Introducing CORE: A Community of Student Founders at Georgia Tech
We do things differently at Startup Exchange
Student entrepreneur organizations at universities have been on the rise for the last decade. At least at all of the top universities in the US, there are variations of the same type of student organization at each campus: Spark SC at the University of Southern California, Bruin Entrepreneurs at UCLA, Harvard Ventures at Harvard, TCO Labs at John Hopkins, MPowered at University of Michigan. Many, many of them were started within the past 10 years.
All of these organizations have one goal: to foster student entrepreneurship.
Despite these organizations having evolved in relative silos, they all operate in an almost eerily similar way. Most are run by students, undergraduate or graduate, though a few are more closely watched by related academic departments or faculty. Many of them are tied to the technology clubs, organizations, and communities at their schools — a lot of them actually host the school’s main hackathons. A good number of them run accelerator-like programs, host speaker events featuring impressive industry professionals and founders, throw entrepreneurship and innovation conferences, or hold pitch/business plan competitions. They come in many different flavors and styles, but the core ingredients remain the same.
Yet, despite it all, a poignant question presents itself: Does it work?
First, there’s the difficult task of measuring the success of all these initiatives run by the student entrepreneur organizations. Students may win the pitch competitions, but do they proceed to start building whatever it was they just pitched? How does one determine the results of an entrepreneurship and innovation conference? Surely accelerators must produce measurable results, yet more often than not the students going through the program end up disbanding their startup efforts…which technically contributes to the metric of success.
Then, of course, there’s the much bigger existential question: do these initiatives and organizations actually help student entrepreneurs?
At Startup Exchange, we’ve gone through many evolutions in the several years since our founding. We’ve done pitch competitions, entrepreneurship hackathons, regular hackathons, speaker series, accelerator programs. It was certainly fun, yet there was always that nagging thought at the back of our minds. The new and aspiring students that attended our events and participated in our initiatives definitely seemed to enjoy the fruits of our labor. They came, they learned, they connected, and they grew. Eventually, some of them would start their own companies. And then…they’d leave.
We had stopped providing value for them.
So, we kept experimenting and gathering feedback from our community. It was difficult, abandoning some popular initiatives and forgoing some opportunities. But we were dedicated to fulfilling our mission: to help student entrepreneurs at Georgia Tech.
That’s how we created CORE.
It was an absurdly simple idea.
Bring student founders together…and have them hang out with each other.
CORE is our private community of student founders at Georgia Tech.
Our thesis: Building a startup is hard. As a student, it’s even harder. At CORE, we help our members by connecting them with valuable mentors and connections, from startup founders to potential customers to potential cofounders to venture capitalists. We help our founders through our network, leveraging Startup Exchange resources like our sponsors, Sequoia Capital. Beyond that, we provide a space for like-minded people to share their challenges, learnings, solutions, jokes, and more.
At first, we struggled to define exactly what we would do and how we would do it. We thought about membership requirements, different types of activities and meetings we would hold, how we would encourage people to hang out without forcing them, how we would measure success, etc. We tried asking other organizations at other universities for advice, but no one else had really done something quite like this. So, we kept experimenting. It took a while, but we eventually realized that all we really needed to do was to gather the right people and get them to meet each other (and smooth it over with free dinners). No big time commitments, no forced meetings, no club points systems.
And then it took off.
After about a year of beta testing and development, we’re finally debuting CORE to the world. We’ve started off in 2018 with 11 amazing companies, made up of student founders both currently in school and recently graduated. Our group includes founders who have landed on the Forbes 30 Under 30 List, companies part of the Kairos 50, startups who have been accepted into Y Combinator, students who have placed in the finals of Georgia Tech’s Inventure Prize. Now, we’re continuing to grow as we bring more student founders into our community. Our goal is to have CORE become the hub of student entrepreneurs at Georgia Tech who are dedicated to building something great and supporting each other. If you’re a student working on something cool at Georgia Tech, we want you to join.
For the longest time, we’ve tried incredibly hard to build a student entrepreneur community at Georgia Tech and provide value for them. That’s what we’ve done at CORE.
The entrepreneurial journey is tough. Pretty much everyone says “why are you doing that startup when you could just go work at a successful company and make a lot of money”, so it’s kind of demoralizing sometimes when it’s all you hear. So, when you hang out with other student founders, it’s actually incredibly validating — you know they’ve all been there and you can talk to them about the problems you’re facing and the decisions you have to make. When you think you’re crazy to start a company, it’s nice to be with people as crazy or even crazier. I’ve been searching for a community like this for the past 4 years, and I’m glad I’ve finally found it.
We’re glad we found it, too.
So, look out world.
Meet the entrepreneurs of tomorrow.