Startup Columbus – Startup Saturday

This Saturday (27th July 2013), I participated in Startup Columbus ‘Startup Saturday‘ monthly meetup. I came to know about the event from meetup.com.

The event was hosted at the Dublin Entrepreneurial Center. There were 10 participants in the meeting. It was scheduled from 9.30 am to 12 pm (though it got extended to 3 pm). The meeting was presided by Alex Jonas, organizer at Startup Ohio and Ohio Games Incubator. We started off by giving a quick 2 min. intro about ourselves. All other participants were employed and from various age groups. All were in various stages of their entrepreneurial journey – there was a guy Tim who is successfully running 2 startups already and had come to discuss about his third startup (25+ years experience). Then there was Victoria who had lots of experience (17+) in all kinds of administrative and marketing tasks – she had helped with the operations for many early stage startups.   There were also people who were simply interested in knowing more about entrepreneurship and had come for meeting up new people.

After the intro, we were each given the opportunity to ask about any specific problem/ assistance/guidance that we needed. The whole team would then discuss and come up with various solutions. Problems like pricing strategy, marketing strategy, increasing & retention of user-base etc. were discussed. A participant Chintan (possibly Indian) had come up with a project called Qlyer. He wanted advice on gaining more traction. Another participant Naina had an idea but didn’t know where to start.  I personally didn’t have any problem to discuss. I told about the ideas and projects that I am part of. Everyone was really supportive and came up with lots of suggestions. Contrary to my expectation, the idea of DialBlood and TinyMail were well received. Another participant Ron, who had a Ph.D in Geography and is presently running his own mapping solution startup  was interested in our project ‘SMS based vehicle locating system’. The team suggested that we should look into possibilities of future collaboration.

After the discussions, we were taken for a tour of the DEC by Alex. DEC presently houses 90+ startups. In the same building, there was also a data center. Alex explained the story behind some of the recent incubatees. After the tour, the meet up was officially over. (~ 12.30pm). A few of us stayed back and discussed about various startup related topics. I got the opportunity to talk to Alex in person for some 2 hours. It was a nice interaction – he told me about various initiatives that he had started, about the state of entrepreneurship in Columbus and Ohio in general, about upcoming events etc. He also agreed to introduce me to a few people who are part of TechColumbus, another incubator. I told him about Startup Village and inquired about possibilites of partnering SV with DEC or TechColumbus or other incubators here so that startups in both places can be mutually benefited. Alex was interested in the idea and told me that he’s consider the options.

Lastly, Dave another participant who was a linguistic expert as well as a Karate teacher (and ofcourse a startup enthusiast) was kind enough to drop me back home. That was especially helpful since public transport is less frequent in Ohio esp. in weekends – I had only a single bus for returning, that too once in an hour and the nearest bus stop was a half an hour walk.

To conclude, the meetup was a very enriching experience.

First weekend at Ohio

My first weekend here at US was really awesome. Met a lot of cool people.

On Friday, Rohan & Amit (with whom I live) took me to dinner along with them. We went to a nice restaurant called ‘Papaya’. Three of their friends also joined us (all from Maharashtra, Pune).  The food was good. Later that night, we met at Sreekanth’s (a postdoctoral scholar from pune) home. We played a board game called ‘The Settlers of Catan‘. Its a real fun game. It’s sort of like Age of Empires on a board. It’s very lengthy – we finished by 4.30 am in the morning (around 5 hours). It was a really memorable experience.

On Saturday,a few of Amit’s friends had come over from Boston. They were going out and invited me to join them. We had lunch from an italian hotel (Noodles & Company). Then we went to Old Man’s Caves at Hocking Hills. It involved a lot of trekking. It was real fun. Also, one important aspect of the journey was the hour long drive through the highway. The roads here are superb. The cars here have auto transmission  & a feature called ‘Cruise control‘. It basically means that the driver can take his legs off the accelerator/brake. The car automatically maintains the speed set by the driver. Also, the roads are so good that everyone drives touching the speedlimit (75 mph or 120 kmph) or sometimes more (its legal to be over the limit by 5 or 10 mph depending on the roads) . The villages along the highway are very beautiful and picturesque. Contrary to my earlier assumption, US is not all about cities and high rise buildings. There are a lot of vast farmlands and grass terrains, even more than what I’ve ever seen back in India. We later had dinner at an Indian restaurant called Manaas. I had a really wonderful time with them.

On Sunday, Neeraj (M.S student living next doors) invited me to go to Cuyahoga National Park with his friends. There were many beautiful trails to walk around (& for biking). There were some interesting caves and crevices. We were advised not to go inside the caves since the bats inside were having some disease this season. We walked around the places, climbing over the rocks and passing through crevices. Then we headed to Brandywine falls which was a sight to behold. I also met Varun Nandakumar who had Mallu origins (though was brough up in Banglore & Pune). We talked in malayalam. 🙂 We wound up the trip with a dinner from Bob Evans. The whole trip was a memorable experience.

Third Hand Bike Co-Op

I takes me half an hour to walk to office. Myself, Sid and Aniruddha (living in our apartment, doing Ph.D in chemistry, aka Amit) decided to buy bikes (bicycles are called bikes here).

We went searching for bikes on Monday. Here people use Google Maps extensively to find their way around. The shop we were looking for closed by 6PM. We decided to go on again on Wednesday. We reached back by 4.45PM. We travel mostly in Sid’s car – an awesome Mustang. We went to a shop – ‘Once Ridden Bikes’ in search of refurbished bikes. Most bikes in good shapes costed above 150$ – too much for me to spend for 2 months use.Then we headed to one more shop – it too had considerably costly bikes (yea, even old ones). All bikes here have gears. There was mainly 2 classes – mountain bikes and road bikes. Road bikes have thinner tires and are usually costlier.

Finally we went to a place called Third Hand Bike Co-Op. This place had a lot of peculiarities. It opens only twice a week – wednesdays and thursdays. That too from 6PM to 9PM only. They sell bikes in all price range (starting from 10$) but obviously not all in good condition. The interesting part is that they have a repair workshop. Here biking enthusiasts interested in tweaking with their bike parts can come and work on their bikes. They have lots of stands to mound bikes and all kinds of equipment required to work on bikes – from spanners of all size to instruments for tire alignment. The best part – they have volunteers who come in and help amateurs fix their bike. They go around instructing people and telling people how to go about tweaking things. I was really surprised to see people offering their time and service to unknown people for free. A culture that needs to be appreciated.

I chose a nice bike with a price tag of $50. A very jovial, amicable and knowledgeable person by the name – Tom helped me fix it. I initially noticed only a wobbly seat – dissembled it and put in some washers and bolts to keep it in place. Later I noticed that the bike had apparently sustained a pretty bad accident and the front tire rim was badly mangled. We though of fixing it and later abandoned the plan considering it’s not worth the effort. I got another (used) rim for $10. I never knew the spokes of a bike had this much significance. I came to know that tuning the spokes is sort of an art in itself. We figured out the misaligned part by mounting the rim on the alignment instrument & rotating it. Then we identified spokes to be tightened and loosened – some needs to be turned half a turn whereas some a quarter. Then we changed the tube and tire from the old rim to the new one. Fixed it on the bike. Tightened the brakes. Oiled the chains.I didnt notice the time fly by – after around 3 hours of tweaking I had a sparkling new bike in front of me. I thanked Tom a lot before leaving. Amit also got one. We both got ourselves mountain bikes. Sid couldn’t find one – he wanted a road bike. He ordered one from Amazon the next day – a pretty good one.

Sid left in his car. Myself and Amit rode back home on our bikes. It was a nice ride. The sideways here are designed with bikers in mind. There are inclined places in between where we can board the sideway or get off from it. It doesn’t get dark even around 8.30 -9 here presently (~ like 4.30pm back in Kerala). ThirdHandBikes was quite an experience.

TEC Institute – First day

It’s Saturday morning here. I’ve completed(successfully) my first week of my internship. I intend to write my experiences over a series of short posts. I work with the TEC (Technology Entrepreneurship & Commercialization) Institute at FCOB (Fisher College of Business).
Day1: I was asked to head down to Mason Hall at 11.30AM on Monday (15th July). I had not yet familiarized myself with OSU campus and was advised to start by 10.30 itself tor each there on time. I was getting ready when the airport authorities called saying that they’ve found my missing luggage and they’ll come around 10.45 AM. I was worried since I didn’t want to be late on my first day. But one thing I came to know later on is that people here make no compromises on punctuality and credibility. Baggage reached on time, I made a run for it and somehow managed to reach room 256, Madison Hall by 11.27AM. #phew

Dr.Michel Camp, Executive Director, TEC Institute and Erica Waite, Program Director, TEC Institute were in the room. I went in (heart beats pumping). They were very friendly – we had a very interesting discussion. I figured that the people here have a hard time figuring out how to pronounce my first name (Rahul) and mostly give up on my second name even before trying (Raveendranath). We talked about my profile, academic background, interest in entrepreneurship, the general technology & entrepreneurial landscape of Kerala (which is of course being defined by Startup Village)  &  of India. They made me sign an agreement similar to an NDA and one which entitles TEC ownership of any ideas I may conceive during my tenure here. Then they explained the idea behind and functioning of TEC.

They are TEC Institute and TEC Academy. TEC Academy has various academic courses related to entrepreneurship – syllabus mostly designed by Dr.Camp himself. TEC Institute is where I work – it’s sort of a consulting service that provide expert analytic services (market survey, competitive analysis etc) for startups in various stages. Also, Dr. Camp is very resourceful and his networking assistance is also an added highlight. So TEC works on a lot of proprietary and confidential data which is why I had to sign the NDA. Erica also explained to me that I’ll be working on multiple projects over my internship. Since I had an IT background, they also asked me whether I’d me interested in working on a project on symantic web and ontologies – which I was very glad to do. I was handed me over a lot of resources to read through for my first assignment (an IT one) – to figure out usability improvements for a custom made project management solution for TEC.

One of the interesting questions Dr.Camp asked me was regarding my future plans in case I chose to pursue entrepreneurship – whether I’ll be interested in entrepreneurship opportunities in the US or back in India. I expressed my interest in exploring the opportunities back in India. I said that I feel there are large gaps in the socio-economic conditions of India (wrt western countries) – gaps which can be filled to an extend by leveraging  technology properly; and that I feel I have a personal obligation to give back to my country & community – contribute to its economic development as much as I can. The fact that my high school education(Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya) and college education(CET) was mostly funded by the government could be a reason I guess.

Afterwards, Erica showed me around the office and assigned a workspace & desktop for working. There were two other analysts working with TEC this summer – Karthik and Ajlouni, Burouj (from Jordan). I interacted with them. The rest of the first day was spend going through the documents I was given. I left the office at around 6PM. I’ve some photos of the office.


My experience with Startup Village

My experience with Startup Village

I’d missed sharing this in my blog. so here it goes.

Note: The link seems to be broken after Startup Village migrated their blog to a new website. I’m posting below a draft copy of the article I had with me.


 

Since its inception in April 2012, I’ve been to Startup Village many times. Each visit has been equally memorable and inspiring and probably has impacted my life more than anything else so far.

I got my first real taste of coding and hacker culture during my SV funded visit to Bangalore for 55444 hackathon in July 2012. The first time I visited SV was with 8 of my college friends for a week long android training workshop, during our onam vacations of 2012. The excellent training by Mr. Zacharias (our dear Zac) and helped us start off on our mobile app development trail. Our stay was provisioned at Kerala Institute for Entrepreneurship Development (KIED).

The week-long stint at SV was marked by another memorable incident. The initial pitch for my first college startup happened then. Our startup ‘Hedcet’ was at its infancy then. I remember entering Sijo’s room with my laptop to demo the initial prototype of our product ‘campusLAN’, a campus ERP solution. The few minutes of talk was thought provoking and insightful. Sijo immediately connected us with many of his contacts exploring the same domain as ours. An important lesson learned that day was that its not just the quality of the product that matters, but making our customers aware of the need for such a product was equally if not more important. We got virtually incubated at SV then.  Presently. our the team of 5 has expanded to 14, we launched campusLAN as ‘Beehive’ at Oracle-SV MoU signing event. HedCet got listed among the top 5 student startups in SV. We even got the opportunity to meet and discuss our project ideas with Kris Gopalakrishnan (Chief of Advisory Board), who mentors startups at SV. He has agreed to be the first customer for our next product ‘TinyMail’ which is under development.

Since the 55444 Hackathon, I’ve never missed a hackathon if possible. Even more importantly, I’ve never missed a chance to visit SV whenever I am at Ernakulam. We readied our next major product ‘Medicol’, an appointment scheduling system for doctors by pulling an all nighter at SV. Another project by myself and my classmates, ‘SMS based vehicle locating system’ got virtually incubated at SV. We were also able to start a commercial venture called DialBlood (http://dialblood.com/) around another project ‘Automated Bloodbank management system’ with the guidance from Sijo as well as technical support from Mobme (the inspirational student startup from CET).

One other key take away from my visits to SV is the chance to interact with the startups incubated there. It is easy for anyone to come up with startup ideas. But these people there have actually taken the bold decision to pursue their dreams and make their ideas a reality. Talks with founders of Wowmakers, Verbicio, Exam Voice, Mashinga, RHL Vision, DhaneW Research, Profoundis, MindTree etc not to mention Mobme has helped me realize how it actually feels to work in a startup environment. Conversations are filled with gems of advice that only first hand experience can give. This itself makes the trip to SV worthwhile.

As much as I realise that my journey has just begun and that there is a lot more to be seen, explored and experienced, I cannot even imagine how my life would have been if it were not for SV. I consider myself lucky that Startup Village came into being at the same time as my college tenure. SV has numerous programs for students interested in startups. The recent SVSquare program and Fisher Collge of Business Internship program etc are a few examples of the initiatives that are offered. The 20% attendance scheme for student entrepreneurs pioneered by SV is also a huge relief for many students in Kerala. A chance for them to pursue their dreams.

Looking forward to lots of further fruitful associations with SV.

The internship with Fisher College of Business

Things happened really quick. I’ll try to quickly setup the background.

I am presently in Columbus, Ohio, USA for a 2 month internship with Fisher College Of Business, Ohio State University. All thanks to Startup Village & Labx foundation. My internship here is a part of their novel initiative to give exposure to latest developments in business/research areas to students from Indian colleges (ones which are not as lucky as IITs/NITs in terms of exposure). I got this opportunity after going through a series of online interviews (google Hangouts) conducted by Lab-X and a final discussion with Dr. Michel Camp, the Executive Director at Centre for Entrepreneurship, Fisher COB. The support and guidance given by team Lab-X – Mr. Ketan Dande, Miss. Sampreeti, Chris Gary for my interview preparations was really great. They even found time to do two rounds of mock interviews for me before the final one with Dr.Camp. I really hope to make the most of this opportunity. I plan to take back a lot of experiences to share with my friends and hope to encourage more fellow students to step up and take initiatives.

Everything fell into place as destiny would have it. My internship with Amazon ended on July 5th. I had my 6th semester lab exams on 11th & 12th of July. I started for Columbus on 13th July morning 4 am. The journey was memorable. It took around 30 hours in total.  I met a lot of knowledgeable people during the flight and at the airports. It was a connecting flight from Etihad airlines via Abu Dhabi till New York. From there, I had to manually recheck my luggage and board an American Airlines flight to Columbus.

I reached Columbus by around 10PM on 13th July US time. Speaking of which, USA has 5 timezones. The one here lags the Indian time by around 9.30 hours. First surprise here – my luggage didn’t come through. Luckily, I had all my money and documents in my backpack. Not so luckily, I had none of my clothes or other essentials with me. I immediately registered a complaint with the Baggage Customer Service. They said it might probably be held up in Customs check @New York and that I can expect it in the next couple of days. Lesson learned – always carry your essentials and a pair of clothing on your backpack. Siddharth Mulay, a friend of Ketan and a PhD. student at OSU in Control Systems came to pick me up. He lives with another PhD. student and a software engineer. I too am presently living with them.

After reaching home, Siddharth took me out for dinner. Then we went straight down to Walmart – the biggest retailer chain here. Its open 24×7. I had to buy some basic clothing. We finished around 1.30 AM. I was asked to get a proper sleep so as to reset my biological clock. The next day was also mostly relaxing and getting acclimatized. Sid took me for a walk around the campus – or at-least a portion of it. The OSU campus is very big. It has a lot of world class amenities too – including the largest campus gym in the US and a very extensive library.

I’ll let some photos I took do the rest of the talking.