Trekking NYC with

Startup Fever!

By Lani Chau

Swarnav Pujari, Founder of Touchlight Innovations, says “business ideas are hypotheses needing to be validated.” I felt in my element when I heard that and thought, “great! I’ve done plenty of that previously.”

But that’s only one piece.

My journey in the two days of October break participating in the NYC Entrepreneurship Road Trip, hosted by the Gwen M. Greene Center and the Ain Center for Entrepreneurship, opened my eyes to what it really takes to be your own boss.

Erica Rosen, Director of Marketing for Biolite Energy, showing us the stages of prototyping for their CampStove.


According to Pujari, New York City investors want to see metrics and results before they want to be your investors. It’s a different mentality in San Francisco, where passion and a big idea can win.

No need to fret if you just have an idea though; New Lab, a multi-disciplinary technology center housed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, has you covered with prototyping help (and a network of VCs, domain experts, and corporate partners included in membership). They welcome you whether you have a team or if you’re a one-person company. New Lab’s interior decorating is also on-point, they bring nature inside to you!

Now I can’t talk about interior decorating without talking about WeWork, a company that designs, builds and operates workspaces for companies from startups to large businesses. As we got off the elevator on their main floor, I was cheerfully greeted by vibrant walls with basketball hoops attached. After taking a few steps further in, we saw adorable furry friends freely roaming around the urban-chic, glass and aluminum office, mingling along with the bustling people.

(By the way – WeWork offers free beer on tap and a free latte/espresso bar for all. I didn’t think I could be any more impressed, until I learned about the way they are utilizing data to humanize work and transform the spaces we work in. Not to mention, WeWork Lab can also help if you are at the idea-seed stage.)

Besides being starstruck by the facilities and the nature of the entrepreneurial spirit there, I also got to learn valuable life lessons directly from the NYC entrepreneurs.

The New Lab building, a community that assists the city’s leading companies working in advanced technologies.


During our visit to the Company, Tyler Schrodt, Founder of Electronic Gaming Federation, detailed the humble story of how the failure of his original idea led him to revamp his whole business model by starting with the question, “what values does my venture add to an audience?”

Swarnav Pujari reinforced this theme when asked about the key to his success: “it’s all about adding value.” He then recalled a conversation he had with a real estate developer who did not care about how solar panels can save money, but how to generate more money. When he understood the values the client wanted, he modified his approach to marketing his business.

Vince Scafaria (Founder of DotAlign) advised us to “get [an investor] to feel that they can succeed when you succeed!”

Alexander Tabb, Founder of Roundit, praised the importance of hard work. I found it encouraging when he told us, “you also don’t need to be 25 to start a business. I’m in my 50s, and what I’ve learned until now has helped me tremendously for this moment.”

We all follow a different timeline – you don’t have to start your own business now (perhaps you just want to join a startup), but it’s important to know your opportunities! I feel that going on this trip is an instance of an opportunity I created for myself.

Have you thought about sustainable living recently? Lani Chau ’19 (MS) is investigating the design of renewable energy systems to enhance the portability and integration of green energy technology into the fabric of everyday living. She recently worked on an electrochemical engineering project at Brookhaven National Laboratory, studying solar water splitting. Lani is currently an MS Technical Entrepreneurship and Management candidate with a concentration in Energy & the Environment.