An Eye for Innovation

by Karen Hseuh | 10/22/15 6:16pm

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Source: May Nguyen

In a school as culturally and academically diverse as Dartmouth, there’s bound to be immeasurable amounts of creativity and innovation. Coupled with a plethora of resources and opportunities at our disposal, the College often gives students full reign in developing their thoughts and passions. Resources such as the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network, Thayer School of Engineering, the Center for Service and the Neukom Digital Arts, Leadership and Innovation Lab give students the workplace to innovate.

The DEN Innovation Center and New Venture Incubator fuels not only the mind by offering a space completely open to creativity with its colorful furniture and whiteboard walls, but also the soul, offering unlimited snacks, drinks and most importantly, candy. The Neukom DALI Lab links computer science and graphic design students with partners in start-ups and throughout the community to foster ideas and implement them. From iPhone apps to biotech start-ups, ideas can be turned into reality in the blink of an eye.

While there’s no guarantee to success, the path to it is paved by campus resources, supportive faculty, interesting events and a community of like-minded, passionate people. Some students, long before they receive a degree, have already tried their hand at becoming their own entrepreneur.

Robert Sayegh ’18

“More than what meets the eye” is your first thought after meeting computer science and economics major Robert Sayegh ’18. While pong and sleeping seem to be his most obvious passions at first, his interest in computer science has motivated him in the field of entrepreneurship. He first taught himself how to code at 13 years old with simple HTML and PHP. While he had a long-time interest in coding, his official introduction to entrepreneurship was at last spring’s Hack Dartmouth event — the 24-hour hackathon hosted by the College. With the thought that wearable technology was the next generation, his group focused on the smart watch and its potential in terms of practicality and convenience. His team of three won first place with Swipr, a Pebble watch app that gave users the ability to keep track of their meal plan balance.

While Sayegh started the app on Pebble watches, he plans to go further and include Apple watches and Android smartwatches. This term, he helped organize Hack Dartmouth II by reaching out to sponsor companies, fundraising and coordinating logistics. While coding is something he does at school, at home Sayegh loves to play with his two cats, Clifford and Mayflower. He’s also a fan of listening to house music and EDM in his free time. On campus, he works in the DALI Lab and is a part of DEN.

Jayanth Batchu ’18

When people say that someone is going to cure cancer, they don’t generally mean it literally. For Jayanth Batchu ’18, the literal definition is a true possibility. With a fundamental goal of helping others, Batchu has always wanted to make an impact on the world. His dedication is what makes him a great entrepreneur.

“Entrepreneurship is fundamentally taking an objective or task and doing anything it takes to achieve that task,” Batchu said. “Anyone who can achieve that task is a good entrepreneur.”

His passion for helping others has lead him to pursue a biomedical engineering major. From participating in high school medical competitions to working with professors, he’s always felt drawn to research, science and medicine. From last winter until now, he has been working on an invention of a cancer treatment method involving nanoparticles, an idea he first developed in his junior year of high school. Of the current three types of cancer treatments, he believes all have flaws, inspiring him to innovate and continue his research on building and prototyping his treatment. Batchu works at the DEN as a DEN associate and host, and works with other DEN associates for the weekly DEN circle events. Outside of the college, his hobbies include watching movies and reading books.

May Nguyen ‘18

Starting out selling her own hand-drawn comic books in middle school, May Nguyen ’18 has always been interested in the start-up culture and entrepreneurship. Her passion in photography coupled with her interest in fashion has brought her closer to the artistic side of business. For Nguyen, clothing is a form of expression, an amazing and literal canvas of art.

“I read a lot about fashion and everything,” Nguyen said. “I’ve always thought of clothing as an art and a great way to express yourself.”

Taking inspiration from the Vietnamese hand-painted clothing industry, she came up with the idea of selling hand-painted dresses. Working with individual artists from her hometown in Vietnam, she made phone calls to different people who could hand-paint customizable designs onto dresses. To further incorporate the college into her business, she used her photos of the New England landscape and Dartmouth’s “campus-scape,” including the Baker Library and Dartmouth Hall, for guides. Her designs add a unique touch to simple solid-colored dresses, and her business allows her to pursue her passion for photography and art. She also participates in the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network in Residence living learning community and the DALI Lab as a designer.

Nguyen is a member of The Dartmouth staff.

Max von Hippel ’19

At first glance, Max von Hippel ’19 seems like your average Dartmouth student in his single-colored shirts and Patagonia backpack. As you talk to him, however, you realize several things — he’s good at talking, he’s good at coding and he can speak for hours about Costa Rica. Von Hippel started coding at the ripe age of 15, dedicating most of his time on Stack Overflow with a focus on C# and Vectors.

He develops every app with creativity, passion and humanitarianism. Bluster is a weather app he developed with famous quotes and bad puns used for the weather forecast. He made Essayist to teach children how to write the standard five-paragraph essay by breaking down ideas into parts and structuring of the essay. And his most popular app with over 8000 downloads, Chetawani (Nepali for “warning”) aims to organize volunteers following the earthquake in Nepal. He interned at the University of Queensland in Australia, working with biology professor Robert Trivers to make an app for ambulatory assessment of aboriginals and to study the ecotoxicology of the island and its effects on the mental health of the indigenous people. Focusing on symbols and audio-recordings for the app, he became more interested in communication with other cultures through code, thus sparking his interest in engineering and the DEN.

Professor Andrew Samwick

For 11 years, economics professor Andrew Samwick has directed the Rockefeller Center to motivate and inspire the next generation of public policy leaders. After realizing that social entrepreneurship was necessary in the world beyond Hanover, he designed and launched a course in which students could hit three crucial points necessary for their futures — the study of poverty and its causes and consequences, the nature and style of innovation and innovation itself, with a project in which students would design a concept for a social venture addressing poverty. By the end of the course, called “Social Entrepreneurship,” projects would be ready for competitions and pitches, leading students to think of ideas and giving them the resources to expand on them. Samwick describes the value of educating students in this field.

“You have to be relentlessly focused on creating value for the people,” Samwick said. “That’s a very humbling experience, to be so focused on a something that’s greater than you.”

Dartmouth’s focus on its liberal arts environment gives students the worldliness and curious mind to follow through with their ideas. The many campus resources are open to everyone, and while success may not always be the outcome, there are one hundred and one opportunities to develop ideas further. Go on that three-minute trek to the DEN innovation center, sit in one of their plush chairs, grab a Snapple from the drinks fridge, a bag of popcorn and just relax. People in the glass rooms are working hard as you sit back, listen to the quiet bustle and think. Innovate. The underlying shared energy may spark some motivation and wake up some dormant ideas that have been in your mind all this time. Who knows? A small idea may be a spark today but the next big thing tomorrow.