The Path to Entrepreneurship

Covering All BASES

During his sophomore year at Stanford, Alvin Tse ‘10 developed the idea for a photography application on the iPhone platform, which had recently launched.

He envisioned a photo sticker booth application that allowed users to decorate their digital photos with playful decorative frames and stamps.

He later found his business partner in Martin Kou of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

During the summer of 2008, Tse and Kou invested $200 into developing the iPhone application, which they called PURI.

“We launched our first app, PURI—which is an Asian concept—on the iPhone platform, which turned out to be quite a hit,” said Tse. “We were at the top of the category at that time and to this day have over 600,000 downloads.”

Tse has since sold Think Bulbs, the company behind PURI. He has since reinvested that money into new ideas.

Before founding PURI, Tse was involved with entrepreneurship at Stanford through his involvement with Business Association of Stanford Entrepreneurial Students (BASES) and its Entrepreneurship Challenge (E-Challenge), originally a business plan competition that awarded $10,000 in prize money.

Tse joined BASES as a freshman. “[A friend] told me that BASES was the largest student entrepreneurship group and that all aspiring entrepreneurs should be involved.”

Tse later became President of BASES as a senior. “By senior year, I thought I could contribute more to BASES so I ran for Co-President,” said Tse. As president, he focused on branding BASES more throughout campus. He said he tried “to capture the innovative spirit within the students…and make sure [BASES] officers had the freedom to develop their creativity.”

But BASES also looks to develop young entrepreneurial talent from outside the Stanford community.

In partnership with Princeton University’s Business Today, BASES hosts Entrepreneurship Bootcamp, a three-day intensive program formed to develop young entrepreneurs from around the nation. Each year, BASES hosts an annual $150,000 Challenge that is comprised of the Entrepreneurship Challenge, the Social Entrepreneurship Challenge and the Product Showcase. Each of these challenges offers a $50,000 award for its winners.  Past winners of these competitions include Courserank and Kiva.

One new BASES project this year is called Forge, a program that serves as an incubator for products. Current BASES President Yin Yin Wu ‘11, a Computer Science major, said that it “targets undergrad engineers that want to focus on developing just a product.”

Alternative Routes

In addition to BASES, Stanford provided entrepreneurial resources for Tse through Stanford Student Enterprises (SSE) Labs.

As a senior, Tse founded Tixxme, a cross-platform mobile phone application to help connect individuals with friends based on physical location. SSE served as an incubator for the business.

During winter quarter of his senior year, Tse went on to apply to two incubators for Tixxme, Y Combinator and the newly formed SSE Labs.

SSE Labs was more attractive to Tse because he received $6,000 in seed money and free office space, which he deemed the more important of the two resources. Participants were expected to fully participate in workshops throughout the summer.

SSE Labs gives each start-ups a place to work, a place where they can support each other through idea exchange and receive the guidance of a mentor. In Tse’s case, his mentor later became an investor in Tixxme.

Another SSE Labs start-up is Black Swan Solar, founded by Tom Currier ‘13. It was the only non-mobile start-up in the inaugural batch. Cameron Teitelman ‘13, founder and managing director of SSE Labs said that SSE Labs was “probably able to provide more for this one clean-tech than we were for all the other mobile people.” Black Swan Solar also benefited from SSE Labs because through it, Currier met Black Swan’s current CEO Wasiq Bokhari as well as its employees and investors.

“SSE Labs is not here to develop the best companies but the best entrepreneurs…. Labs is most interested in the people, not the company,” said Teitelman. He explained that a community of talent, stellar mentorship, creative education, and financial resources meets the main needs of an entrepreneur.

The

Mayfield Fellows Program is another source of developmental support for young Stanford entrepreneurs. It gives participants the chance for skill development through summer internships and classes specifically designed for the fellowship.

The program typically accepts applications from sophomores, juniors, seniors, co-terms, engineers, and computer scientists.

Past fellows have “primarily been curious activists with good grades, motivated to do extraordinary things,” said Dr. Tom Byers, co-director of the program along with Dr. Tina Selig.

The Mayfield Fellowship Program is one of many projects that the Stanford Technology Ventures Program piloted in 1995 with the Engineering School and Graduate School of Business as the “umbrella group for entrepreneurship, and the entrepreneurship education center” of Stanford, according to Byers.

The program had its application process earlier this winter. Those who participate will take a course this spring and search for a summer internship.

The spring portion of the program introduces the fellows to venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and start-ups with the objective to connect these fellows and help them secure internships. Of the 2010 fellows, four out of the twelve members went to work at start-ups and one went to work for a consulting firm.

Although many aspiring entrepreneurs go through Stanford’s entrepreneurial programs and organizations to receive a jump start, others forgo the more structured institutional route to starting their businesses. Marty Hu ‘11 first came to Stanford to pursue Electrical Engineering, but he discovered an interest in business through his seminars on product design and entrepreneurial communication during his freshman and sophomore years.

Hu is now a Computer Science major and is looking to get his new company, Tezzit, up and running.

Co-founded with seminar classmate Stephen Wu ’11, Tezzit provides research about product pricing for online retail firms. Firms such as Amazon change their prices daily in order to maximize profits, but smaller firms are unable to do that. Hu and Wu hope Tezzit can fill that need for smaller companies.

Ultimately, the pair saw great appeal in starting up their business independently. “[We] hated having a boss [and] wanted to work on our own,” said Hu.

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