SciTech

Course combines business, software

Following their success last year, Director of Software Engineering Todd Sedano and Venture Capitalist Scott Russell (SCS 1982) at Carnegie Mellon's Silicon Valley campus are again offering 96-800, Real World Software Engineering for Entrepreneurs, this summer.

“The feedback from the students was that they loved it,” Sedano said. “Several of the teams are still working on their projects and are planning to start businesses when they graduate.”

The course 96-800 is unique because it is the only course where students are required to launch a software company and are graded based on that company’s success. “Last year, 22 people divided into seven teams took the class Real World Software Engineering for Entrepreneurs. Over the summer, all of the teams successfully developed and launched a mobile application, learned how to market their product to real customers and how to pitch their start up to venture capitalists,” said Russell, who is a venture capitalist himself.

While the experience is marked with many obstacles and sometimes failures, course alumni describe it as one of their most valuable learning experiences. “Prior to taking it [96-800], I had no idea of what kind of stuff you have to consider in making an app that you hope to profit from,” senior computer science and mathematical sciences double major Dustin Haffner said. “The instructors ... are both quite knowledgeable about the software industry. So, too, were the other students in the class. Much of the lessons I learned came from Scott sharing his experience as a venture capitalist.”

“[96-800] was like boot-strapping a start-up within a semester,” remarked master’s student Swamy Srikantappa, who has also taken the course. “It gave us a taste of the start-up culture in Silicon Valley.” Srikantappa and her team developed “AlertHey,” an application that helps caregivers, medical professionals, and other users monitor vital signs from Bluetooth sensors.

“We built cloud components to archive, interface with health vaults, and generate alerts when patient vital signs crossed preset thresholds,” Srikantappa said.

A critical aspect of the course is the mentoring program. “In Silicon Valley there are a lot of successful alumni. From the start, we paired each team with an alumni entrepreneur who gave the individual coaching on the challenges of starting a software business,” Russel commented. “This type of mentoring from experienced, successful alumni is priceless.”

The main challenge students run into during the course seems to be selling the product. “Being able to program an app isn’t enough,” Haffner noted. “Selling is quite a useful skill.”

The course description also reads, “For most of our talented engineering teams this was the FIRST TIME they had ever tried to ‘sell’ a real piece of software. This is the first time they had ‘cold called’ a stranger. Every team learned how hard it is to sell their applications. Most didn’t like selling. They preferred to develop! We’re here to help you with this hard transition in become more entrepreneurial.”

Because of the success the pair had with their course, they decided to offer 96-800 again this summer. “We decided to offer the course again this summer because feedback from the first class was positive and demand from students who want to learn more about how to start a business is high.” Sedano added, “We enjoyed the projects that the students did last year, and we can’t wait to see what people are thinking about for this year.”

This year, Sedano and Russell are also open to software and Web projects. “Last summer every team developed a mobile application. This summer we hope to have more variety. We encourage teams to pursue their own ideas, but in addition to mobile applications, we’d also like to see team develop applications for the Web,” Russell said.

Sedano and Russell stress that the course is open to all interested students, both undergraduate and graduate. “If you think you want to be an entrepreneur, then this course will give you an incredible experience to see what it is really like. It’s rewarding and fun work because it is challenging. If you have a software business idea and you have free time this summer, then get some friends together, find your way to Silicon Valley, and apply for the course,” Sedano added.

Further information about this course is available at: http://96800.sv.cmu.edu.