Senior Melody Eng says she wanted her team’s pitch for StartUp term to be more fun than a typical presentation. This entailed unusual attire for a business proposal, as her team incorporated in a skit about going to prom that tied into their product.
“So that’s why we had to wear like really formal clothes, high heels, put my hair down— just a big process,” Eng said. “They were laughing a lot and we were just having a great time with all these jokes.”
On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, students presented their potential business ideas to a group of faculty in the hopes of being accepted into StartUp term this spring, during which students will dedicate the entire term to developing their entrepreneurial projects.
Eng explained that her team pitched a “Prom Planner,” which she describes as an all-in-one resource that would be aimed at helping organizers of high school proms navigate the process.
“So there’s a lot of aspects of prom that people are always organizing right? So what is classroom A doing É what kind of music are they interested [in], what are people going to be wearing,” Eng said.
Eng described the inspiration for their startup as coming from her teams’ first-hand experience in high school of seeing how much prom mattered to people, wanting to now help organizers through the process of making prom a positive experience.
“Girls took prom as such a serious occasion so it … [gave] us that idea that maybe we should do something for the younger generation. Because prom is such an important event, it’s kind of even like the coming of age event for students,” Eng said.
Senior Akashi Perera worked in a team of all international students to develop a project that also drew on their pre-college experience. Her team intends to create an online platform that will help aspiring international students connect with those already studying in the United States.
“There’s a severe lack of resources that kind of inform aspiring international students about the personal and social life of the U.S. college experience,” Perera said. “The goal of our platform is to kind of reduce the culture shock and the cultural barrier that international students feel when they come to the U.S.”
Perera explained that international students find it difficult to connect with international students already in the U.S. to network with when they are still in the application process. The team’s proposed platform would attempt to connect students through blog posts, video and one-on-one chatting.
Senior Salar Malik said that his team sought out to take on a large problem they believe would interest people, and landed on the issue of textbooks and the large expense they force onto students. He cited a figure from the College Board that in total over four years U.S. college students spend $96 billion on textbooks.
“That is an enormous burden for you, for me, for other students alike who already are strapped for cash,” Malik said. “We want to relieve some of that burden.”
Malik said his team took inspiration from platforms like Scratch, which is used for beginning instruction in computer science. He said his team wants to create similar interactive programs that will serve to replace traditional textbook instruction.
“We want to offer them an alternative which is accessible, which promotes ideals of different sets of learning … auditory, kinesthetic, visual,” Malik said. “We want to bring the vibrant playfulness alive; we want to leave the textbook-heavy future in the past.”
Perera’s team, who had a mix of programming and business experience, met during networking events held in the fall for students interested in StartUp Term. Perera has long had an interest in business and saw StartUp Term as a valuable opportunity for her.
“I’ve always had a passion for start-ups because I like having to kind of increase your problem solving skills because there’s challenges every day— I just like working in that type of team environment and coming together to solve a problem,” she said.
Eng and her team’s preparations for their start-up pitch involved meeting every two weeks and doing research such as contacting high schools. The team came together an hour early on the day of the pitch in order to work through nerves before going in.
“They’re going to be our potential investors, there’s just a lot of pressure to do well. But of course trying to practice over and over again eventually gets rid of those nerves,” Eng said. “They still make it very casual so you feel comfortable.”
Perera said she and her team felt confident going into the presentation because of the thorough business plan they had, but that they did feel that as international students they faced particular challenges.
“Sometimes it’s hard to present well because English is not our first language, so it’s sometimes hard for us to articulate our thoughts. That took some practicing,” she said.
Malik says that his team envisions working with both students and professors to create the interactive content they would offer and to make it possible to integrate it into the classroom. Acknowledging that the project was ambitious, he said that they took in various comments from their professors following their pitch.
“It’s also comforting that these are our professors, who will take any moment to put us at ease and not attack us. They gave us a lot to think about, because we were trying to bite off a lot,” he said.
Malik’s team, and up to seven other groups who presented, will now await the faculty’s decision on who will be accepted in StartUp Term. Traditionally four teams are selected to participate, and students will have to hold off selecting classes for next term until they hear back.
“This is I guess the hardest part of it É there would be no class effectively, so we would just be doing this,” Malik said. “So they want to really make sure that we want to do that É It’s a glorious way to end off my time here at Knox.”
Akashi Perera is the business manager for TKS.