New Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship
Carnegie Mellon Receives $31 Million Gift for New Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship
Carnegie Mellon University alumnus James R. Swartz (MSIA ’66), a distinguished entrepreneur and founding partner of the global venture capital firm Accel Partners
, has donated $31 million to support the university’s entrepreneurship activities. In recognition of this generous gift, the university will create the Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon University.
Duolingo Raises $45 Million
, the free language learning service co-founded by CMU alumnus and reCAPTCHA inventor Luis von Ahn and former Project Olympus
PROBE, announced that it has raised a $45 million investment round led by Google Capital
. This round brings Duolingo’s total funding to date to $83.3 million, and the company is valued at around
Shoefitr Helps Amazon Sell Shoes
Amazon, in seeking to boost online fashion sales, has acquired Shoefitr
, a CMU startup founded by Matt Wilkinson (CIT '06), Nick End (CIT ’06) and Breck Fresen (CS ’09), for its unique 3D technology matching online shoppers with better-fitting shoes.
CMU Entrepreneurs Make 2015 Forbes ‘30 Under 30’ List
Three CMU entrepreneurs, all past winners of CMU’s McGinnis Venture Competition
, started 2015 by making the Forbes 30 under 30 list. Matthew Stanton (CIT ’12) and Hahna Alexander (CIT ’12), co-founders of SolePower, LLC
, made the list in the Energy
category. SolePower's technology enables shoe insoles to charge portable electronics during the wearer’s movement.
Mehdi Samadi (CS ’14), founder of Solvvy, Inc.
, was honored in the Enterprise Tech
category. Solvvy's web-powered, problem-solving technology saves users valuable time when searching the web by using novel approaches to extract the most relevant information.
OFEF About to Fund Its 50th Company
The fund, established by Carnegie Mellon alumnus and Flip Video Camera creator Jonathan Kaplan and his wife Marci Glazer, provides early-stage business financing and support to alumni who have graduated from CMU within the last
five years. Kaplan earned his MBA from Carnegie Mellon
Manu Kumar Switches Gears from Startups to Venture Capital
Manu Kumar (CIT '95, CS '97), Founder & Chief Firestarter at K9 Ventures
, made the unorthodox decision to create his own dream job. Recently, the CIE spoke with Manu about both his career and his advice to entrepreneurs at Carnegie Mellon.
Why did you start K9 Ventures?
In 2008, after having been involved with several companies, I was trying to decide how I wanted to spend my time. After some reflection I concluded that I like to (1) be around smart people, (2) want to create new technologies, (3) build businesses around them, (4) constantly learn new things and (5) teach/coach people. I realized that investing in startups and working with companies at their earliest stages would allow me to do all of the things that were on my checklist. Therefore, K9Ventures was officially formed in April 2009, yielding the dream job that I created for myself.
Was it a difficult decision to start K9 Ventures?
It was definitely a tough decision. Founders tend to focus on getting things done. Investors often have to let things go a little and have minimal control even when the company seems to be headed in the wrong direction. In a lot of ways being an investor is like being a PhD advisor: you can nudge, poke and prod things in the right direction, but you can’t make them happen.
Additionally, I knew that raising money for a fund is about 10x harder than raising money for a company—but that challenge also made it that much more interesting.
In your profile on K9 Ventures’ website you say that building the right team is very important when starting a company. Can you elaborate on this comment?
In my first company, I was a solo founder. To hire the right people, I went to key professors at Carnegie Mellon and asked them to recommend their top students. I then reached out to those students proactively and tried to convince them to join me. Hiring is never easy, but it’s also an area where compromising is almost always a mistake.
If you hadn’t started K9 Ventures, what would you be doing now?
I would either be running a startup or be a professor. In fact, the way I decided on starting K9 was that I’d already done a few startups before, so I knew what those entailed and I wanted a new challenge. Plus a startup typically has a 5-10 year lifespan and I wanted to pick something I could be working on for the next 30 years. As for being a professor, I figure I’ll keep that option open for some point in the future.
Tell us a little bit about the other startups you started.
My first company was SneakerLabs, which I started while I was a Masters student in Software Engineering at CMU. Have you ever been on a website and been approached by a chat box? We pioneered that technology at SneakerLabs, so you can blame me. My second company, iMeet, was a web-conferencing service. I also started the Pittsburgh Java Users Group (PittJUG) and the Pittsburgh Chapter of TiE (TiEPgh), both of which I’m pleased to see are still going strong.
After moving from Pittsburgh to the Bay Area I was involved in the formation of Lytro and then founded K9 Ventures in 2009. I have continued to found companies since then; I was a co-founder of CardMunch, which was acquired by LinkedIn, and am also a co-founder of eShares
, which is the modern equity management platform for private companies.
Do you think you’ll pursue another entrepreneurial opportunity in the future?
Absolutely! It’s what I do and part of how I’m wired. I can’t say yet as to what it will be, but rest assured that I have more ideas that I would like to see brought to market by the right team and at the right time.
Give an example of one of your greatest challenges as an entrepreneur.
I’ll mention two. The first one that almost caused me to reconsider doing my own startup was my status
as immigrant founder. I’ve written about this topic on my blog: My Story and Support for the Founders Visa
. In short, I came very close to leaving the US because of visa issues. I couldn’t go out and raise money
for the company I started because the risk of my having to leave the US hung over my head like the
sword of Damocles.”
The second big challenge for me as an entrepreneur was learning to trust my team and not be a micro-manager. I’m not sure I’ve fully overcome that even today, but I’m hoping that I’m improving.
What do you consider your greatest success?
My greatest success by far has been attracting an amazing group of people both to my own companies (investors, board members, advisors, employees, customers, partners and vendors) and now as part of K9 (founders, co-investors, key management, limited partners and the team). I don’t mean to sound clichéd but at the end of the day it’s the people and the relationships that are most meaningful, and if you surround yourself with the right people, good things happen.
What is one piece of advice that you’ve received that has stuck with you?
I’ve been fortunate to receive lots of good advice, but the one that I’ve relied on the most has been Jack Thorne’s definition of entrepreneurship: insane perseverance in the face of complete resistance.
Quick story: I was enrolled in the Software Engineering program in the Computer Science Department at CMU when I decided I wanted to start a company. I walked over to what was then GSIA to take Jack Thorne’s class on Entrepreneurship. Jack told me that his class was already over-subscribed, but I showed up to his first class any way and stood in the back. Jack put up the slide with his definition of entrepreneurship: “Insane perseverance in the face of complete resistance.” At the end of the class, I walked up to Jack and told him that he’d already told me what I needed to do to take his class.
Tell us about one thing you learned at CMU that has stayed with you throughout your career.
The CMU work ethic, which starts with Andrew Carnegie’s motto “My Heart is in the Work.” That work ethic, which lives in so many Carnegie Mellon graduates, is not appreciated enough.
What was your single most embarrassing moment at CMU and what did you learn from it?
While at CMU I was briefly fascinated by hacking and was talking about ways to break into CMU’s systems. The then-head of Academic Computing gently reminded me that that would not be a good idea. The reminder was sufficient enough to make me realize that I shouldn’t be a hacker and so instead, after watching the movie Sneakers
, I decided to adopt the moniker ‘sneaker.’
LaunchCMU Explores the "Business of Learning"
The spring 2015 installment of LaunchCMU
Silicon Valley, the technology startup and research showcase hosted by the Carnegie Mellon Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), brought together investors and Carnegie Mellon University alumni to celebrate “The Business of Learning,” this year’s theme.
LaunchCMU attendees headed to the Oracle Conference Center in Silicon Valley, California, to view the newest products, services and marketable research, presented by leaders of successful startup companies and CMU faculty. Carnegie Mellon-affiliated startups included Acrobatiq
, Digital Dream Labs
, Expii, Inc.
and Simcoach Games
. Cutting-edge research was shared by Carnegie Mellon professors Emma Brunskill, assistant professor of computer science, and Vincent Aleven, associate professor at the Human Computer Interaction Institute.
Carnegie Mellon entrepreneurship in the technology-enhanced learning (TEL) space takes advantage of Carnegie Mellon’s strengths in multiple areas such as machine learning, social and decision sciences, and design, among others.
“Carnegie Mellon has a great history of creating valuable companies in the TEL space, such as Carnegie Learning and Lightside Labs,” said David Mawhinney, founding director of CIE and associate teaching professor of entrepreneurship at the Tepper School of Business. “This new slate presenting at LaunchCMU have the potential to be among the next generation of TEL companies that dramatically improve learning at many levels – from pre-school to higher education.”
In addition to talks, various Carnegie Mellon startups demonstrated their ideas at the Demo & Poster Expo: Appbase
, Digital Dream Labs, EEme LLC
, Expii, Inc., Interstacks, Learnworld
, Ristcall LLC
, Road Rules
The startups that are featured at LaunchCMU have emerged out of respected programs such as the Project Olympus Incubator PROBE program, the James Swartz R. Entrepreneurial Fellows Program, the NSF I-Corps Site at Carnegie Mellon, the Open Field Entrepreneurs Fund, Carnegie Mellon’s myriad research centers, and Innovation Works, Pittsburgh’s premier technology-based economic development organization.
LaunchCMU has been held biannually since its inception in 2012 and is sponsored by Latham & Watkins, Oracle and Deloitte. Be sure to mark your calendars for the next installment of LaunchCMU, which will be held on the Carnegie Mellon campus on October 8, 2015.
Student Innovators Earn Investments Through McGinnis
Since its establishment in 2004, the McGinnis Venture Competition
has challenged teams of student entrepreneurs to compete for $60,000 in investments, earmarked toward advancing their startup companies. Throughout the competition, the student participants interact with alumni entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, attempting to help raise capital and provide opportunities to strengthen their company’s strategic planning and positioning.
“The McGinnis Venture Competition is great preparation for our student entrepreneurs as they begin their startup journey,” said Dave Mawhinney, founding director of CIE and associate teaching professor of entrepreneurship at the Tepper School of Business. “The students are trained in the CIE’s CONNECTS Workshops and receive mentoring and feedback from our 80+ alumni judges throughout the three rounds of the competition. They are battle-tested as finalists during the competition.”
On March 26, 2015, the final eleven teams participated in live presentations that were judged by prominent venture capitalists and other investors. Of the eight teams of graduate students to compete in the final round, three ranked highest in both innovativeness of the idea and a sound business plan.
earned first place marks and $25,000 for its novel water purifiers, which use nanoparticle technology. Rorus’ first working prototype targets the $70 billion emergency response market.
The second place winner of $15,000, DataSquid
, uses data visualization science to unlock the power of big data on mobile and desktop computers. With the help of cutting-edge technology, DataSquid delivers faster decisions and deeper insights anywhere and anytime.
came in third, earning a $10,000 investment. Nebulus is a real-time project management platform for making music, simplifying the collaboration process by allowing users to work with
Two undergraduate teams were also recognized. Along with earning investments for their companies, these teams were granted automatic entrance into the Carnegie Mellon University Venture Challenge.
In first place, Soterias Medical received a grant of $4,000. Soterias Medical is working to develop a new electronic injection system for introducing stem cells to the skin of patients enrolled in therapeutic studies and clinical trials. This system will decrease the chances of new stem cells being dead or contaminated and increase the success rate of stem cell therapy.
The second place team and winner of a $2,500 grant was VIT
, a consumer electronics company focused on bringing consumer-driven designs and simple solutions to medical problems. VIT’s first product is a smart knee brace.
The McGinnis Venture Competition is made possible by a generous endowment from Gerald E. McGinnis, chairman, CEO and founder of Respironics, Inc
. Key sponsors for the 2015 competition were FOUNDER.org
, an organization working with colleges, universities and research institutes around the world to advance student entrepreneurship, and Innovation Works
, an organization that plays a vital role in southwestern Pennsylvania’s technology economy by investing capital, business expertise and other resources in high-potential companies.
(Show & Tell 19)
The CMU CIE put CMU's innovation, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit on display during Spring Carnival. Student, alumni and faculty teams presented at Project Olympus Show & Tell 19
— the annual event highlighting new discoveries and ideas and fostering connections both on campus and with the wider community. As Lenore Blum, founding director of CIE and Distinguished Career Professor of Computer Science, explained to a packed crowd in McConomy Auditorium, “When Project Olympus
started in 2007, we were the only very early stage incubator in town. At first, we presented four Show &Tells a year. Now, with so much entrepreneurial activity on campus and in Pittsburgh, we can hardly schedule a time that does not conflict with other entrepreneurial events. Spring Carnival, when many alumni return to campus, is the ideal venue for our now annual signature showcase.”
Show & Tell 19 featured research by Physics Assistant Professor Shirley Ho, who spoke on "How Far Can We See in the Dark," and Marlene Behrmann, Psychology Professor and CMU Director of the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, who discussed "How We See What
A focus on startups and spinoffs highlighted Mathematical Sciences Assistant Professor Po-Shen Loh and his startup Expii.com
, a website that leverages crowdsourcing to develop interactive ways of teaching math and science. Biology and Chemistry Associate Professor Marcel Bruchez talked about his spinoff Sharp Edge Labs
, which develops novel biosensors.
Kit Needham, Olympus Associate Director and Entrepreneur-in-Residence, then introduced four Project Olympus companies — AbiliLife
, AE Dreams
, Carbon Freight
— headed by current students and recent alumni.
"This forum shows off the incredible interdisciplinary collaborations between our students and faculty," said Dave Mawhinney, founding director of CIE and associate teaching professor of entrepreneurship at the Tepper School of Business. "Designers, engineers and business people come together to innovate and create new value in the form of products and companies."
Special guest Debra Lam, Chief Innovation Officer for the city of Pittsburgh, rounded up the onstage portion speaking about "The Pittsburgh Innovation Roadmap." "I am so impressed with the caliber of the professors and student entrepreneurs here," added Lam. "It reminds me from a city perspective how lucky we are to have CMU right in our backyard. There are wonderful activities going on. It's a tremendous asset."
The networking reception that followed gave everyone a chance to connect, to continue conversations, and to check out the many demos on display. To see the enthusiastic turnout see photos on Flickr
Read the full story
Spring 2015 Cohort Selected for NSF I-Corps Site at CMU
The NSF-sponsored Carnegie Mellon University Innovation Corps (I-Corps) Site
announced its 2015 spring cohort of 16 startup companies that are commercializing innovations ranging from online tools for identifying sex traffickers to technologies for bio-printing 3-D tissues for regenerative medicine.
The objective of the I-Corps Site is to help students and faculty members hone their entrepreneurial skills and collaborate with industry professionals as they transition research out of the lab and into commercial sectors. Site teams include faculty members, alumni and students at the undergraduate, masters and Ph.D. levels from across the Carnegie Mellon community, giving the program a unique character.
The Spring 2015 Carnegie Mellon I-Corps Site teams include:
- AE Dreams: Provides families with a series of connected toys, games and resources, each inspiring magical interactions and hands-on playtime.
- BioFab3D: Develops innovative 3D bio-printing technologies for applications in soft materials fabrication, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.
- Broken Colors, Inc.: Provides neurologically-based mental and emotional state tracking for market researchers, including scalable, low-profile measurement solutions.
- ConnectWith: Represents a social discovery platform that helps businesses build better culture and create innovation by forging the communication ties that make an organization run well.
- D-PowerNet: Enables a networked control platform for ever-increasing distributed entities, such as renewable generations and flexible loads.
- FacioMetrics LLC: Enables face recognition, facial feature tracking, facial expression analysis, facial attributes (e.g., gender, ethnicity, age), facial expression transfer and gaze tracking.
- HEBI Robotics: Enables the rapid development of inexpensive, high-quality and safe robotic systems through the use of intelligent robotic modules.
- Invisible Intelligence: Provides automation and analytics for distributed robotic systems.
- LeanFM Technologies: Provides a software solution to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of commercial building operation and maintenance using a cloud-based 3D environment.
- Legal Analytics: Provides a smart software solution for law firms to intelligently estimate and track costs for client engagement.
- Marinus Analytics: Identify uses publicly available data to track and analyze trends and behaviors involving sex trafficking.
- Nebulus: Presents a real-time, cross-platform collaboration solution for musicians that work with desktop audio workstations.
- NoRILLA: Works on a mixed-reality platform bridging physical and virtual worlds to improve children's learning, understanding and enjoyment of science in a collaborative way, using both software and hardware components.
- PalpAid: Works to develop a novel, low-cost technology to provide women and their primary care clinicians an alternative to invasive, stressful and costly methods of tracking benign
- RistCall LLC: Provides a wireless wearable nurse call bell that helps hospitals and skilled nursing facilities improve patient safety and satisfaction scores.
- VIT: Applies the Internet of Things Movement and the Quantified-Self Movement into biotechnology, aiming to change an industry lacking consumer-driven designs and functionalities by providing simple, elegant solutions.
Project Olympus Announces the 2015 Spring
Spark Grant Award Winners
Five PROBE projects were awarded a $5,000 dollar micro-grant from the Spark Grant Fund
, which helps students kick-start their business ideas. These grants
are made possible through charitable contributions from alumni and Friends
develops ultra light pallets and containers for the airline industry that use as little as half of the fuel burn of traditional containers, while also decreasing the labor and cost of container repairs.
creates add-on hybrid modules for tractor-trailers to reduce fuel consumption upwards of 20%, improve a driver’s quality of life and safety, and reduce harmful greenhouse gas admissions.
is a real-time project management and arrangement platform for making music. Musicians can find other musicians, making collaboration as fast and as simple as possible.
is a mixed-reality educational platform bridging physical and virtual worlds to improve children's science learning and enjoyment in a collaborative way. It uses depth camera sensing to provide immediate personalized feedback while children experiment in their everyday physical environment.
is a consumer electronics company focusing on bringing the advancements of medical and biotechnology to the masses. VIT aims to change an industry lacking consumer-driven designs and functionalities by providing simple, elegant solutions. The company’s first product is a smart knee brace for total knee replacement patients.
Hyliion Places 3rd Overall at the Rice Business Plan Competition
One of the top energy companies at the Rice Business Plan Competition, known as the world’s richest and largest graduate-level student startup competition, was CMU’s Hyliion
, which has developed a hybrid module for tractor-trailers
that can reduce fuel costs by 30 percent. As the third place winner Hyliion was awarded more
than $160,000 in cash prizes and services.
Read the full story
2015 CMU Venture Challenge
The CMU Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Association
hosted 12 undergraduate teams of student-entrepreneurs from across the nation at the CMU Venture Challenge
. Each team presented a unique and promising business venture after receiving guidance from the founders of CMU startups such as LifeShel
and Nebulus Audio
. The winning teams were from Princeton, Harvard and the University of Pittsburgh/CMU. The judges included Dave Mawhinney (CMU CIE), Michael Monyok, Meyer (Unkovic, and Scott LLP), John Zemet (Truefit) and Don Morrison (Blue Tree Allied Angels).
CMU's Hack-A-Startup Event Takes Center Stage
More than 70 students across all ages and backgrounds participated in the first Hack-A-Startup
, a collaborative effort between CMU's Graduate Entrepreneurship Club (GEC)
and Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Association (UEA)
. Inspired by Startup Weekend
, Hack-A-Startup brings together engineers, business students, designers and aspiring entrepreneurs for a weekend to pitch ideas and work on projects. The event produced ten teams that competed against each other to create and validate an innovative business idea. Mouse Buddy, a hardware and software prototype that turns your smartphone into a wireless mouse for your laptop, wowed the judges and took first place.
CMU-Q’s Second National Business Competition Produces Winners from 38 Budding Entrepreneurs
CMU Qatar's Quick Startup challenges university students to conceive and develop a business idea within 72 hours. This year’s winning idea, a mobile application called Basket, was designed to help prevent food waste through community outreach and food sharing.
and see photos
from the event.
Tunessence Acquired by Hal Leonard
Hal Leonard Corporation
, the world's largest music print publisher and e-content provider, has acquired Tunessence
*, a web-based platform for interactive music lessons. Developed in 2012 by Carnegie Mellon alumni, the software synchronizes audio and video assets with music notation, providing a follow-along marker, looping and tempo control. Read the full story
Genesis Uses Treatspace Software
Genesis Medical Associates Inc. is using software developed by Treatspace
* as an interface for patient referrals to medical specialists. Read the full story
LumiShield Wins Big at TransTech Energy Conference
, an NSF I-Corps Site team
, won two awards at the TransTech Energy Conference
. Dave Luebke, LumiShield’s CEO, presented the company at the TransTech Energy Conference to entrepreneurs, investors and others from across West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio. In addition to getting valuable feedback from the judges and establishing contacts with potential investors, LumiShield was awarded the $10,000 Appalachian Regional Commission Technical Assistance Award and the Arnett Foster Toothman In-kind Assistance Award, awards that will be used to continue to establish the company and push toward optimization and scale-up of the LumiShield process. Read the full story.
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