Computer Science Students Interface with Entrepreneurs

 

Pictures from the event

Stony Brook, NY, November 22, 2013 

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recent Start-UP NY initiative is aimed at creating tax-free zones to attract and grow businesses that partner with a SUNY campus.

With that in mind, the timing couldn’t be better for Stony Brook computer science students who recently met with Long Island entrepreneurs at the Students and Start-Ups event, hosted by the Department of Computer Science, Accelerate Long Island and the Career Center.

The entrepreneurs included John Murcott of CEO Karma 411, an event crowd-funding software company; Jeffrey Leventhal, of Work Market, Inc., a company that helps businesses connect with freelancers, consultants and contractors, Tyler Roye, CEO of GroupGifting.com, which develops technologies that transform eCommerce into social and mobile commerce, and Maria Pineda, an emerging entrepreneur and veteran scientist who translates computational biology into practical pharmaceutical solutions.

Students networked with these business leaders in the Computer Science Building prior to an hour-long panel discussion. When the panel discussion ended, students had the opportunity to have one-on-one sessions with them.

Mark Lesko, former Brookhaven Town supervisor, and the current executive director of Accelerate Long Island, moderated the event. When Lesko asked why he chose to become an entrepreneur, Leventhal said, “You don’t choose to be one. It chooses you.”

Murcott compared the challenges of entrepreneurship to university life saying, "Every week is finals week. You have to decide if you want to live like that.”

Roye said that when he launched his first start-up in 1995, the Long Island region wasn’t able to provide the resources to fuel those opportunities. "You had to go to the city to get a mentorship," he said, adding that the region is ripe for start-ups following in the footsteps of Silicon Alley.

Undoubtedly, what most interested the students was that companies were hiring and what types of candidates they were seeking.

While Roye answered, "programmers" and added that "more lines of codes are being written for mobile devices now than for traditional software," Leventhal said his company is looking more for "personality fits than technological expertise."

"There are two types of skills sets — a mile wide and an inch deep or an inch wide and a mile deep. Someone with broader knowledge is more helpful for companies like mine," Murcott said.

Roye said that his company hopes to add "15 to 18 people in the next 12 months."

Because students are at a disadvantage when it comes to business experience, Lesko asked the panel how important experience is when applying at a start-up.

"Don’t worry about experience — passion is what you want," said Roye. Murcott said that an ideal candidate has a strong skill set, a great attitude and experience. “Most of the time you don’t get all three so if you only get two experience is the least important," he said.

When the subject of who to choose as a business partner came up, Lesko compared the situation to a marriage. "Do not rush," said Murcott. It’s okay to go into business with a friend but see the pitfalls. Go very, very slowly.”

Pineda’s advice was: "Think about what you’re not good at and find someone’s who is good at what you’re not."

Murcott said that the usual formula is for one partner to be more technology-oriented and the other partner to be more of a marketing person. He added, "A [suitable] partner is someone you want to deal with even after you have disagreed."

Noting that neither the panelists nor the students had broached the subject of making money Lesko asked, "What if someone says they want to get rich?"

"Investors expect a substantial return," said Leventhal. "If we’re successful, everyone goes to the pay window together. Instead, focus on how to build an extraordinary product. “

Murcott said, "Don’t spend all of your money right away. Work off the assumption that whatever your idea is, it will change. Don’t wait for a perfectly engineered product because it may not work. Get something good. A five-year business projection is very hard to make."

Following the panel discussion Career Center Director Marianna Savoca left the students with this thought: "When thinking of forming a start-up, ask yourself what your passion is and what it is that you care about so much that it is all you want to think about. All of these panelists are still taking risks and building their business models."

"I learned a lot about what it takes to build a start-up — sheer amounts of dedication,” said senior computer science major Yousuf Haque. "It's not just about implementing the cool idea, it's about implementing it, and standing behind your product, constantly making it better and building that into a feasible business strategy. Staying hungry is key in the world of start-ups and talking to the panel has motivated me to stay hungry and always ask for more.

"Students and Start-Ups was a great opportunity to facilitate introductions between computer science students and local start-up companies," said computer science professor and SPIR Coordinator Rong Zhao. "We look forward to having more student and technical events that foster industrial partnerships and showcase the technology and talent we have to offer."

For more information about the event and the Department of Computer Science, contact christineatcs.stonybrook.edu (Christine Cesaria) Or for information about recruiting computer science students, contact andrea.lipackatstonybrook.edu (Andrea Lipack).

—Glenn Jochum (Photos by John Griffin)