University students among the most driven in U.S.


It has been 10 years since arguably the most well-known dorm-room startup launched. In a dorm room at Harvard’s Kirkland House, Mark Zuckerberg’s 2004 creation of Facebook continues to be a benchmark for many college students looking to find success with their startup.

Now, as times have changed, there is a brand new generation of college students trying make their entrepreneurial mark on the world. 

Illinois, in particular, is proving to become an innovation incubator for thousands of students. 

The University was recently ranked as 10th on Business Insider’s “Top 10 Schools with the Most Driven Students.” The list was compiled through data collected by the London-based company ViewsOnYou.

The other schools ranked in the top 10 are (from first to ninth): UCLA, Vanderbilt, London School of Economics, University College London, Stanford, Johns Hopkins, University of Cambridge, Northwestern and MIT. 

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Now, data released by venture capital database PitchBook shows that University startup projects have raised over $1.41 billion in funding over the past five years, with 131 different companies reaping the rewards of institutions offered by the University.

Some of these institutions offered include Startup Cafe, EnterpriseWorks and Technology Entrepreneurship Center, which offers the annual Cozad Competition with $200,000 being awarded annually to University startups.

EnterpriseWorks, which was one of Inc Magazine’s “Top 3 College Town Incubators,” as well as one of Forbes’ “12 Business Incubators Changing the World,” is one of the platforms that has helped launch some of the University’s most successful startup companies.

While many of the companies that were hosted at EnterpriseWorks have been in business for years now, the University is also making room for the next businesses in line. Among these students is Saagar Gupta, senior in Business and co-founder of the social media search engine 

Hashtagr, dubbed as “Your Social Search Engine,” allows users to search trends and curate content across Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Vine, Google+ and Instagram with users in 130 countries so far, Gupta said. Along with his partners, Dennis Leancu and Khoa Nguyen from DePaul, the three launched the social media search engine in August 2013.

“University of Illinois has a work hard, play hard environment,” Gupta said. “Students focus on succeeding and do not like the idea of being content with (what) they have now, but always seeking the next best opportunity.”

While balancing school and his startup can be tedious work, Gupta said he feels the support he has around him so far has been important to his success.  

“It is very difficult to manage school, a start-up and having a ‘life.’ There are countless sleepless nights working on school and a start-up, but you always have to take breaks to go out once in a while so you don’t burn out. Professors, fellow students, family and friends have been so supportive,” he said. “Whether it be tutoring me for a class I am struggling with to extending deadlines so I can focus on a major competition, everything has worked out well.”

Another campus startup tech company, TJM SoftWorks, LLC, which was founded by Tim Miller, sophomore in Engineering, has launched apps over the summer like Pigeon Messenger and Bubble Browser, Miller said. It is a company that the 19-year-old Miller has been working on for four years and one that has gone through a long development process, he said.

“Part of running a company includes staying three steps ahead of the competition,” Miller said. “I believe if I hadn’t started that early, the company wouldn’t be possible today. Too many people have moved into the app development space, and we were fortunate enough to get an early start and build a sustainable user base.”

A group looking to get in the mix is the Illini Intelligent Investment Group, a nonprofit group gauged toward educating undergraduates about sound money investments and basic investment techniques. The group also engages the community by donating part of their portfolio return to the Don Moyer’s Boys and Girls Club of Champaign. 

“I think it’s a testament to the fact that students really want to be at school here. The University does a really good job of providing career services to students who work hard to reward them,” said Ethan Chaplinsky, first year graduate student in Business, who along with Jeremy Chew, senior in Engineering, is working to progress the Illini Intelligent Investment Group. 

The group provides incentives for its members while maintaining a philanthropic basis. 

Even though the company is still in the early development phase, Chaplinsky said they plan on establishing an institution that will be a part of the University for the long run. 

“We really want this to be something that lasts at U of I longer than we do,” he siad. “We really want to get underclassmen involved because they will ultimately be the future of this.”

Eliseo can be reached at [email protected].