How do you make it in a startup? Tenacity, perseverance, and authenticity
What Downtown Brooklyn students learned at the latest Talent Connect Open Office Week.
November 09, 2019
Last week, more than 40 students from Downtown Brooklyn’s colleges and universities had the chance to enter the offices of Brooklyn startups and sit at the table with company founders. The visits were part of Downtown Brooklyn Partnership’s Talent Connect initiative which aims to introduce students to the area’s booming tech economy. Students came from City Tech, NYU Tandon, LIU Brooklyn, St. Joseph’s College, St. Francis College, Pratt, and several other CUNY campuses.
The week started at Sports Recruits, an online platform that helps high school athletes navigate the world of college recruiting. Founder Matt Wheeler told the story of how he started the company with a friend in the basement of his parents’ house. Working for years in obscurity, the duo has now built the company to more than 40 employees, with an office in MetroTech and views of the Brooklyn Bridge. Wheeler attributed his success to simply not giving up, a message that resonated with the students.
Sports Recruits founder Matt Wheeler in the company’s conference room
On Tuesday, we headed to CLIP Bike, a hardware company based at New Lab in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Founders Somnath Ray and Clement Alcala held the students’ attention with tales of their struggle with the complexity of building a new product from scratch. CLIP Bike (which won our Future of Transportation pitch contest) makes a detachable motor for bicycles, converting them into e-bikes with ease. They, too, stressed the theme of persistence with the students. “You have to be crazy to want to do this,” Alcala said.
CLIP Bike founders Som Ray and Clement Alacala at New Lab
The students headed up to WeWork Dumbo Heights on Wednesday, where they heard from Pico founder Nick Chen. Fresh off a $4.5 million round of fundraising, Pico has more than doubled its team since June. Chen told the students what he looks for in a new hire: someone who can solve problems; think creatively; and prioritize preparation. Some students asked about starting a business fresh out of school, which he cautioned against, suggesting they get more experience at larger companies and expand their networks before pushing off alone.
Nick Chen, founder of Pico, talks to students
On Thursday, the students found themselves in the new offices of Propel, at 397 Bridge St. The Downtown Brooklyn software company builds software to help people manage their electronic benefit transfers (food stamps) from their phones. Founder Jimmy Chen explained his vision for a world where technology and software has a use for working people, rather than as a toy or amusement. One of Propel’s most recent hires, Chanice St. Louis, also sat down with the group, and told her story of starting a career in retail, then going through an intensive coding bootcamp, and eventually landing a job as a software engineer.
3-D printing startup Makelab opened its Gold Street office on Friday, and the curious students packed into their small but buzzing office. Founders Christina Perla and Manny Mota talked about the need to keep up with modern technology, but not to necessarily implement every new thing that comes down the pipeline. They explained that a primary source of marketing is simply doing a good job, and leaving customers feeling that Makelab went above and beyond in their work.
Founders Christina Perla (center) and Manny Mota (far right) opened up their 3D printing office to Brooklyn students
The week’s visits furthered, on an incremental but meaningful scale, the mission of Talent Connect. Too often, we find that the startups and tech companies in the area are unaware of all of the talent coming out of Downtown Brooklyn’s colleges and universities, and, similarly, many students are unaware of the growing number of companies that are often within walking distance. These visits give students the opportunity to learn from the hard-won experience of entrepreneurs, and also gives startups direct contact with the drive, ambition, and talent of local students.
We continue our efforts to bridge the gap between these two worlds with our Talent Connect jobs board, with which local tech companies can post jobs and internships. Students are alerted to these opportunities directly through targeted emails and e-newsletters.
Read more about the companies that took part in this edition of the Talent Connect Open Office Week:
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Talent Connect Open Office Week was made possible by funding from TD Bank, a keystone supporter of Talent Connect. We thank them for allowing us to do this work.