Through a global partnership with the Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology, students from the Amravati campus and Chennai Campus at Sri Ramaswami Memorial University (SRM) in India are studying as a part of Startup Semester at UC Berkeley this semester. We spoke to four SRM students with technical and entrepreneurship education backgrounds about their experience at Startup Semester and what the highlights of their stay have been.  

Sejal Mohata, Student at SRM University Photo Credit: Daniel Rozenblit

Is there anything new or different about the education in the U.S.?

Tanmay — In Berkeley, there’s a focus on diversity and different experiences. Back home, everything is by the book. It’s different because you don’t have time to actually iterate on your ideas, while everything here is so much more hands-on.

Ritika — In college back home, classes are about reading, studying and memorizing. Everything is centered on preparing for exams. I think you learn better here.

Sejal — One distinguishing thing is the number of classes at UC Berkeley. Back home, it’s understood that the more hours you spend in class, the more you learn. This semester I have only about 7 hours of classes every week — but there’s so much more beyond like homework and assignments.

Bismark — One big difference is the flexibility of class schedules here. Back at SRM University, we have class from 9am to 5pm. every single day from Monday through Friday. Here, there are days we may not even have class: it’s more hands-on, and assignments keep us engaged. Instead of memorizing, it’s about skills, so when you’re working in a group, it isn’t just mechanical engineers — it’s a whole experience.

Tanmay Agrawal, Student at SRM University Photo Credit: Daniel Rozenblit

What drew you to Startup Semester?

Tanmay — Definitely the proximity to Silicon Valley. This is the place where everything starts. Everything big related to technology has been in this little area. All the people we see, all the companies we know of are from here, and UC Berkeley and Stanford University have always been a part of it.

Ritika — I thought it was a good opportunity to get to know people who’ve worked in Silicon Valley and learn more from their experiences. The professors at UC Berkeley are also well experienced.

Sejal — The diversity, openness and new ideas. I was drawn to the research that comes out of these institutions and wanted to be a part of that. It was also interesting to me that there is a separate focus on entrepreneurship at UC Berkeley.

Bismark — I  wanted to help my community and entrepreneurship was one of the things that I needed. I was interested in learning how to think as both a business person and engineer, so this was a good way for me to explore. By coming here, I got to hear different startup ideas which motivated me to come up with my own.

What do you hope to achieve from Startup Semester?

Sejal — I want to learn to be an entrepreneur, work on ideas and I want to see lots of them grow. I hope to be able to pursue an idea. After startup semester I was able to learn about working in a team. Good team leaders lead members towards answers so that there’s a curious factor to go out and search for a solution. Here, we don’t get direct answers, which makes us search on our own and explore new ideas.  

Tanmay — I used to think of solutions first, and then look for problems that could be solved with my solution. Now, I’m adopting a new method of thinking of a real-world problem and coming up with a way to fix it — and not thinking of everything in terms of tech — which is my biggest takeaway.

Ritika — Startup Semester showed me that it’s not just about building tech: you need to be able to sell it, think about the market, demand and whether people actually need it. I think this thought process taught us to think of things that we actually need in the future. You need a lot of confidence, and this program has helped me build more of that.

Bismark — One of the reasons I chose to come here was to realize my full potential in taking what I learn in class into the real world and talking about my tech and solutions. I think Startup Semester makes me become more confident every day. I didn’t know what I wanted to do after earning my first degree, and this has helped me form a more specific path. I’m an international student at SRM University and I’m grateful for the opportunity they have given me.

Sri Ritika Katragadda, Student at SRM University Photo Credit: Daniel Rozenblit

What has your best experience here been so far?

Bismark — I enjoyed joining Christian groups on campus and was able to go on a snow trip near Tahoe which was really fun! I attended a bootcamp for African students which was a great experience in bringing up ideas, and it motivated me to learn about startups in Africa.

Sejal — Attending project meetings during the week are so much fun! I did a design bootcamp in which my team and I had to learn to laser cut and connect — something I had never done before. The goal was to make your own car and compete in a race with a full obstacle course at the end. We failed so terribly, but the process was so much fun, and I was able to learn a lot from my team.

Ritika — One of my favorite things to do at UC Berkeley is to work in the libraries. I love the libraries — they’re beautiful and large, and we don’t have libraries like that on our campus back home. Some of the libraries here are literally the size of our campus.

Tanmay — The place I live is a community housing space, where everyone is really nice! We have lots of fun and study together. I also love the Challenge Lab group projects, and the discussion and work that happens in those meetings. We often stay after class and discuss what we did and how we can improve it. I think it helps develop a lot of people skills, which is valuable.

Bismark Haruna, International student at SRM University Photo Credit: Daniel Rozenblit

What’s something you’re working on at UC Berkeley?

Tanmay — In the Blockchain Challenge Lab, my team is working on a combination of Slack and Stack Overflow. We’re creating a prototype and we’re iterating on the data. I’m also working on research with a graduate student, professor and a couple of students on artificial intelligence and multi-modal deep learning.

Rtika — As a student in the Blockchain Challenge Lab, I’m helping companies build their CSR plans, which has been really interesting. I’m taking Math 53: Multivariable Calculus and I end up spending a lot of time on my math.

Sejal — I’ve been going to lots of hackathons. At one, I met an amazing team — we made a project called “Pinky Promise” which is a social media app to make casual promises. I love hackathons and they made sure there was not even a single weekend I was home during my time here.

Bismark —  I’m working on a project to build robots to help kill weeds on farms. We created a survey for California farmers and realized that they’re facing a labor problem. It’s hard to work on this project because there aren’t many farmers nearby to reach out to.