Alumni News Blog

  • A Banner Year for SAA

    With exceptional programs such as Mentor Jackets—which annually pairs students up with alumni based on shared interests—it’s no wonder why Georgia Tech’s Student Alumni Association continues to set new records for engagement and philanthropy. A total of 5,281 students joined SAA during the 2014-15 academic year, up a whopping 26 percent over the previous year, and solidified SAA’s rank as the largest student group on campus.

    “Our student leaders were extremely effective at recruiting more members to SAA this year,” says Catie Miller, STC 07, director of student outreach for the Georgia Tech Alumni Association. “And the word of mouth was incredible. The value of the organization—and what you get for just a $10 donation—has gone viral across the student body.”

    Miller says that one of the strategies for growth this year was to get other student groups to pledge 100 percent participation in SAA. “Twenty-eight groups, including Student Ambassadors and many fraternities and sororities, went all-in this year,” she says.

    SAA’s in-demand programs include Expert Jackets, which gives students the opportunity to meet and hear success stories from some of Tech’s top alumni. This year, members were able to connect with the likes of Alan Warren, Phys/Math 78, vice president of engineering at Google; Paul Brown, Mgt 89, CEO of Arby’s; and Decie
    Autin, ChE 80, global operations manager at ExxonMobil, just to name a few.

    Students, of course, love a free meal, so the SAA Dinner Jackets program again was completely booked this past year. Alumni stepped up to treat SAA members to 37 dinners this year at their homes and at restaurants, and provided students with a welcome evening away from their studies.

    One SAA offering proved extremely popular and successful this year. The “Get Ready for the Real World” speed-networking event gave the roughly 200 students and 200 alumni in attendance a chance to connect one-on-one in relatively rapid-fire fashion. It was named the Best On Campus Event by the Presidents Council Governing Board and will likely see an encore next year.

    Other key SAA programs this past year included a Women in Technology Panel, the Ramblin On graduation party and the Gift to Tech (see story below), which expands student Yellow Jackets’ involvement in philanthropic efforts.

    SAA and its programs routinely rank among the best of their kind in the nation. SAA was recently named the most outstanding student alumni organization by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education Affiliated Student Advancement Programs (CASE ASAP) for regional District 3, while the speed-networking event won the most outstanding internal program. Both SAA and its speed-networking event will vie for national honors this summer.

    Gift to Tech Goes to Improve Campus Mental Health Services

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    When Georgia Tech students voted on how to spend the SAA 2015 Gift to Tech funds, their votes spoke profoundly of what they value on campus: mental health services.

    This year’s Gift to Tech amounts to more than $36,050 and will go to the Institute’s Counseling Center, which will use the gift for the continued implementation of recommendations issued by the Mental Health Task Force in 2013. Some of those initiatives include suicide prevention and education programming, expanding the new Burdell’s Buddies peer counseling program, and supporting outreach and recovery programs.

    The director of the Counseling Center, Toti Perez, says he and his team were both humbled and surprised to be among this year’s finalists, which included a campus concert series and outdoor solar-powered charging stations.

    “It’s so different from any other funding we may get,” Perez says. “It represents the voice of students who over the course of the years have started to regard emotional wellness and healthy lifestyles as a critical part of their success at Tech.”

    The Gift to Tech is funded through donations from SAA members. When students join SAA, they make a $10 donation, $5 of which goes to the Gift to Tech fund. This year, a matching gift of $10,000 came from Ken Townsend, ME 64, and his son, Tyler, IE 98.  

  • Dollars & Sense: Steve Chaddick

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    Following a successful career in the telecommunications industry, Steve Chaddick, EE 74, MS EE 82, has made his mark locally as an active angel investor and a great supporter of Tech’s programs, faculty and students. When our staff wanted to find out more about how startup funding works, Chaddick was the first person we thought to consult.

    Where can new companies get the money to get off the ground?

    To begin commercializing their innovations or ideas, most young companies need to find seed funding, which can come from government grants, competitions, loans and sometimes even friends, family and maxing out personal credit cards. Such early-stage companies typically aren’t ready for traditional venture capital.

    Is that when angel investors become involved?

    Yes. Often angel investors are individuals with expertise and interest in specific areas—like mine in telecommunications—who are willing to invest tens to a couple hundreds of thousands of dollars to assist a startup in getting up and running.

    What does it take to be a successful angel investor?

    You have to set a long-term horizon for company success. Even then, you have to be comfortable with the fact that the success rate for startups is miserable. Typically only one or two companies out of 10 will show enough of a return to keep you going to the next investments. It takes patience and fortitude.

    How do you personally decide in which companies to invest?

    Many angel investors are passive investors who don’t get involved in the companies they support financially. But I prefer companies where I can get involved and provide leadership and advice. Most importantly, I’m interested in companies that have a clear value proposition that’s easily articulated and defendable—via intellectual property or time-to-market advantage. I also look for the solid beginnings of a management team.

    Are there warning signs that turn you off from a company?

    One red flag is an uncoachable CEO.
    Scientists often make lousy chief executives though they can make good chief technology officers. Startups really need someone onboard with solid business and sales acumen. Another warning sign is when a startup’s customer discovery process is based on assumptions (and founder bias) rather than on research and reality.

    What should startup founders look for in an angel investor?

    Someone who can provide them more than just money. Connections and specific industry experience can be just as important. Someone who can build bridges with other funders, including venture capitalists. Someone who will have patience and a long-term view on success. Someone who maintains a lean startup methodology, focusing on startup engineering to uncover customer needs.

    You’re a member of the Atlanta Technology Angels. What is that, exactly?

    Atlanta Technology Angels is a consortium of angel investors that provides investment opportunities in early-stage technology companies, and education to both investors and entrepreneurs in the greater metro area and the Southeast. The ATA’s members often work in groups as a single investing entity rather than as individual investors to fund and foster startups.

    How do you lend your startup and investing expertise at Georgia Tech?

    I’m involved in a lot of entrepreneurial and startup efforts at Tech. I helped teach the pilot of Startup Lab and Startup Summer last year. I’ve also served as an adviser to the Advanced Technology Development Center’s VentureLab incubator and the Georgia Research Alliance. I’ve personally invested in about 15 companies, many that have come out of the Institute. To me, Tech’s exceptional students, faculty and alumni represent the smartest investment I could ever make.

  • Much More Than a Hair-Brained Idea

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    Scope out the hair-care aisle in the beauty section of any major retailer and you’ll find a familiar scene: a woman with a bottle of shampoo in hand, staring in dismay at the horde of options on the shelves in front of her. Should she pick sulfate-free or biotin add-in shampoo? Should she be looking for hydration or volume in her conditioner?

    The process of reviewing ingredients, comparing prices and questioning the purported hair-care benefits can be overwhelming—particularly for black women, who over the past few years have seen an uptick in the number of products tailored to their specific hair texture needs. The inventory that was once relegated to a small section of a single shelf, or worse, not available in major outlets at all, now spans entire store aisles and endcap displays.

    The creators of Myavana, a web-based mobile and social platform, understand firsthand the frustration of the shelf scan. Computer scientist Candace Mitchell, CS 11, and chemical engineer Chanel Martin launched their Atlanta-based startup in 2013. “The goal was to leverage science and technology to provide women of color with a personalized hair-care experience that takes guessing out of the equation and delivers hair nirvana,” Mitchell says.

    The Myavana website (myavana.com) is a destination where customers can discover new hair products, hair styles and salons in their area. It joins the zeitgeist of blogs, Instagram feeds and YouTube channels that deliver black hairstyle tutorials and homemade solutions to hundreds of thousands of subscribers. No doubt social media has helped this movement gain traction throughout the United States and abroad, Mitchell says.

    Increasingly, black women are going online to share stories and tips in their journeys as they move away from harsh chemical straighteners and the synthetic products associated with them, and turn toward unprocessed, curly hair styles and natural products. Myavana seeks to tap into this ever-expanding market—with an estimated buying power surpassing $500 billion annually—with the goal of providing end-to-end hair-care guidance to women of color.

    Myavana’s linchpin is its new custom hair analysis service that promises to find the right product for each customer. “Yes, we want women to send us their hair,” Mitchell says. “But only a little bit of it, and just long enough to view the hair through a microscope and to offer customers meaningful hair product recommendations.”

    Consumers initiate the process on the Myavana website, where a one-time fee of $49 will buy a single Hair Collection Kit. The kit includes a special comb for the sample, instructions for getting a proper cross section, a questionnaire and pre-paid postage. Once the kit arrives at the Myavana lab—the company rents space on campus at the Institute for Electronics and Nanotechnology—the hair strands undergo a nine-point data analysis.myavana-app

    Let’s say a customer complains of dry and frizzy hair. “We look at a few things,” Mitchell says, “from the porosity of the hair (the ability of the hair to retain moisture) to its elasticity (its ability to go from curly to straight then return to the original curl pattern).”

    The customer’s data is then run through Myavana’s recommendation system. According to Mitchell, the company’s database includes analyses of close to 1,000 products, which have been reviewed based on ingredient composition and how they react to different types of hair. The customer is then matched with a set of products based on the analysis, which the buyer receives in the mail. Customers also each receive a personalized hair-care regimen and several sample products chosen specifically to help individual users reach their desired hair goals.

    The Myavana report even goes on to suggest specific hairstyles and salons in the customer’s area. Mitchell says that users can track their “hair journey” over time on the mobile app. “It’s like getting a personal hair coach,” she says. The company also sells a subscription service, where for $25 every three months, customers receive sample products with an updated regimen.

    Myavana’s current focus is raising cash before the first round of seed funding closes and spreading the word about tis service. The mobile platform already has about 7,000 users, Mitchell says, and the personal hair analysis component exited the beta stage to fully launch earlier this year. The startup also partners with hair product manufacturers such as Eden BodyWorks (founded by Tech alumna Jasmine Lawrence, CS 13), Coco Curls (founded by Tech alumna Jeannell Darden, IE 08), Georgia-based Design Essentials and several others. The companies advertise on the Myavana platform, sponsor events and supply products.

    Myavana has great potential—in time, it could become a hair-care lifeline for black women, connecting customers with the products that are best for them, while cutting out the time-consuming waste of trial and error.

  • Endevvr Empowers Teen Entrepreneurs

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    Teenagers aren’t exactly known for their discipline and focus. But Mary Winn Miller, IE 07, sees in high school students the potential to be successful leaders and create their own companies, despite their young age.

    In fact, Miller wishes someone would have taught her about entrepreneurship when she was a teen. That’s why she and her husband Martin created Endevvr, a five-week summer program designed to foster business building and leadership skills through hands-on experiences with working professionals.

    “When we first started Endevvr, I always knew there was untapped potential in high school students,” Miller says. “I know because I felt that way when I was in high school. I knew I had the intellectual capacity to learn entrepreneurial skills much earlier and I’ve always wondered what would have happened if I had.”

    It turns out Miller’s intuition was right: Over the past two years, the teenage graduates of Endevvr have created unique startup businesses that are alive and well.

    Take for example Sam Lurye. At just 16 years old, he’s received $100,000 in venture capital funding for a mobile app called Kiss that he created during the Endevvr program.

    Kiss is akin to passing notes in high school, only it’s on your phone. Instead of wringing your hands and wondering if your crush likes you back, the Kiss app allows you to anonymously find out. “Sam even negotiated with his principal to have certain hours off so he could talk with his investors,” Miller says.

    If you’re beginning to feel like an underachiever, don’t worry. Miller says recent advances in technology have made all the difference in making startups much more realistic for enterprising teens.

    “Starting a company is so much easier and cheaper than it was even 10 years ago,” Miller says. “The barriers to entry have gone down, which has made this a ripe opportunity for high school students.”

    millerhires copyMiller and her husband launched Endevvr’s pilot program in Boston in 2013. Last year, Endevvr’s first official five-week program was held at Georgia Tech, bringing some of the nation’s brightest high school students to campus. This summer, Endevvr will take place in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania.

    It’s no accident that over Endevvr’s young life span, the program has been held in three different cities. Miller explains that Endevvr isn’t just about learning what it takes to create a business. It’s also about exposing the participants to startup communities in new cities each year, as well as introducing those communities to a new class of young and energetic entrepreneurs.

    “We really believe in trying to bring this experience to a lot of different communities,” Miller says. “It’s not about leveraging existing infrastructure but going to places where that community is growing.”

    So how do teens learn the essentials of business and create a successful company over the course of five weeks?

    Miller says it’s a dynamic process and depends a lot on the chemistry of the participants. There are certain things they set out to teach the students, such as a basic business vocabulary, how to put together an income statement and how to project what a company is worth. But Miller says they mostly try to let the students learn by doing.

    “It really is very organic and evolves as the program moves on,” Miller says.

    Some students come to Endevvr with very developed ideas they hope to turn into businesses. Others come in with nothing particular in mind other than to learn.  And that mix is important, Miller says.

    One year, she encouraged a team of three students without a solid plan to brainstorm what they have in common—without worrying if it had anything to do with business. It turned out that all three teens had a relative on the autism spectrum. This common bond ultimately sparked their business idea: a company that provides travel experiences geared specifically toward people with autism and their families.

    Miller says she always asks her Endevvr students to identify the problem that they’re trying to solve—a lesson she credits as one of the biggest takeaways from her education at Tech. “There’s a problem-solving mentality that’s absolutely instilled in Georgia Tech students and was definitely instilled in me,” Miller says. “It’s something I try to instill in my students at Endevvr, too. So there’s a ripple effect there.”

    Miller doesn’t just talk the talk. Asking herself that same question led to the development of Endevvr.

    “For me it was never ‘Gosh, I want to be an entrepreneur.’ It was, ‘What is the problem I’m trying to solve and what’s the best way to solve it?’”

    Though she has been working as a business consultant while dreaming up and implementing Endevvr these past few years, the program’s startup curricula finally rubbed off on her. She recently joined a startup company called Vega Factor that uses everything from the chaos theory of mathematics to the latest psychological research to study what creates a successful business culture. Still, just as she has for the past two years, Miller is looking forward to spending this summer helping teach teens how to become entrepreneurs. 

  • Investing in a New Era for Georgia Tech

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    If you’re plugged into the local and even national startup scene, you’re probably familiar with Tech’s long-standing business incubator, the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC). You may also know about Tech’s overarching business outreach organization, the Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2). At the helm of both these organizations is Stephen Fleming, Phys 83, an alumnus with vast experience in entrepreneurship, venture capital, angel investing and innovation. Fleming took time out of his busy schedule to tell the Alumni Magazine why he is so passionate about fostering Tech’s business community.

    You’ve had a pretty wide variety of experiences. Talk a little bit about your career path.

    I graduated in 1983 and spent about a decade in the telecommunication industry. I worked my way up from engineering to management. I worked for big companies and startups, and found I liked the startups. I’d left Atlanta at that time and was able to come back and put together a venture capital firm. I spent about a decade doing that. I looked at tech companies in the Southeast, a lot from Georgia Tech, as well as North Carolina, Florida and others. That gave me a really good background in the right ways and sometimes the wrong ways to do technology-based startup companies.

    What led you to venture capital?

    I worked in a couple of venture-backed startups and liked the process a great deal. I realized the venture investors were typically people just like me, and I thought I would fit well in that role. I didn’t have a formal finance background, but I learned it later.

    What brought you back to work at Tech?

    I was engaged as an alumnus, served on committees and endowed a professorship.Using that status, I was criticizing some things Georgia Tech was doing 12 years ago. I kept saying, “You can do better.” So the provost at the time said, “Stephen, why don’t you come fix it?” I planned to do this for about two years. It has now been 10 years and I’m still here. I never planned to do this for a living, but I fell in love with this place. Every university claims it’s special, but this one really is. It’s just a wonderful place to spend every day.

    You are still an active angel investor. Talk about what kinds of companies interest you.

    The space industry is emerging as something that’s a potentially huge part of the economy of the U.S. and world in the next century. I’m of the generation that grew up watching the Apollo missions. I thought we’d all be living on the moon by now. It didn’t work out that way, but I still really care about that stuff. We’re doing now what should have been done in 1974: Building the vehicles, companies, commercial relationships and all the things you need to have an actual, effective industry. The private sector exploited cars, airplanes and railroads, but that didn’t happen with space. That’s finally changing for a lot of reasons and it’s really exciting. To be a good angel investor is a big commitment. I just got specialized because I don’t have a whole lot of time for it. Some guys play golf. I invest in rocket ship companies.

    Why do you believe so strongly in what Georgia Tech is doing to encourage entrepreneurship and partnership with the private sector?

    We have both a mission and an obligation to the economy of Georgia by making these economic development activities happen. We’ve taken that role very seriously. Tech, unlike almost any university in the U.S., was created for economic development. We are very unusual. This is just a different way of doing economic development—130 years ago it was textile mills and coal mines. Now it’s creating infrastructure behind innovation neighborhoods like Tech Square. It’s this new economic development model based on brainpower.

    We are seeing a lot of growth and investment from the private sector around Tech Square. What do you attribute that momentum to?

    This is kind of like the country band that makes it big and people say it’s an overnight success.  This really started 15 years ago. It’s taken a lot of work and a lot of effort to make this stuff happen. I do think a lot of people just started to notice. Announcements were made around 1999 and 2000 about Tech Square, and we’re doing a lot of the things Georgia Tech leadership said we were going to do. I don’t know of another place like this in the country. It’s an absolutely unique asset. We’re the first to get an innovation neighborhood right.

    Why do you believe Georgia Tech’s location in Atlanta is an asset?

    The advantage Georgia Tech has is that we’re a major research university in a major city. That makes a lot of people want to be right here next to Georgia Tech. That makes it an exciting place for our students. They love the idea that they can get a great job and still stay close to campus. Most schools can’t offer that.

    You grew up in Atlanta. What has it been like watching the city grow and change?

    It’s been really kind of remarkable. There was a period where everyone was leaving the city and the suburbs were where all growth and activity were going to be. Atlanta was in danger of becoming a Detroit where everything is shaped like a donut. Fifteen years ago, this area [around Tech] emptied out at the end of the day and no one wanted to live here. Now, it’s a walkable, bikeable neighborhood. Tech Square is the sort of neighborhood where you can get to work early, stay for dinner and feel like you’re in a nice neighborhood, not an office building where they turn lights off at 5 o’clock.

    Were you interested in entrepreneurship as a student at Tech? Or is that something you developed later in life?

    If there was a class on entrepreneurship in 1983, I didn’t take it. Back then, you didn’t use the word entrepreneur. And if you did, it meant you couldn’t get a job at AT&T. That was the goal back then—you wanted to work for a big company for 40 years.

    Talk about Tech’s shift toward hands on, real world experiences.

    That’s been a student-driven change. I’m proud of the students for doing that.Their generation’s goal is to create jobs. Not just for themselves, but for a lot of people. These kids are really, truly inspiring with what they want to go off and do, so we’re trying to keep up with them. These resources for entrepreneurial students at Tech are just amazing. In most cases, they’re there because students say, “We want this and we need this, Georgia Tech. What are you going to do about it?” And we’re scrambling to keep up.