European Innovation Academy students share experiences from their summer in Portugal

Over the summer, Berkeley students attended the European Innovation Academy (EIA) in Cascais, Portugal for an intensive, fast-paced learning experience, where they learned from venture capitalists, serial entrepreneurs, executives from Silicon Valley companies, and experts from across the globe. For one week prior to the Academy, Berkeley students met in Porto, Portugal to build the foundations of the Berkeley Method of Entrepreneurship. 

We spoke with four of the Berkeley students who attended EIA to hear about their experiences and insights, as well as highlights from their stay.

Photo by Ciano Vetromille

What drew you to the European Innovation Academy?

Audrey: I was drawn to EIA by pure curiosity. “Innovation” and “entrepreneurship” were words that I heard all the time, but I was still unsure about what they really meant. This is partially because they are used in such a mythical context in our culture and partially because they are so different from my everyday life. As an undergraduate engineer, my comfort-zone is formulas and I never even had time to sit and wonder what innovation and entrepreneurship are, other than when I was browsing the Study Abroad website. 

Chloe: I had always been interested in startups, but I never really understood what it meant to be an entrepreneur. This program was unique in that it offered participants an opportunity to build a startup from the ground without all the risks commonly associated with entrepreneurship. For me this was the perfect opportunity to try something that had always scared me. The program was nothing like I could have imagined though and I learned so much more than simply how to create a startup.

Pranav: After reading the long list of study abroad programs that Berkeley offers, it was clear that the coolest one, or at least the most interesting one based off of description was EIA Portugal given that it was shorter than most and involved creating a startup, which I thought was a unique way to spend a summer. 

Eliya: Three years ago I watched a Ted Talk about change that highly influenced me to place myself among changers. Since then, I have been inspired by entrepreneurs and disruptive innovation and strive to be in an environment that encourages me to think outside the box and find solutions to big problems. The international aspect of EIA is an added bonus, as people with a wealth of different backgrounds deliver a wealth of new perspectives.

Photo by Ciano Vetromille

What was the best experience during the program?

Audrey: The program, compounded with adjusting to life in Portugal, was so intense that every little thing that happened felt like either the worst or best thing to ever happen to me. The most rewarding experience I had was going back and watching all my daily vlogs at the end of the program. This gave me time to reflect on everything that happened with the wisdom of hindsight. It also tied the entire journey up into a manageable package, making reflecting that much easier. It was amazing to see myself struggle and then overcome the same struggles all within the videos. 

Chloe: The best experience during the program was definitely getting to meet all the amazing people who went and making genuine connections. Berkeley is such a huge campus and there are so many interesting people everywhere, but it can be hard to actually connect with people. The people who I met on the program I would have probably never met if it weren’t for this experience and I am so grateful because they are some of the best people in the world. I also got to meet so many people from all over the world. It was amazing to talk to them about their cultures and beliefs. I now have friends all over the world, something I never thought I would be able to say.

Pranav: The best experience I had during the program was most definitely meeting amazing people. Of course, creating the product itself was both rewarding and fun, but it was the relationships that I built with both my team and others from around the university, the U.S., and the world that I cherished the most. 

Eliya: The winner & awards announcements was the best experience. And no, I didn’t win. Sadly, environmental projects generally don’t win. However, the moment of seeing who actually won was the best part. Four women and 5 people of color. Unlike global trends, white men were the minority of winners, not the majority. The tech industry has and is suffering from discrimination against women and people of color, and so to see these participants win EIA filled me with an appreciation of the wonderful opportunity of participating in a program like EIA. It might take time, but change is coming, or it might already be here.

Photo by Ciano Vetromille

What are some skills you will bring back to Berkeley?

Audrey: Going back to Berkeley, I am going to bring more humility and more awareness for my strengths and weaknesses. Before the program, my mindset was only oriented toward the things I am good at. Because of that, I limited myself to the realms that I felt more comfortable and rarely put myself in uncomfortable situations. Going back, I hope to be more open to doing things I am bad at. 

Chloe: Throughout the program, I learned a lot about entrepreneurship and startups, but I think my biggest takeaway was actually personal. Coming into the program I was very nervous about going abroad with so many strangers because I am normally a very shy person. This past month I have made more friends than I ever thought possible and these connections have helped me grow and be more confident and open with others. That is something I definitely want to bring back to Berkeley. Another thing I learned was that there are many different ways to be a leader and through this program I have found ways in which I express leadership best and areas where I need to improve. I hope to continue working on my leadership skills at Berkeley.

Pranav: Skills that I learned creating a startup are not just skills for that space, but skills that are, in fact, useful in every facet of one’s life. For example, when faced with an overwhelming amount of work, it became necessary to prioritize certain tasks over others to produce something that was “good enough” — this is a skill in my opinion because it became clear very early that perfection was unattainable. Therefore, we had to complete tasks in a manner that was good enough where the team was satisfied. Another important skill that I believe is important especially in relationships is communication. Often times when working we fail to understand that conflict that arises is good and should not be avoided. Instead, it is something that should be met head on and talked about with no inhibition in order to ensure that everyone is given a chance to voice their concerns and feedback with the team, company, and idea. 

Eliya: There are endless great ideas out there. The hard part is finding the right people to work together with on a worthy project. Sometimes, the best person for leading a project might be someone shy in the corner, and not the outgoing assertive one. Listening to others, building on each other’s ideas, and proper sourcing of talent are some of the lessons I will take with me. Find the right team, and together you’ll find the right project.

Photo by Ciano Vetromille

Tell us about your startup/venture project. 

Audrey: Our team is working on a social music app to bridge the gap between social media and the music streaming industry. The app is designed to move the music discovery and sharing process into the instant age with a swipe-based music discovery feature and in-app social music sharing.

Chloe: My group was aiming to improve the way that people commute. We wanted to build a software that would optimize the use of carpooling, public transportation, and ride sharing for commuters in order to improve traffic and reduce carbon emissions.

Pranav: My startup, Aegis Systems, developed the Omnis, a combination of state of the art sensors and IoT software that can track a user’s vitals and location and transmit that data in real time back to a central hub. The Omnis software then notifies a supervisor when a user is experiencing distress allowing for quicker response. This was meant to reduce worker related injuries in all intensive industries, may they be first responders to construction, and on from there. 

Eliya: I came to EIA to work on a problem that has been on my mind for quite some time: Consumer behavior in developed countries is harmful to the environment. Where is the environmental and financial opportunity in this problem? Carbon offsetting solutions are either expensive or inaccessible. Our team built a platform that allows for convenient offsetting of carbon to equip consumers and businesses to be net carbon positive.

Tell us about your team. What was it like to work with students from other countries?

Audrey: Working with students from other countries was actually very comfortable for me, coming from Berkeley. On our team there was a fellow Berkeley student, originally from Korea, two people from a university in China, one Canadian, and me. This demographic breakup is very similar to most of the groups I find myself in at Berkeley, so it was overall very familiar. It was much more difficult for me to work with people with different interests than myself. For example, our team was working in the music streaming industry. Some of our group knew a bit about this industry before we started working together. I knew nothing about this industry and overcoming this hobby barrier was more difficult than any cultural barrier.

Chloe: My team had people from the US (California and Texas), China, Brazil, and Portugal all studying in different majors from marketing to mechanical engineering. It was amazing to work with such a diverse group of students all trying to solve a problem that all of us have faced. Our differences in the culture that we grew up in allowed each of us to see aspects of our problem that others may not have thought of. I also learned a lot about how people communicate, especially because many of my teammates did not speak English as a first language. We had to learn to talk to each other and how to have healthy conflict.

Pranav: My team was comprised of three guys and two girls; two people including myself were from Berkeley, one from the University of Michigan, and two students from the Instituto Superior Técnico in Portugal. With all the diversity, I found that my team had so much perspective and experience to draw upon that an idea really does get looked at from all sides. At the same time, working with people from around the world gave me insight into how others countries and cultures view solutions and how differing educations actually affect the solution one comes up with to a specific issue or problem.

Eliya: My team consisted of three women and two men. And as we phrased it in the pitch deck: our problem is global, and so should the team. Team members are from Cape Verde (Africa), Israel (Middle East), Germany & Austria (Europe), and one from the USA. Working with students from other countries offered the team a more global perspective on the issue than what we could have created solely as individuals.

Photo by Ciano Vetromille

Learn more about the European Innovation Academy on their blog.

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