Alumni Jake Levine ’08, Tim Devane ’09, and Alex Rosen ’08 are sponsoring the first Digital Wesleyan Startup Workshop Series this winter and spring to educate students about digital media and startups. The workshop will potentially lead to paid Digital Wesleyan summer internships for some participants.
“The workshop series aims to cultivate a better network of tech thinking and entrepreneurship on campus,” said organizer Dex Blumenthal ’15. “It’s an amazing opportunity to learn basic tech skills that enable creative thinkers to transform their visions into something real, like an app or a website.”
Cosponsored by the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship, the Career Center, and WesHack, the workshop series will cover basic computer programming and app design, introduce participants to alumni in the industry, and help students conceptualize their own startups.
The first three sessions will focus on acquainting students with coding and collaborative technology projects, while the final three sessions will focus on designing and building a product. In the final session, each participant will present his or her project to the alumni organizers.
“These projects will give students real-world experience,” Blumenthal said.
The series will be held on campus on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. starting Feb. 15; applications are due on Feb. 1. At the end of the six sessions, up to 10 participants will be chosen for three thousand-dollar paid summer internships in New York City or San Francisco. Participation is capped at 20 and already the number of applications have exceeded the limit.
Although the class is limited to 20 students, the sessions will be posted online through a digital livestream.
Blumenthal had previously been disappointed by the lack of a tech entrepreneurship presence on campus, despite the pervasiveness of Wesleyan alumni in the professional industry. In the beginning of October, he spoke with Director of the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship Makaela Kingsley ’98, who put him in touch with Levine and Devane.
Levine, Rosen, and Devane initially founded Digital Wesleyan in 2008 as a network for alumni in the digital media field. The organization hosted 10 networking events and panels for alumni about the impact of technology on news, entertainment, arts, and education, according to Levine.
“We felt that we had [done] a good job of making alumni aware of Wesleyan’s digital media presence, but I consistently met students that didn’t know that there were alumni [or] how to get involved,” Levine said. “At that point, Digital Wes shifted [its focus] to how to get students.”
Levine lamented that the computer science program at the University does not fully teach students how to build a future in the field.
“The compsci program at Wesleyan is great, but it doesn’t teach the modern, applied computer programming that is used by startups and computer companies,” Blumenthal said. “In the course, we want to demystify what is needed to start a company.”
Levine said he hopes that with Digital Wesleyan students will gain confidence in the startup world.
“It’s hard to be excellent, but it’s not that hard to build a product that you want to build and solve a problem you want to solve,” Levin said. “We want to make it clear that if you want to [achieve] your goal, you can make that happen.”
As a prototype, last year Digital Wesleyan raised enough funds from alumni to fund three students for three thousand-dollar paid internships at startups. This year, Digital Wesleyan received funding from the school and alumni to pay for 10 three thousand-dollar summer internships. Students do not need to participate in the course in order to be eligible for the scholarships, though participants will have an advantage due to the classroom experience.
“In selecting interns, we will ask ‘Is this person a go-getter, and have they shown an interest in startups and technology?’” Levine said. “Startups are not for everyone. It appears a lot more glamorous than it is. What you need is an unquenchable thirst and an unstoppable hustle. That’s the type of person that we want.”
Kingsley explained the Patricelli Center’s rationale for funding the course.
“We believe that tech skills can be useful in any career path and that concepts of innovation and disruption fit perfectly with the liberal learning that takes place at Wesleyan,” Kingsley said. “Wesleyan alumni have a great track record of being successful entrepreneurs, social or otherwise, and we want to cultivate that tradition among today’s students.”