Takeaways from Sprout 2017

Flights from ORD to SFO: $200. 5 days in SF on Sprout: Priceless.

Sprout is an immersive experience hosted by EPIC for any Northwestern undergraduate to explore entrepreneurship first-hand through a trek to the San Francisco Bay Area. I had the honor of planning and executing our first Sprout on the West Coast this past winter break and it was an awesome time.

After talking with multiple startups, VCs and tech companies, I’ve noted some of the most important takeaways from our time on Sprout.

Our first visit was to GSV Labs!

DAY ONE: GSV, Indiegogo, Particle

On our first day we took a trip to GSV Labs, a VC firm focused on education, technology, entertainment, sustainability, big data, mobile and others. We were greeted by Suzee Han (co-founder of EPIC!) and Li Jiang (co-founded a dorm supplies company at NU). We sat down with them for two hours and asked questions about startups, tech and life. Here were their tidbits of advice:

  • Cherish relationships — especially in college.
  • Cold email people for advice. Use the student card. People are willing to help.
  • Discover what your strengths and weaknesses are; your strengths are what give you energy.
  • Find something at NU to build — startup, club, app, something!
  • Default to YES. “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
  • Always follow-up and say thank you.

Next, we visited Indiegogo. We learned how Indiegogo is offering new services beyond just normal crowdfunding to succeed in their mission: “Together, we make ideas come to life.” Also, we learned that innovation can come not only from startups, but also from established companies. This is known as intrapreneurship.

The third site visit on the first day was Particle, a startup which creates both hardware and full-stack software IoT solutions. The CTO/Co-founder,Zachary Crockett, spoke with us about the company, its technology and its founding story. Dan Jamieson, a Kellogg alum and Particle’s GM of Enterprise Platform, answered more of our questions and dropped this wisdom:

  • “Be able to reinvent yourself” -David Brooks
  • Learn how to think. Avoid rigidity in thinking.
  • Being entrepreneur means you see something wrong with the world and are relentless in fixing the problem.
  • If you are looking for a startup, get a read on the founder. It’s important to judge how empathetic a founder is.
  • Just start building something!

DAY TWO: Workspan, Google

We spoke with 5 employees at Workspan, a software startup that created a marketing platform for businesses to develop partnerships with others. Of the 5 employees, all 3 of the co-founders were present to talk to us. Their words of wisdom:

  • “Startup is a frame of mind” -Mayank Bawa, Co-founder of Workspan
  • Concept of startup based on TechCrunch is WRONG; it’s not reality. Startups aren’t as glamorous as they seem.
  • Pick the right team for a startup.
  • Stay ethical, yet stay profitable in business.

Our last site visit of the trip was to Google’s headquarters. We talked to two content managers about their time at the company. Google has over 70,000 employees, so the jobs there are more specialized than at a startup where employees wear multiple hats. While different from a startup, Google still definitely has a ton of perks that draw people in.


Working hard at the NU SF Campus

The students were split up into three groups and given seven hours to come up with a startup idea, build a business model and pitch the company. Ahren Alexander (founder of EPIC’s Launch) gave an ideation workshop and Jessica Tan (former president of EPIC) shared a pitching workshop. Suzee and Jessica judged the competition. None of the students had previous experience with entrepreneurship so the goal of the startup challenge was to emulate in a short period of time what it’s like to be an entrepreneur.

The theme we heard throughout our trip was that teaching entrepreneurship can help, but the best way to learn how to build a company is to actually go out and do it. Sprout’s purpose was to introduce students to startups and get them excited by talking to people in the field and participating in hands-on activities. While there is always ways to improve, Sprout was a resounding success and hopefully Sprout and EPIC can empower students to start their own companies or projects now.

Learn more about Sprout and all of EPIC’s other inniatives at https://www.epicnorthwestern.com. We welcome any and all feedback or questions.