This weekend, the Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative will hold Georgetown Startup Weekend, Entrepreneurship Day and TechBuzz, a series of events in the Rafik B. Hariri building that reflect the growing commitment to encouraging startups on campus and in the Washington, D.C. area.
The events will feature a keynote address from Washington Capitals and Wizards majority owner Ted Leonsis (CAS ’77), various breakout sessions and competitions judged by Priceline co-founder Scott Case, and a number of resources designed to facilitate building businesses.
Sweetgreen co-founder Nicolas Jammet (MSB ’07) said that he has been amazed by the recent success and growth of the startup culture at Georgetown.
“The only word I can use to describe it is growing, and what I’ve seen grow over the past seven years since I graduated, it’s really incredible to see the campus and the university and everyone invest in this idea,” Jammet said. “I think there’s always a kind of underground movement, or some excitement about it, but now it seems like that whole entrepreneurship movement at Georgetown is gaining incredible momentum.”
The weekend’s main event, Startup Weekend, aims to engage participants in a competition to create a startup. At the beginning of the 54-hour event, students, alumni and faculty members can pitch ideas and develop entrepreneurial pitches.
“Startup Weekend is a global movement, in that on any given weekend there are about 14 events going on. It’s in over 700 cities across the globe,” Victoria Schramm (COL ’12), director of events of UP Global, a nonprofit organization that supports entrepreneurship, said. “It’s our job as the organizers to bring in top-notch mentors, really great judges and all the resources that you need to really give it a go.”
Schramm, who majored in art history at Georgetown and also serves as a board member of the alumni group Georgetown Entrepreneurship Alliance, saw the inherent value in entrepreneurship upon leaving Georgetown and decided to commit herself to promoting it.
“Entrepreneurship is a way to build community, and for me entrepreneurship is a lot about economics,” Schramm said. “People who start companies are not only building things that the world needs and solving problems, but they’re also creating jobs. … I also think it’s important for people to do what they love. One of the things I saw as a Georgetown graduate was that many of my classmates were leaving and graduating and going to jobs that they weren’t super excited about.”
Georgetown Entrepreneurship Day will feature mini-keynotes from alumni, students and entrepreneurs followed by breakout sessions and the closing keynote from Leonsis.
Jeff Reid, who founded the Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative in 2009, said that the program of events grow every year and that students have begun to take more action each year.
“Every year we have some students that take the leap and start a company,” Reid said. “Companies like Encore, Ride and Lulu’s are pretty cool recent examples. One of the keynote speakers at TechBuzz, on Sept. 19, is an MBA grad named Dan Berger. And his company, Social Tables, is one of the fastest-growing startups in D.C. Those are just a few examples; every year we have more.”
Reid also made sure to welcome students and faculty from every corner of Georgetown to all entrepreneurship events, including TechBuzz, which will take place from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday before Startup Weekend begins.
“One of our biggest challenges is helping people that are not business majors realize that they’re 100 percent welcome for these kind of events,” Reid said. “So many times at Georgetown people assume because an event is in the Hariri building that if you’re not a business student, you’re not welcome. For the entrepreneurship program, everyone is welcome.”
Computer science professor Mahendran Velauthapillai has seen the practical benefits of working for a startup instead of a larger corporation.
“When you’re starting off, when you’re young, it’s good to go to a place where you get your hands dirty in everything,” Velauthapillai said. “So if you go to Google, what happens is you’ll be put in one specific thing. And you’ll be only specializing in that specific thing. And some people like that. … But when you go to these small startups, then you have to do everything.”
He did note, however, that because of the small size of the computer science department, encouraging risky startups has not historically been one of its priorities.
“It’s been kind of at the periphery,” Velauthapillai said. “But as a faculty member, I always tell you to think, think, think, and don’t be afraid to try something new.”
Georgetown students have encountered varying degrees of success with their startups, since a very large percentage of startups fail.
Jammet, along with classmates Nathaniel Ru (MSB ’07) and Jonathan Neman (MSB ’07), are an obvious success story, with the local D.C. salad restaurant startup now spanning over 25 locations across the Northeast. Jammet said that students interested in creating a startup should take the risk.
“Do it. I think that at certain times you just have to take that leap, and when you’re in school, surrounded with resources and professors and people who care about you, that’s the best time to take that leap,” Jammet said. “I see a lot of my friends that always wanted to do it, but then ended up going down the more traditional investment banking or consulting route. And once you go a year or two down that road, it’s really hard to leave. You end up staying for a while. … So take that leap early on.”