By: Shelby Kim | English Columnist
Since the 7th grade, every Friday night at 9PM, I sat on the sofa with my sister, anxiously twiddling my thumbs as we waited for the iconic seawater background to appear on the TV. As the 90 minutes of the newest Shark Tank episode aired, I wondered to myself: what new ideas will be presented, and which entrepreneurs will be going home happy? I don’t know if it was the thrill of watching the sharks fight to secure investment on their favorite startup or the excitement from seeing the entrepreneurs receiving funding to make their innovative idea come into reality, but I was sold. Especially after seeing my friend on the show receive financing from Mark Cuban for her company, I imagined myself, too, on the show, selling my captivating idea and making millions.
After coming to Berkeley, I found that the school not only fostered growth of innovation with classes, but also offered the right resources for students to jump-start their entrepreneurial ventures. The Sutardja Center of Entrepreneurship & Technology is UC Berkeley’s center for the study and practice of tech-centric entrepreneurship and innovation since 2005, and it offers more than 14 courses and a network of more than 500 investors and industry partners. Through the entrepreneurship program that the center offered, I was able to meet people that shared the same interest with me in founding companies and making big impacts through the services and products offered. I discovered that the House Fund, a venture capital company located on Bancroft and Telegraph, connected students with investors across the country to equip students with the right tools to launch their idea effectively. Inspired by my peers who told me about their experiences working in venture capital and entrepreneurship, I looked for opportunities to be a part of this fast-paced and high-growth atmosphere of startups.
A year later, I had the opportunity to join a group of founders to launch a social media application, dedicated to connecting college students across the United States and Asia based on interests and hobbies. The game plan that summer was to expand the business in Korea, use the success as a gateway for Asia, and bring the results back to America. As the head of Korea, I was responsible for expanding its user base and gaining the support of the investors in Korea. My meetings with potential investors were real-life versions of the Shark Tank episodes I had obsessed over just a couple years ago. The allotted 30-minute meeting time flew by, with me trying to answer the sharp critiques and concerns of the investors, who doubted the potential success of a mere college student in bringing high returns from their investment. Retracing my memory back to the entrepreneurs on Shark Tank who did receive funding from the sharks, I always reminded myself to answer why my company is necessary to the targeted audience when making my pitch.
Throughout my journey working as a global pioneer of university social media platforms, I noticed several patterns in the way college students preferred to communicate with each other. First, location. Enabling students to connect with peers nearby within a specific range proved to be one of the most practical functions of a social media application. Second, functionality. Most well-known and successful social applications are simple, with one distinct purpose. Creating applications that have smooth user functionality makes it easy for both users and developers in the long run. Last but not least, hype. College students are easily distracted by the newest “hype” in town, and in order to keep them as constant users, the application has to be fun and appealing.
“There’s lots of bad reasons to start a company. But there’s only one good, legitimate reason, and I think you know what it is: it’s to change the world.” - Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote
As an avid fan of technology and innovation, I am excited to see the opportunities given to students at educational institutions. We are blessed to be a part of an era that is constantly changing and being updated with new technology. From dabbling with basic Python code to pitching my startup to investors from industries ranging from healthcare to energy, my journey of entrepreneurial learning has never been easy. However, being active in the startup space has pushed me to look for creative solutions to seemingly difficult everyday issues. There is always something that can be improved, and you can be the forerunner of that big impact with a small, but unique idea.