ed to learning and teaching S TEM skills
through hacking Texas Instruments
Until this past summer, neither of
us had any business experience. So the
startup process has been a learning
one, to say the least. We were fortunate
enough to be accepted into the NYU
Entrepreneurial Institute’s Summer
Launchpad program, which teaches the
“Lean Startup” methodology. Rather
than taking a traditional business plan-centric approach, founders are encouraged to treat each aspect of their business model as a hypothesis to be tested
as early, and often, as possible. We like
to think of it as a classic reinforcement
learning problem of balancing exploration and exploitation.
The Lean Startup methodology cer-
tainly eases the culture shock for some-
knew how to make it better. We now
had an idea for the startup competi-
tion, and it was better than geeky piz-
za-box guitar pedals or a yellow pages
for cars. That’s when it all changed for
the seven of us.
Schmidt (graphics designer),
Theo (website designer), Razvan (PR
manager), Mircea (finance manager),
Alex (design architect), Eddy (
visionary), and Alexandru (the pitcher)
are the team behind Urban Wallet.
Made from completely recyclable
material, the tear-resistant wallet
features cool, colorful designs you
can customize. It is handmade and
lightweight—a mere 15 grams when
empty. It has an outer layer of aluminum foil that blocks any attempt to
read data from your cards unless the
wallet is opened.
The next three months of mentorship in the acceleration program were
a unique experience. I lost track of
the number of times I fell asleep during class, in plain sight of the teacher.
Alex would try waking me, but I had to
finish the website of my dreams. Most
days I was completely exhausted. I even
failed a couple of midterms. But I also
got to talk to CEOs, pitch our idea, and
get feedback from some of the best entrepreneurs out there. I hung out with
my friends every day and worked on
something we deeply enjoyed. And in
the end we had something we could
proudly present before an audience.
When the jury started announcing
the winners, I felt a mixture of fear and
relief with each name called that was
not ours. Relief because I wanted us to
win first place and be the very last name
called. And fear—because I didn’t want
our name to not be called at all.
Finally, the time came to announce
the winner. The moment of truth. The
winning team was... Vita Box.
The glass shattered. That was Dan’s
team. He won and we lost. Or did we?
We are still a startup. We’re moving forward and getting our name out
there. Bloggers and magazines are writing about us. Dan even shared those
bottles of whiskey. But, perhaps, that’s
a story for another time.
Special thanks to our mentor Răzvan
I’m now in the fourth year
of my Ph.D. at Brown University. My research interests are centered on applying a computational
perspective to interdisciplinary problems such as nanostruc-ture design, plasma physics, and behavioral modeling of orca whales. I’m also
the cofounder of a young startup called
Geopipe. We are working on reconstructing highly detailed, semantically
rich, 3-D models of the real world across
wide geographic areas. Dr. Christopher
Mitchell—adjunct professor at New
York University, among other things—
is my cofounder. We met 12 years ago
through an online community dedicat-