The Sky’s the Limit with OdysseyLife

By Blake Silberberg ‘13
University Communications

Did you have trouble adjusting to life on campus as a freshman? Well now there’s an app for that! University of Rochester undergraduates Keyu (Sky) Song ‘15 and Xiayan (Eric) Huan ’15 are the founders of OdysseyLife Inc., a self-funded startup with the goal of helping International students adjust to life on American college campuses.

Song, a political science major, entered the University as a Chinese international student. He chose Rochester because of the diverse student population and was excited to meet lots of new people from different cultural backgrounds. What he found was a gap among international students when it came to making friends with American students. “When I first arrived here, I talked to people in dining hall lines,” says Song, “I met a lot of people that way, but it was definitely awkward at times. As an international student, it can be hard to get a sense of what’s right or wrong to say to someone you’ve just met.”

Song’s experiences inspired him to find a way to help other students in his position adjust well to American college life. “The crucial period of adjustment is the first two months.  After that, it becomes much harder for international students to make friends, since a lot of students have already formed groups or circles,” says Song.

With the goal of helping international students bridge this gap, Song worked with fellow student Eric Huan to create OdysseyLife, a startup corporation that works with international students at the University of Rochester, and has expanded to New York University and SUNY Buffalo. Song describes OdysseyLife as a corporation with a focus on providing a mix of both nonprofit and for profit services. OdysseyLife offers numerous free resources, including an iPhone app, guides for social and professional situations, and weekly lectures on cultural differences open to both international and American students. OdysseyLife goes beyond these services by employing “captains” to serve as student mentors for international students who sign up for OdysseyLife. Captains are university students who teach weekly classes, bring students to networking events, and are available to meet with one on one to help with any situations that might arise during a semester. “The captains help demonstrate behavior and offer a theoretical framework for adjusting to American college life,” says Song, “and they act as both a model for the international students and a wingman in social situations.”

Huan (left) and Song (right) with Yuan Yue, the CEO at Horizon Consulting Group (Lingdian). Cornell China Forum 2014.
Huan (left) and Song (right) with Yuan Yue, the CEO at Horizon Consulting Group (Lingdian). Cornell China Forum 2014.

Creating the corporation proved to be an excellent learning experience for Song and Huan, as they had to navigate a large number of legal and technical aspects to form an official corporation. Song had to first obtain work-study sponsorship in order to legally work in the U.S., and without any law experience, this proved a difficult task. Song and Huan contacted law students at both Cornell and Harvard for help with their company, and also received support from David Primo, associate professor of political science and business administration, and Michael Rizzo, professor of economics. Huan and Song also worked with an accounting student at the Simon School, who helped them file insurance and tax forms, and other necessary corporate materials. The pair also received support from the staff at Wilson Commons, Office of Admissions, College Center for Advising Services, Center for Entrepreneurship, and International Services Office. “I think our experience forming OdysseyLife is a great example of how strong the interdisciplinary network is here,” says Song. “We were very fortunate to have access to so many resources, and this wouldn’t have been possible without the tremendous support of the University’s staff.”

In the future, Song and Huan hope to expand the services to American students as well, to help them connect in a greater capacity with International students. “We want to build a bridge that will help both American and International students use college campuses as a place where they can freely exchange ideas,” he explains.

If you are interested in learning more about OdysseyLife, you can visit the website or contact Sky Song directly via email.

Optics Students Win $10K at Pre-Seed Workshop

For the past 10 years, High Tech Rochester’s annual Pre-Seed Workshop has provided inventors, entrepreneurs, and technology professionals with resources for quickly assessing their specific market opportunities and identifying the next steps to be taken in creating a start-up business around their technology innovation.

On Friday, Nov. 1 at the conclusion of this year’s Pre-Seed Workshop, five current and former University of Rochester Optics students found themselves the recipient of such resources. The student-driven team Ovitz was presented with the Excell Challenge Award of $10,000, given by Excell Partners, a Rochester venture capital firm.

Working with technology developed at the Flaum Eye Institute, Ovitz is hoping to commercialize a portable eye diagnosis instrument that is smaller, cheaper and more accurate than existing devices and is especially suited for use among children. They were chosen because their project was best suited to Excell’s criteria and at a point where the new venture would benefit from an outside investment.

The Ovitz team members are senior Felix Kim, junior Pedro Vallejo-Ramirez, doctoral students Aizhong Zhang and Len Zheleznyak, and Samuel Steven (’13). Both Steven and Zheleznyak are enrolled in the Technical Entrepreneurship and Management (TEAM) master’s program.

“We congratulate Ovitz and all of the start-up innovators and entrepreneurs participating in the 2013 Pre-Seed Workshop and expect to hear big things from them in the future,” said Theresa Mazzullo, chief executive officer of Excell Partners, Inc. “Given our mission of providing pre-seed and seed stage financing to high-tech start-up companies in the Upstate New York region, we felt we could give a boost to the start-up idea showing the most potential for commercialization as developed and presented at this workshop.”

Designed as a hands-on program, not a lecture series, “the Pre-Seed Workshop involves highly focused activities and exercises directed toward determining if a technology-based business concept has high potential for commercial success,” says the workshop’s organizer, Mike Riedlinger, High Tech Rochester’s Technology Commercialization Manager.

More than 100 people participated in the 2013 Pre-Seed Workshop: 13 teams (culled down from 18 applications), including teams from the University of Buffalo, Rochester Institute of Technology, University of Rochester, and the Rochester community at large. The Workshop involved 32 coaches, contributors, and subject matter experts, and the six investors and industry experts who served as feedback panelists.

This isn’t the first time the Ovitz business plan has found success. It also took first place in the Forbes Entrepreneurial Competition and third place in the Mark Ain Business Model Competition this past spring. The students are now looking for NGOs who can put their device to use to benefit people in underdeveloped countries.

Article courtesy of High Tech Rochester. To read their full press release, visit http://htr.org/excell-partners-awards-10000-start-team-high-tech-rochester%E2%80%99s-annual-pre-seed-workshop

TEAM Master’s Program Wins Award

Center for Entrepreneurship – The master’s degree program in Technical Entrepreneurship and Management (TEAM) recently received the 2011 Award for Excellence in Specialty Entrepreneurship Education, presented by the Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers (GCEC) during its annual conference.

Through Rochester’s TEAM degree program students receive a strong foundation in entrepreneurial management by taking courses through the the University’s Edmund A. Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the William E. Simon Graduate School of Business.

Natalie Yager Antal ’11S (MS), show in the photo to the right, accepted the award on behalf of the Center for Entrepreneurship. GCEC has a membership of 200 university-based entrepreneurship centers from around the world.

Article and photo courtesy of Natalie Yager Antal, Center for Entrepreneurship.