ASU Polytechnic Startup Village creates a residential community for like-minded entrepreneurs

Mentor Dida (left), Alina Perkins (black dress), Jason Bronowitz (black tee) and Jonathan Barone (right) share a laugh as Jonathan talks about one of his course experiences at ASU. (Photo by Shiva Balasubramanian) (Left to right) Mentor Dida, Alina Perkins, Jason Bronowitz and Jonathan Barone laugh as Barone talks about one of his classes at ASU. (Photo by Shiva Balasubramanian)

Although an even row of sand-colored houses in a cul-de-sac at the Polytechnic campus may seem like an ordinary Arizonan housing development at a first glance, it cradles some of the most ambitious entrepreneurial ideas.

Startup Village is a student residential community that opened its doors this fall to about 18 students coming from diverse academic backgrounds. By providing access to common meeting place, networks and mentorship, the village creates a fertile ground for visionaries to brainstorm, design and perfect their entrepreneurial ventures.

Living side by side in two-bedroom houses in a secluded community, students pitch and polish their entrepreneurial projects collectively while sharing a passion for startups, civil engineering junior and resident Andres Amado said.

“We want to see in people (living in the village), out of anything, mostly drive,” Amado said.

The University worked closely with student entrepreneurs to create Startup Village and meet students’ needs for resources and support. As the project progressed, students took the lead, leaving the staff in a supportive role.

Among abundant notes on whiteboards revealing the creative process, the residents are working on about eight projects, ranging from designing a clothing line to a biometric wearable device.

Justin Mulligan, technical entrepreneurship and management sophomore, and Tyler Harker, software engineering sophomore, are creating a website to connect entrepreneurs with other entrepreneurs in the community and available resources, while living under one roof.

“We spend nights brainstorming, picking each other’s brains,” Harker said. “We’ll start with an idea and we branch off and critique every little bit of it. With 20 of us all brainstorming one idea, we get a lot of different views coming from different majors and personality types that you really can’t get anywhere else.”

In addition to teamwork, the residents get access to trainings from ASU Changemaker Central. They also take part in weekly touch-base meetings to receive mentoring and advice from entrepreneurship experts to nurture their projects.

Student entrepreneurs mark up a glass door with Sharpie with values that they find important at the Startup Village. (Photo by Shiva Balasubramanian) Student entrepreneurs mark up a glass door with Sharpie with values that they find important at the Startup Village. (Photo by Shiva Balasubramanian)

Technical entrepreneurship and management senior Kunal Laroia said there’s a great benefit to living together with like-minded people coming from different backgrounds, as they can share ideas and reach out for help any time.

“One of the biggest benefits that we have (is) we‘re a community, so being able to bounce your ideas and communicate with other like-minded individuals,” he said. “So if I woke up at two in the morning and I had an idea, and I wanted someone to help design it and sketch it up, I’m going next door to someone who lives at the village.”

Although students live shoulder to shoulder, they are so driven by entrepreneurial passion that it’s easy to put all the differences aside, Laroia said.

“We are all very different and we are all very similar at the same time because of our passions, our inspirations, our drives, motivations,” he said. “We understand the community and we understand what it is to be an entrepreneur. So I think we all get along on just that aspect and set aside our differences.”

Students are required to take one of the MAKE classes, lead ASU Startup week and mentor other students with entrepreneurial ideas if they want to reside at Startup Village. They also need to be at the sophomore level of study or beyond and have a passion for making ideas happen, residents said.

Software engineering graduate student Aditya Jagannathan arrived in Arizona this semester. For him, Startup Village is much more than just a platform for entrepreneurship.

“It’s not just about entrepreneurship," he said. "I get to experience the culture, and I found good networks through these people. It’s giving me a boost and helping me every way possible. It’s more about giving me a good direction, combining all the experiences together.”

Tourism development and management junior Christine Grant is one of the two female residents at Startup Village. While working on her project to design a line of sustainable boutique hotels, she said there would be more female residents if women were more recognized as entrepreneurs in society.

“Ordinarily for women, we are not as celebrated in entrepreneurship as men,” she said. “In a way, we are still fighting to be recognized.”

Although Startup Village is a student-led initiative, Susan Halverson, a strategic initiatives fellow from ASU Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, curates the program to connect students with resources and people to meet the goals they set.

Startup Village at the Polytechnic campus is an experiment and depending on its success, the concept might grow to other campuses in the future, she said.

“Anytime we can have a community of entrepreneurs who eat, sleep and breathe entrepreneurship, it’s going to be beneficial for the University,” Halverson said.

Reach the reporter at kmaryaso@asu.edu or follow on Twitter @KseniaMaryasova


Get the best of State Press delivered straight to your inbox.