” Ultimately, Daniel used very few words to to showcase their product: “Hey, are you interested in simplifying your home lighting system?” Afterwards, users who tried it “set the prototype, smack it on, and they understood it immediately.”

The BASES Challenge helped SwitchMate “validate their idea” because “people really liked where it was going.” After the competition, Ashish and Daniel quit their jobs to commit themselves to the team full-time.

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When asked about the culture of their company, Daniel was quick to respond: “Team dynamic was extremely important. The biggest thing is believing in the mission of the company, such as loving the product and caring a lot about our customers. There are a couple of things that we all definitely agree on.”

With the 1st Place winnings, the team bought a 3D printer to more flexibly iterate over their prototypes. A priority on customers has allowed Switchmate to make great strides towards a common mission. As an entrepreneur, Daniel explained, “We all went through the education system, and while we learned a lot from classes, there’s nothing like just going out there and trying it ourselves. Learning by doing is one of the biggest things for me, and entrepreneurship is an awesome way to do that.”

On the future of SwitchMate, Daniel was quick to answer: “Our vision is to make home automation extremely simple, so people can use it without even having to pick up a screwdriver.”

To learn more about Switchmate, visit their website http://www.myswitchmate.com/

By Vincent Chen

BASES Challenge KickOff…And We’re Live!

The BASES Challenge season has officially sprung into action.

BASES Challenge is Stanford’s oldest and largest student startup competition. As an annual startup competition, Challenge awards funding to aspiring Stanford entrepreneurs. Students and alumni enter their business or social venture ideas to compete for $100,000 in prize money and developmental opportunities. The application process begins with an electronic written application and culminates in two rounds of live judging.

Naturally some might find this process intimidating, perhaps even unattainable. As sophomore Simar Mangat spoke at the event on Monday, he described being a Freshman last year with little formal knowledge of entrepreneurship, but simply found some friends, united over a fiery passion, and just went for it. His novice team actually went on to win Challenge.

And, it’s true. BASES hopes this opportunity is a learning process in itself—one that anybody and everybody can get immersed in with innumerable chances along the way to make industry connections, get your name out there, develop closer bonds with fellow student entrepreneurs, become inspired, and, of course, strive for that ultimate gold at the end of the rainbow that could truly kickstart your venture.

In parallel with BASES’ goal to lengthen the reach of the competition to a wider audience, a couple new initiatives have been launched this year. Perhaps the most exciting is the initiative, BASES Funds. In the words of BASES Co-President, Brandon Garcia,”BASES Fund is a new initiative we’re piloting with the objective of eliminating financial constraints from students’ endeavors to work on their own projects. The fund seeks to distribute grants to students doing legitimate work. All we ask for in exchange is regular updates to our blog to keep the wider community in the loop about the technologies being developed.” There is also a greater chance for social ventures to take home money with this year’s altered Challenge prize structure.

As the evening concluded, those at the Kickoff last night got to hear some frank advice from Michael Baum, CEO of Founder.org and entrepreneurial enthusiast who left the audience with 8 thought-provoking tips for any entrepreneur to keep in mind while starting a startup. He described the lifestyle of an entrepreneur as something like no other than a lifestyle that “ is so worth it in the end.” He encouraged everyone in the audience to leverage the innumerable resources Stanford University has to offer while we are still students here—from the Maker’s Lab to opportunities like BASES Challenge to meet industry professionals to, of course, the rich diversity of minds we have the opportunity to be surrounded by everyday. So, why not take a chance?

Garcia and Michael Longoria, Director of Challenge agree that “Kickoff brought together future participants, past winners, and industry professionals to share their excitement for the BASES Challenge competition. A great keynote by Michael Baum, awesome demos from incredible Challenge alumni, and a great audience contributed to a successful 2015 launch of Stanford’s largest and oldest venture competition.” And with that, here’s to another season of BASES Challenge pitches, creativity, uncertainty, memories, and passion.

As Mangat encourages, “you won’t get the chance to go through something like BASES Challenge again. The timing is never “perfect” so even if you’re on the fence…just go for it!”

Apply to BASES Challenge!

Want more specifics about the prize structure? Find it here

Curious about BASES Fund. Apply here!

BASES Challenge Timeline

Jan 19: Applications go live

Mar 07: Applications due at 11:59pm

Apr 09 – Apr 10: Initial Judging Round

Apr 12 – May 1: Workshops + Office Hours

May 08: Finale Event

By Divya Saini

Coming Up This Quarter in BASES

At the heart of Stanford entrepreneurship is BASES. We are constantly working to provide unique opportunities to meet the best minds of the Valley and develop the professional skills necessary to become an entrepreneur. We are kicking off the year with some exciting events, and we would like to take a moment to share the highlights of this quarter with you.

BASES Career Fair

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Polish up your resume for the largest startup recruiting event at Stanford this Thursday, January 15 from 11 AM to 4pm on the lawn between Gates and Mudd Chemistry buildings. With more than 1200 attendees and 62 companies in 2014, the annual BASES Startup Career Fair is your chance to find a summer internship or network with the most innovative minds of the Valley. Don’t miss the opportunity to connect with some of the fastest growing companies, including familiar faces such as Snapchat and Pebble. Submit your resume here. Need some tips? Check out this article on advice for attending a career fair.

After meeting passionate entrepreneurs this week, look forward to BASES Startup Lunches later in the quarter to continue developing these professional relationships.

BASES Challenge Kickoff

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BASES Challenge is back with even more exciting opportunities to offer. If you are unfamiliar with BASES Challenge, it is our premier entrepreneurial competition that brings Stanford startups into the spotlight before industry leaders and investors. This year, Stanford-affiliated entrepreneurs will have a chance to compete for their share of the 100K in prize money and mentorship opportunities while gaining valuable networking opportunities, professional feedback, and immersion in a community of startups.

Not sold yet? To get more details, head over to our Kickoff on Monday, January 19th from 6:00-8:00 pm at Paul Brest Hall (RSVP here). The Kickoff will be headlined by our keynote speaker, Michael Baum, Founder & CEO of Founder.org. At the event, you can also interact with past finalists, meet our VC sponsors, and potentially find your own team with which to compete. Food is provided!

TreeHacks

This year, we are introducing Stanford’s first national hackathon. TreeHacks is gathering 500 of the most talented programmers, designers, tinkerers, and creators and bringing them together for 36 hours of pure creativity and collaboration. This capstone event will take place from Feb 20th-22nd, and is guaranteed to be a memorable experience for everyone that partakes.

Applications and registration will remain open for Stanford students until January 25th, so grab your sleeping bag and your hacking arsenal and register today.

New ETL

The new quarter brings new stories to the Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders (ETL) speaker series co-hosted by BASES and Stanford Technology Ventures Program (STVP). This quarter’s diverse lineup of speakers includes Shah Selbe, National Geographic Explorer, and John Collison, co-founder of Stripe. Stay updated on the blog for spotlights about the upcoming speakers! Check out the full lineup for the quarter here.

Enroll in ETL this quarter and engage with passionate leaders in business, finance, technology, and philanthropy on Wednesdays, 4:15pm – 5:30pm in NVIDIA Auditorium.

These are just some of the events that BASES will be running this winter, so stay on the lookout and be sure to keep up with BASES events as the quarter rolls along.

By Kameron Riley Butler and Vincent Chen