Below is the first batch of the reflections from students that participated in the Kai trip to NYC. For an overview of the trip see the itinerary here, or read the Wesleyan Argus article on the trip here. For those that are interested in more trips like these, check back often! We'll be posting details in July on upcoming trips to NYC, Boston, and Silicon Valley.
Joshua Su ‘17
My trip to explore the New York tech scene with Kai Wesleyan challenged my preconceptions of entrepreneurship and what it means to start up your own company. I realized the importance of incorporating what you are passionate about, (for me it is change in the world and implementing systems to aid developing countries) in addition to determining the type of company that will invest in your skills and interests.
By hearing the perspectives and experiences of Wesleyan alumni was such a great addition to the amount of time I had to spend reflecting on my life goals, plans, and its overall trajectory. Although I was unsure of what to expect from alumni who are well off in their individual careers, I learned the importance of investing time into developing your skills and constantly learning in this changing world.
The last thing that stuck out to me was that starting something on your own or within your core team of entrepreneurs, two aspects are key. Patience and endurance. Many mishaps and obstacles come along the way to a “successful” business, but by sticking with what you are passionate about and your business plan will go a long way. Coming from a college student who is still trying to be immersed and learn as much about creating viable, feasible, and sustainable businesses, this experience exploring the NYC tech scene has inspired me to seek out to colleagues, faculty, and alumni to be more involved in projects. I wish for students who come on future trips to be engaged in conversation and be willing to participate and inquire from the panels and “table-talks” with the alumni in addition to the unique and diverse group of colleagues around them.
Catherine Alvarado ‘16
Attending the Kai Entrepreneurship trip to New York was enlightening, rewarding, and fulfilling. My excitement for the trip began as soon as we stepped foot in New York. I am originally from New York and seeing the vibrant city life reminded me that life outside the Wesleyan bubble exists. The crowded streets, fast moving traffic, and noise made me feel more alive and reminded me of my career aspirations. My main goal for the trip was to learn about start-ups in New York and how they differed from ones in San Francisco. I also wanted to meet alumni who worked in start-ups and learn about their experiences so far.
Our first stop was Grand Central Tech and entering the building helped me see that New York is also trying to build up its start-up community. Inside Grand Central Tech we visited Hopscotch and met with three Wesleyan alumni. To my great surprise one of the alumni was someone I was interested in meeting in the future, but did not have the courage to reach out to. Jason Rosado class of 1996 spent many years working in the financial sector and then transitioned to start-up land. I had so many questions to ask because I have conflicting career interests that include business, programming, and big data. Since Mr. Rosado had experience in finance and was now working with his own start-up I jumped at the opportunity to ask him as many questions as I could. I first asked how our current excitement about technology differs from the DotCom bubble in the 2000’s and he compared what life was like back then to now. After asking him this question I tried to stay as close as possible so I could ask more questions whenever the opportunity presented itself. Mr. Rosado answered all of my questions and I am very grateful for this.
I am thankful for the opportunity to attend this trip. Talking to the alumni reminded me that my life does not only revolve around classes. After the trip ended a phrase that stuck with me was: “They are called unicorn companies for a reason – they are exceedingly rare. There are tons of pros to tech, but instant riches is not one.”
Davion Wilson ‘15
The most rewarding aspect of the trip to New York City with Kai Wes would have to be the alumni panels. As a first generation low income student, it was extremely heartening and beneficial to see people who share a similar background as myself doing very wonderful things. Reflecting on this, I think it helped solidify the things that I wanted to do with my life and my career post-Wesleyan. I’ve been struggling with the question of what to do with my expertise and skills after Wesleyan, and it was very enlightening to know that others have been in the same boat.
With our panel and individual meeting with Jason Rosado of GivKwik it made it apparent that there are others who have gone through the same tension. I think with our Wesleyan education we are taught to think critically about economics and the social issues surrounding access and comfortability in relation to money. Just like Jason, I’ve thought about whether I would like to give and better the world, or if I would like to better myself. I too am tired of being “poor”, and I am stuck between the tension of relieving that, or figuring out a way to better my own self. I was really glad to be able to speak to someone who shared that experience, even though he spent 7 years in a career that wasn’t his true calling. This trip was wonderful in helping me realize that tension and help me understand what I really want to do after graduating. I want to make sure that I’m happy, and even if that means being broke and doing something I love, I would rather that than being stuck in a career where I’m unhappy.
Thanks for the experience!
Maurice Lee ‘15
The highlights of my trip were talking to the alumni we met on the day, and learning more about what Impact HUB was. Through talking with the various alumni, especially with David Jay during the Vietnamese Culture Show, I have been inspired to really figure out what exactly it is I want to do or build in my life. It was really interesting to hear about the different projects all these alumni were working on, and how they managed to successfully balance having a job at a large, reputable firm, while successfully maintaining and growing their own start-ups.
Since coming to Wesleyan, I've always been focused on getting a prestigious job to keep my options open, and to learn what I can before venturing out to start my own business, or to join a small start-up. I didn't know I could do both at the same time, and that the age of 25 is really quite late for an entrepreneur to start building his own business. If I am staying in the US after graduation, I would definitely get involved in the Impact HUB space. Membership isn't too expensive, and it seems like a great network to recruit people who are also passionate about entrepreneurship, and to have others to bounce ideas off of for new ventures. If I'm returning home to Hong Kong, I will attempt to find a similar circle of people. However, as I'm not as aware of the entrepreneurship culture back home, it might be harder to break into, especially since my ideas and approach might be quite different from what most entrepreneurs back home would consider.
Kayoung Yun ‘17
I recently became interested in the tech industry through my class on big data, so I have been hoping to gain an experience that will give me an initial insight into the field, especially from a Wesleyan alum’s perspective. Particularly, I was hoping to compare tech with finance, as finance is a field I have also been interested in for a while. Luckily, two of the alumni I met had transitioned from a career in finance to their current occupation, each for their own respective reasons. One thing that stood out to me was when Jason Rosado ’96 said he made his transition because he wanted to make a positive impact in the world through the work he did, and how his current role in Givkwik is allowing him to do so. I will still have to do a lot of thinking to find out what the right path will be, but what was clear at the end of our discussions was that we could only know from trying different things – especially in our twenties – to eventually find the answer.
Besides that, the discussions we had with the alumni taught me a few initial steps in launching a startup, such as different kinds of investment and various roles one can play within a company, which gave me a better idea of how to proceed with a project. Although my prior perception of entrepreneurship directly related it to the technological proficiency, I realized that it’s more about finding solutions to problems that only we can identify – as Jason put it, finding our unique gray area while everyone else looks at the black and white.
Rizwan Syed ‘17
As a sophomore studying economics and engineering, I have found entrepreneurship as a remarkably effective way to produce positive social impacts. I went with Kai to New York hoping to learn general things from those who had successfully built companies of their own and to also get answers to specific questions I had with regards to laying the foundation of a successful startup. I plan to spend this summer materializing some of my ideas and so this trip was particularly valuable in terms of understanding what it means to be an entrepreneur as well as the challenges that come with such an undertaking.
One of the most sobering things I heard was that entrepreneurship is not for the weak-hearted. It is relentless in demanding perseverance and consistent clarity of thought. But at the same time, all of the founders we talked to were unanimous in regarding this difficult, exhausting process as the most exciting, fulfilling work they have ever done.
It was also interesting to compare the experiences and attitudes of tech entrepreneurs in New York with those in my home state of California. I found many things in common – for instance, investors don’t invest in an idea, they invest in a team. At the same time, I was pretty surprised to find Impact Hub (a business incubator) nearly empty on a Saturday afternoon. In the Silicon Valley, I always heard of 80-hour work weeks where founders routinely spend nights and weekends developing their products. Coming from the Valley, it was pretty fun to observe the interplay between cultural differences and norms of the industry!
I am very grateful to have gotten this opportunity to get a glimpse of the tech scene in New York and to connect with Wesleyan alumni who are also successful entrepreneurs. I am now very excited to collaborate with the people I met on this trip as I continue to work on my own projects in the weeks and months ahead.
Mateusz Burgunder ‘15
I joined Kai Wes on their trip to San Francisco during spring break, during which we met people at relatively small and young companies, who could share their insights into the entrepreneurial Silicon Valley culture. This time, I followed Kai Wes to NYC, where we met recent Wesleyan alumni working in a range of industries.
In contrast to the Silicon Valley trip, where I learned about ideas being transformed into small businesses and unicorns, I was more interested in the similarities of the people who thrive in this industry.
Interestingly but not at surprising to me is that the alumni I met on this trip do not strongly associate themselves with the word “entrepreneur.” In retrospect, they notice that they have accomplished entrepreneurial objectives, but their motivation to succeed was never led by a professional title or income. The people I met were people who are driven to solve an unmet need that they personally associate themselves with. It was obvious that they love what they do, and they explain that their professional success is strongly tied to their personal success.
Chris Meade, co-founder and CEO of SportsRecruits (http://sportsrecruits.co/), initially did not think about starting a company to advise high school athletes on colleges. It began more as a hobby, but as soon as the demand for his coaching was apparent, he started running the business as a company with people he knew he could trust.
After talking with Chris, I also realized how important it is to be well connected with a variety of people. Many of the luckiest events and most influential experiences are difficult if not impossible to predict. Being known by more people allows you to offer your skills or products to more people. While luck is fairly random, I think that the more you search for it, the more often you will find it.