Red Lab’s class emphasizes start-up awareness, networking

In an effort to boost start-up culture, the Bauer Red Labs are hosting weekly viewing sessions of Y Combinator president’s “How to Start a Start-up” class being taught at Stanford University this Fall.

Every Tuesday at 6 p.m. the Red Labs open their usually key-card-only accessible doors to students, faculty and staff to partake in the lessons and subsequent discussion from the lessons of Y Combinator President Sam Altman and his guest speakers, PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, Yahoo co-founder Paul Graham and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer among others.

“One thing that (Stanford) has that we don’t is a density of tech start-ups,” Bauer clinical professor and Red Labs co-founder Hesam Panahi said.

“(Altman) is hosting all the content online and encouraging other universities to have viewing sessions. The idea (for us) is that (these sessions) are an easy way for (students) to get involved and once (they) see what we do, if (they) want to do more with it we can help.”

Despite not being for a credit, Panahi said Altman’s class provides a networking space for students and staff, as well as useful insight.

“The videos are very enlightening in terms of what is happening with start-up culture,” Bauer MBA graduate and session attendee Travis Arnold said. “They give a lot of insight as to how start-ups are different from an existing company – this is a pioneering new frontier for starting your business (when compared to) what I typically learned in business school: to go the beaten path.”

Attendance for the three sessions thus far has averaged at about seven attendees, Panahi said, part of who are or have been involved with the Red Labs, while two or three are new. Panhi said he hopes to capitalize on that and further expand the Red Labs’ reach.

“We get business school students because we ca n reach out to them fairly easily, but sometimes it’s a bit challenging with the others (because) it’s such a big university,” Panahi said.

“I would really like to reach out to the more creative disciplines like communications and graphic design — that’s a big part of a start-up.”

Red Labs participant and engineering sophomore Rakshak Talwar recommends those interested in start-up culture to attend the sessions, citing lack of knowledge and awareness for the low attendance and interest.

“There are a lot of people in this generation who want to go a different route than corporate America but (whom) are very misinformed (and) maybe disenchanted by the complexities of (start-ups),” Talwar said.

“But if they (came), they would realize that’s not the case. I’m not saying everyone should jump on it, but at least have the awareness.”

Talwar said he attributes lack of start-up awareness to a curriculum driven by a “how to get a job” mentality and said students would benefit from having entrepreneurship integrated as another option — even when outside of an entrepreneurship-driven career, as is engineering.  Arnold expressed similar sentiments.

“There’s not much support at a grad level for entrepreneurship,” Arnold said. “That’s really more of a Wolff Center deal, which is undergrad.”

The University offers an undergraduate and graduate cross-listed class in the Spring that is similar to Altman, according to Panahi, but with speakers from the Houston community.

“It’s as close to that class as we can possibly get,” Panahi said.

“(Speakers) might be successful entrepreneurs, investors or lawyers — it’s basically an over-view of all the things you should be thinking about as you’re getting (your start-up) started.”

Students looking to join the viewing sessions are encouraged to join the session’s Facebook page via the Red Labs group. If enough interest is generated, Panahi said a Thursday viewing session will be added.

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