Just a first-year student, Anthony John Pensiero ’17SEAS and a classmate are hoping to develop a handheld toxicity sensor for grocery shoppers that would gauge levels of contaminants, like mercury, in the fish we consume. These young engineers are conducting initial research in an unlikely lab—their college dormitory.
Pensiero is part of Columbia’s Res. Inc. program, which offers shared housing to engineering students with an interest in entrepreneurship. With this comes a special curriculum, mentors, workshops, and other events that introduce students to the tools and concepts needed to start their own business.
“We’re learning that we need to see not only if our idea is viable, but also to ask whether people will pay to have a particular problem solved,” said Pensiero, whose sensor idea is based on spectroscopy, the interaction between matter and radiated energy. “Res. Inc. is helping us understand how to market test an idea, present it to venture capital, communicate our ideas, and how to start a company.”
Seasoned entrepreneurs who met at Columbia, Alessandro ’79SEAS, ’82SEAS and Alexandra Piol ’79BC, ’79SEAS, ’83SEAS have advised executives on investments in startup companies for years. Alessandro, co-author of Tech and the City: The Making of New York City’s Startup Community, co-founded Vedanta Capital and AT&T Ventures. Alexandra is managing director at 4C Ventures Management, Inc. Both are committed to fostering entrepreneurship at their alma mater and, through their Piol Family Entrepreneurship Fund, they have created Res. Inc., which includes about 30 undergraduate students per year.
“We want students to not only understand what exactly entrepreneurship is, but also to think outside the box—to be resourceful and versatile,” said Alexandra. “That’s the skill set you need to help grow the economy—to learn to try, and fail, and try again, and the knowledge and perspective that gives you.
Published: March 2014