Student entrepreneurs take on challenges

Thursday, Nov 21, 2013

When Tsvetelina (Lina) Churalska and Sarah Nagy teamed up with two other Princeton students to build an energy drink business, they quickly realized that the process was going to be more difficult than they had anticipated. “Our market research showed that people wanted something a little different than an energy drink — healthy but more refreshing,” said Churalska, a graduate student at the School of Architecture who worked with Nagy, a graduate student in the Bendheim Center for Finance. The team, which included undergraduates Stephanie Sanders, an undeclared major from the Class of 2016, and Carly Paris, an economics major from the Class of 2014, decided to refocus their energy drink into a naturally sweetened refreshment based on barley tea, which has long enjoyed a following in Asia but is relatively unknown in the U.S. market.

The team developed their business plan and sample product with the help of Princeton’s eLab, a 10-week summer program that provides eight teams with funds, laboratory space and training in serial entrepreneur Steve Blank’s Lean LaunchPad curriculum. The eLab is sponsored by Princeton’s Keller Center, which is housed in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Other summer 2013 projects included a green grocer for underserved “food deserts,” a cloud-based mobile application for firefighters, and a 3-D printing technology that could replace traditional metal casting.

In addition to the eLab, Princeton has several student-run programs that promote entrepreneurship. The Princeton Entrepreneurship Club, or E Club, offers programs throughout the year, including a business plan competition known as TigerLaunch, an annual Princeton pitch competition, trips to startups in the Silicon Valley and New York City, classes, a speaker series, and hackathon opportunities. “E Club has a little of something for everyone,” said E. Vivian Qu, Class of 2014, co-president with Rishi Narang, Class of 2015.

For students dedicated to social change, the Princeton Social Entrepreneurship Initiative (PSEI) provides numerous opportunities through the year to combine entrepreneurial thinking with social innovation to create equitable and sustainable businesses. For example, PSEI teams up with E Club to provide a social entrepreneurship track for TigerLaunch. PSEI also hosts a speaker series and brings social entrepreneurs to campus to interact with students.

Graduate students can find networking opportunities through the Graduate Entrepreneurship Forum, which offers a workshop series featuring graduate alumni who have started their own companies, work at a startup or are involved with venture capital. The forum also organizes a monthly networking happy hour.