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Spark career fair highlights startups

Students of all majors were welcomed to Spark, a career fair for startup businesses, on Thursday to try their luck in the startup industry. (credit: Abhinav Gautam/) Students of all majors were welcomed to Spark, a career fair for startup businesses, on Thursday to try their luck in the startup industry. (credit: Abhinav Gautam/)

Weeks after the Technical Opportunities Conference (TOC) and the Employment Opportunities Conference (EOC), students checked in outside of Rangos Auditorium for a different kind of career fair. Spark, which took place last Thursday and held its first career fair four years ago, is meant specifically for smaller companies and startups, and caters to students who are interested in working for such companies.

One of the appeals of Spark, Assistant Director at the Career and Professional Development Center (CPDC), and one of the organizers of the event Ray Mizgorski said, is that Spark costs less for companies to attend than the TOC or EOC.

Spark also offers a more intimate atmosphere for students and recruiters. According to Associate Dean for the CPDC Kevin Monahan, over 300 companies and 3,000 students attended the TOC across all three days, while only 32 companies and about 300 students attended Spark.

Recruiters at Spark, Mizgorski said, are looking for students across majors. “It’s really nice because we don’t say startups in tech, or startups in this, or that. It really cuts across all disciplines,” he said.

The companies are also not limited to California’s Bay Area, known as the traditional home of startup culture. “Some of [the companies] are in Pittsburgh, some of them are in Chicago or the Midwest, a good handful or so are coming from the West Coast. So it really is expanding.”

Lucky Ramsey, director of recruitment for Waypaver, said that she appreciated the open dialogue that she could have with students at Spark. Waypaver, which Ramsey described as “the internal recruiting arm for a venture capital company,” is based in Chattanooga, Tenn., and was looking for computer scientists and product designers at Spark.

“[The fair is] really good because the students have a certain expectation,” Ramsey said. “Because they want to work for a startup, and they’re ready for it. Some students at larger job fairs are just like ‘Oh, startups, nothing to see here.’”

Kevin Collins, senior assistant director for the CPDC and another organizer of Spark, also noted that startups get lost in the crowd at larger job fairs.

“Startups and smaller companies, at a lot of different events, feel like they get lost between the larger companies,” Collins said. “So this is really a very informal, intimate setting, so they can talk to students. It’s a lot less crowded; there’s more room for dialogue.”

Some Carnegie Mellon students are looking specifically for internships at startups.

Rucha Patil, a master’s student in Heinz College’s School of Information Systems and Management, said that, although she went to the TOC, she is specifically looking to work for a startup. “I would love to work with one of these companies,” Patil said.

Mizgorski also emphasized how valuable it can be to work or intern at a startup. “The experiences that the students can get for internships [at startups] can be priceless,” Mizgorski said, “because typically in a smaller company you’re asked to do a lot more.

It’s not like a typical corporate situation where you’re stuck doing one thing all summer.”

Spark included more established companies like Pinterest, as well as companies like Branding Brand, a mobile commerce company founded by three Carnegie Mellon alumni in 2008, and Leanplum, an optimization solution for mobile apps founded in 2012.

Spark, Mizgorski said, aligns with Carnegie Mellon’s ever-growing entrepreneurial spirit. “With the entrepreneurial spirit that the students have here they always sought out startups, either companies that they started themselves or ones that other students were starting,” he said. “So we realized that was a definite niche that needed to be addressed.”