Entrepreneurship is an increasing interest of many students in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE), and third-year Stavan Shah is no exception. He’s president of Startup Exchange, an organization dedicated to – as you might guess from the name -- building up the startup community among Tech students. It’s the largest organization of its kind on campus.
Each semester Startup Exchange hosts numerous events. These include fireside chats with entrepreneurs, both locally and nationally based, networking activities, and educational workshops. Two years ago, Shah himself developed and implemented the Startup Exchange Membership Program for first- and second-years. The program teaches them the basics of starting their own company – everything from handling legal issues to marketing. Participating students work in teams through the customer discovery and ideation process, and then share their ideas with investors at a pitch competition that concludes the experience.
“Freshmen and sophomores arrive at Tech with ideas about how they can solve some very big issues,” Shah explained. “And obviously people here have engineering capabilities that let them build very cool things. We’re trying to give them the fundamentals – and the confidence – to do the actual building.”
Shah was personally bitten by the entrepreneurial bug when he was in high school, and his family took a trip to San Francisco. “My dad drove me around to the headquarters of Google and Facebook,” he remembered, “and then that night, I was eating dinner with my family in an Indian restaurant, and there was an investor meeting happening right next to us. I got to overhear everything, beginning with the pitch. The whole experience made me excited about the possibilities opened up by entrepreneurship.”
Shortly thereafter, he and some friends started a t-shirt company that donated all profits to flood relief in South Carolina -- in total they raised about $40k. After he graduated, Shah passed the company on to some younger students. He knew that once he arrived at Tech, he wanted to focus on making a significant impact on the Institute’s enterprising students.
“The community focus is what sets Startup Exchange apart from other organizations in Tech’s entrepreneurial space,” Shah said. “At nearly every event we host, we allocate an hour just for networking. People from all different majors, all different cultures, all different industries, bouncing ideas off each other. That’s where innovation happens.”
He went on to note that as important as programs such as CREATE-X and the InVenture Prize are, they are more appropriate for students who have startups further along in the development process. In contrast, Shah said, “We are targeting people who aren’t quite there yet. They know they’re interested in entrepreneurship, and they want to attempt it. Startup Exchange provides students with an opportunity to try things out – no repercussions or strings attached. It’s a low-stakes place to fail, and even if that happens, the entire experience is one of learning. That in itself is very rewarding.”
Shah has personally benefited from his years of participation in Startup Exchange. He said, “It’s been exhilarating to be able to learn from industry-leading individuals who have built companies that started from a basement and grew to be multi-billion dollar corporations! I've had the opportunity to work hand-in-hand with many of these notable individuals to help further the mission of Startup Exchange, which has allowed me to make a substantial positive chance to Atlanta’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“Having been on Startup Exchange’s executive team for three years, it's been exciting to see the rise of student entrepreneurship on campus,” Shah adds. “More than ever before, students feel as though they have the resources and network to build out their own ideas here in Atlanta. The city is increasingly becoming a hub for startups and rapidly-growing companies, and I have no doubt in my mind that Atlanta will be one of leading innovation hubs in the next 20-30 years.”
Startup Exchange events are held in the Garage at Tech Square and are open to the entire Georgia Tech and Atlanta community. To learn more, you can follow the organization’s Instagram and also check out their website.
H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering