The Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology hosted students from around the world for the fall 2019 Startup Semester program. We spoke with Laurent Pan and Marine Derouault from the LeBridge Fellows program and Kingston Tan from Sunway University about their backgrounds in entrepreneurship and their experiences at UC Berkeley.
Tell us a bit about your past experience at your home university.
Laurent: I was a business marketing student at ESSEC Business School in France. I really enjoyed my time there, as it is truly a school where you learn not only in class, but also in student clubs. I was part of the Student Council, the Musical Troup and the Chinese student club. I learnt how to work in teams, how to motivate people around me, how to go on stage in front of a thousand people.
Marine: I did my master’s degree at NEOMA Business School in France. Classes were about business core curriculum and on the side, I did several professional experiences in innovation and entrepreneurship.
Kingston: I have a background in computer science, in the process of doing my final year project on context specific handwriting recognition using machine learning. I also participated in a startup competition and came in second with my team, our idea was an app to allow people to park their cars more efficiently. After the competition we started to further develop the project with our university incubator called iLabs.
What drew you to the LeBridge Fellows program?
Laurent: After two years working at L’Oréal in marketing, I decided to move on. I have seen five ESSEC students who have been through the Le Bridge program, and all of them did not regret it, still work on their company, and are glad to be entrepreneurs. All of them told me that the program gave them the right mindset to be an entrepreneur. Don’t give up, don’t fear failure. So I told myself that if I wanted to be an entrepreneur, now was the right time. If it does not work out, I can just head back to a big company. Actually L’Oréal has supported me in my move, and we are still in very good terms.
Marine: I had always been attracted to entrepreneurship and Berkeley was my dream university so as soon as I heard about LeBridge Fellows program I applied to it. For me it was the perfect opportunity to develop a startup idea and grow my own business in an environment that is inspiring, creative and proactive.
Kingston: The startup competition I participated in exposed me to the whole world of startups and entrepreneurship. I was fascinated as it’s one of the very few ‘jobs’ in the world where you can create and make new things. However the whole process of how to actually build a startup was a black box to me, I wanted to learn and try out what it’s like to actually be an entrepreneur. That’s why I wanted to join the startup semester program, plus it being at Berkeley makes it ever more so interesting.
How has your experience been at UC Berkeley in the Startup Semester program?
Laurent: The experience is great, we meet like-minded people and don’t need to spend 3 months finding the right partner to get started. Then, Berkeley is the best place to find all the scientists we need to develop our project. Indeed UC Berkeley is a research-based university; we have among the most brilliant scientists around campus. The only thing is that you will need to be very convincing to collaborate with them.
Marine: This program taught me that entrepreneurship isn’t only about building a startup but it’s mostly about who I am, what my inspirations are, my weaknesses and how is it going to drive me. These personal insights made me feel more comfortable with evolving in this chaotic experience of entrepreneurship.
Kingston: I came in without much expectation except that I’ll be doing a lot of hands on entrepreneurship, and honestly I haven’t been doing as much as I thought I would. However, I have been learning a lot of the frameworks and processes from my classes, and also basic but useful finance, accounting and legal techniques that are specific for startups.
What projects have you been working on this semester?
Laurent: We have been working on an AI skincare product recommendation app. All of us have a unique skin. We have different skin needs. Asking your friends or Google is not the best way to go. We want to empower consumers to find and choose the right skincare products, that truly suits them.
Marine: With my associate we’ve been working on several projects related to real estate and investment. The one we would like to pursue is about creating a real estate stock exchange. Our goal is to democratize access and comprehension of stock exchange economy.
Kingston: In my Amazoogle class, I’m working on a team building software that attempts to profile all the employees in a company and try to build the best combination of people to make the best team. In my Tech Entrepreneurship class, I’m building a personal trainer for strength training using AI and Computer Vision.
What makes the UC Berkeley experience unique?
Laurent: The mix between scientists, engineers and business people is truly inspiring, it allows us to always dream bigger. Nothing is impossible. People are all here to help you go further, even when you only have a burgeoning idea!
Marine: LeBridge program is the perfect opportunity to make all stars aligned and create startups. UC Berkeley ecosystem teems with high quality classes, advices from mentors, tech events, smart connections… Everything is made easy to develop innovative projects. This is definitively a big boost in my career!
Kingston: Just the sheer number and diversity of people, and also in their ideas and interests. Everybody has their own story of how they got here, what drives them and what they want to achieve in their time here. Also due to the size, there is a group of community for every possible interest or topic you can think of. Personally I was part of the Debate Society of Berkeley, through there I made some great friends and memories.