Episode Notes | Transcript | AskTheGuest

Episode Notes

Episode Title: Prof. Sivakumar on Georgia Tech’s CREATE-X: Building Entrepreneurial Confidence.

Episode summary introduction: Prof Raghupathy Sivakumar is the Founding Director of CREATE-X at Georgia Tech.

Prof Sivakumar joins us on our podcast today to share Why CREATE-X was born , the structure, instruction and opportunities it offers, startups it helps launch and how students and faculty benefit from it.

In particular, we discuss the following with him:

  • Prof. Sivakumar’s Professional Background
  • Origins of CREATE-X
  • The Entrepreneurial Confidence Program
  • Benefits for Students and Faculty

Topics discussed in this episode:

  • Introducing Prof Sivakumar, Georgia Tech [0:51]
  • Professional Background [2:49]
  • Joining Academia [6:22]
  • Startup Experiences [7:36]
  • Innovation - Siva’s Take [11:14]
  • What is CREATE-X? [13:57]
  • Origins of CREATE-X [16:14]
  • Structure [17:39]
  • Student Stats  [21:29]
  • Faculty Involvement [22:39]
  • Cross Disciplinary [26:11]
  • Success Stories [28:07]
  • Measuring Success [33:17]
  • Dealing with Failure [35:51]
  • What’s Ahead for CREATE-X [38:38]
  • Culture Change at Georgia Tech [40:46]
  • Advice for Tomorrow’s Innovators [43:02]
  • Wrap Up [46:14]

Our Guest: Raghupathy Sivakumar is Wayne J. Holman Chair Professor with the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Georgia Tech. He is also the Founding Director of CREATE-X at Georgia Tech. Prof. Sivakumar has a Bachelor’s in Computer Science from College of Engineering, Guindy, India, and a Masters and PhD in Computer Science from University of Illinois Urbana Champaign.

Memorable Quote: “...creating a network of people that you can tap into when you're ready to take the entrepreneurial plunge, right, because entrepreneurship by nature, you are always going to be limited by the resources that you have, right?” Prof Sivakumar advising would be innovators & entrepreneurs.

Episode Transcript: Please visit Episode’s Transcript.


Episode Transcript

Transcript of the episode’s audio.

<Start Snippet> Prof Sivakumar  0:14  

And so students at Georgia Tech used to come in saying I'm going to get a degree a really good degree and I'm going to go work in the industry and a lot of students still do. But now they are certainly willing to explore the entrepreneurial pathway while they are in school, they understand why it is not valuable for them to give it a shot, a to create impact if they're successful, but be there now learning valuable skills of spending time with customers doing product requirements, building product that matters, and then selling and they realize how it's going to be useful for their career.

Venkat  0:51  [Introducing Prof Sivakumar, Georgia Tech]

That is Prof Raghupathy Sivakumar of Georgia Institute of Technology (or Georgia Tech) talking about the CREATE-X.

Hello, I am your host, Venkat Raman.

CREATE-X is a Georgia Tech initiative to bring the entrepreneurial culture on campus, and change the arc of Higher Education.

Born about 5 years ago, it is touching large parts of the student body and the Faculty with Entrepreneurial Confidence.

Prof Sivakumar is the Founding Director of CREATE-X.

Over the last 2 decades, Prof Sivakumar has been quite adept and comfortable at converting his research into commercial products.

Prof Sivakumar joins us on our podcast today to share Why CREATE-X was born , the structure, instruction and opportunities it offers, startups it helps launch and how students and faculty benefit from it.

So, without further delay, here’s Prof Sivakumar!


Venkat Raman  2:14  

So let me start by welcoming you to our podcast, College Matters Alma Matters. Really, really looking forward to talking about CREATE-X today. And along the way, learn something about you. So thank you for making the time.

Siva  2:27  

Yeah, no, it's absolutely my pleasure. Venkat. Happy to be here and happy to talk more about CREATE-X and Georgia Tech.

Venkat Raman  2:35  

Sure. So let's just dive in right now then. Let's start with maybe telling us how you got into engineering and what your general experience has been so far.

Siva  2:49  [Professional Background]

Yeah, certainly. So I was born and brought up in Chennai, in India. And my dad was actually in the Indian Administrative Service. And growing up, I actually really just wanted to join the civil services. But as you can imagine, growing up in Chennai, there is a lot of pressure in terms of looking at engineering or medicine as sort of your profession. And coming out of high school, I had the opportunity to go to both engineering and medicine at the same time. And, and interestingly, I hadn't really worked with computers. This was in the early 90s. Yeah. And computers were not a household item. Yeah. And the it was an interesting story, because that particular year, the medical admissions happened about a month after the engineering admissions. So for the first month, I was like, Okay, I'm just gonna go in. And this was in the College of Engineering Guindy Anna University. Yeah. And I was in the Computer Science program. And that was the first heavy exposure, I had to computers and programming and I just fell in love with it. And so much so that after a month, like even though I was actually planning to go to the Madras Medical College, I said, No, I'm going to give up my seat. This is what I want to be doing for the rest of my life. Not everyone was happy as you can imagine, but but like, I'm still in love with computers and and what they can do and what they've done for us. And that so that's how I entered into the computer science program, and did my undergrad there and then came to the United States for my grad school.

Venkat Raman  4:37  

Where'd you go to grad school?

Siva  4:39  

Yeah, so I went to the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign for my master's initially. And so as I was doing my master's, I had an opportunity to go work at Microsoft to do my summer internship. And I could see what the life of a software developer was. And while I like programming lat I didn't see myself as sort of being in the software industry long term. And so when I came back from the summer internship decided, Okay, I'm going to go on to do my PhD because I really like problem solving. I like doing research. And PhD seemed like an interesting opportunity to sort of honed my skills and how to do research better. And so I decided to go on to my to doing my PhD there.

Venkat Raman  5:27  

So I guess that pretty much paved the way to getting into academia.

Siva  5:31  

Exactly. And it's interesting, like how in life, you don't clearly know what is going to play out. So even when I was doing a PhD, I had my options open. I remember, I was interviewing in industry, I was interviewing in industry labs, and I was interviewing in academia as well. And then as I was visit, as I would visit these different schools, for my interviews, I really understood like, okay, yes, I was exposed to the industry of Illinois, but then there are these other schools, and they all have the different cultures. And but the commonality is the students and the faculty. Right. And yeah, and so it was a pretty late decision, where I said, Okay, now I'm just going to go to academia.

Venkat Raman  6:17  

So how has it been at Georgia Tech, being on the faculty all these years?

Siva  6:22  [Joining Academia]

I have to say, it's been significantly more wonderful than I had even anticipated. I just finished my 21st year here at Georgia Tech. Thank you, thank you so much, and, and Georgia Tech as to me, it's a perfect fit for my personality. They very, it's a very nurturing environment. And it's also a growing campus, we have close to 40,000 students now. And in the 21 years, for the first 15 years of my career, I was also fortunate to, in addition to my academic responsibilities to go off and do startups, based on my research from my lab, and those were wonderful experiences in Georgia Tech was very supportive. And in some instances, let me go on a leave of absence to be with the startup full time. And so yeah, overall, it's been a wonderful, wonderful experience. And a lot of it has to do with the people, the students that I've had the pleasure to work with, and the faculty members that we have.

Venkat Raman  7:29  

Maybe you can give us a little flavor of the startups you went off and did while, you know, being on the faculty.

Siva  7:36  [Startup Experiences]

Yeah, absolutely. So my research is in wireless networks and mobile computing. And my lab, we do very systems oriented research. What that means is, even though we develop algorithms, that's our core focus, we almost always translate those algorithms into working systems. And, and so it, it is somewhat easier to see how the research that we do will fit in the real world, because we are actually building real systems. And we will embed it in the real world and see how it works. And so that's sort of the backdrop to why we've had these multiple spinouts from from the lab.

Siva  8:18  

So the first startup I was involved with, I was not a founder, I was one of the founding members I was there from day one was a company called EG technology, which was one the video encoding space. But the reason I was involved with a startup is because we actually developed transport protocol to carry video packets over the internet video over the internet was not a big deal at that time. Now, of course, it's the common mode of transport, but at that time, it wasn't. And we actually developed a new transport protocol, that was a lot more efficient for carrying video over the internet. So that was my first exposure to sort of doing a startup and being part of a startup.

Siva  9:03  

My second startup, I was the founder and CTO for the company. It's a company called sanchia, which built network optimization solutions for enterprises. So we would go into a company like, say delta and say, Hey, you have a network that operates across multiple sites. And here is a solution that would accelerate the transfer of data and information across your different sites. And that and we actually ran our own acceleration network. And that was an interesting experience itself, which is not just building product, but offering a service that enterprises can subscribe to. That, again, came directly out of my research lab, which was actually work done by my first PhD student out of Georgia Tech. And it was sort of the the area was parallel networking, which is how do you send traffic through multiple pathways through a network and get better performance.

Siva  10:05  

And the third startup was called Star mobile. It was an enterprise mobility solution. So the idea was if you're, if you're an enterprise, and you have business applications that you run, and if they run today only on desktops or laptops, how do you make them available on smartphones and tablets, and we had a platform that would programmatically convert your desktop application into a mobile app, so that the enterprises can now make those mobile apps available to their employees and their customers.

Siva  10:41  

So those are the three startups EGT was acquired by Addis interactive, Asankya, was acquired by EMC, now, Dell, and Star Mobile was acquired by a another private company out on the west coast.

Venkat Raman  10:59  

So this was a great training ground for what you're doing right now. So before we can jump into CREATE-X, maybe your views on what you think of innovation and entrepreneurship, what do they mean to you?

Siva  11:14  [Innovation & Entrepreneurship - Siva’s Take]

That's a really good question. Venkat. So there is a very classical definition for entrepreneurship. And this is not my definition, but I subscribe to this, which is, it is the pursuit of an opportunity beyond resources controlled. So and you can see like this definition actually has, it's not specific to only startups, right. You can be entrepreneurial in any place that you go work at, or you live in. Right. And, and that's what really appeals to me. To me, entrepreneurship is not just about doing startups, I know, right? That is a strong correlation there. But it's about problem solving and pursuing opportunities, even if pursuing those opportunities require resources that are beyond what you currently control. And so how do you go from point A to point B, by gathering resources by showing traction, and then gathering more resources, raising more resources. So it's a iterative process, but that's how you can pursue sort of large visions. And, and innovation again, to me at the core of it is problem solving, and identifying needs and using a technology as an example to solve those problems. Right. And so to me, innovation and entrepreneurship go hand in hand. And I and one of the interesting developments, I know we're going to talk more about universities and what they do. But one of the interesting developments is I see universities sort of becoming more and more aware that they need to be custodians of not just innovation, but how that innovation translates into impact. Right. So in the past, universities have been content with sort of doing research, creating solutions to solve problems, but then let somebody else come in and translate that research into impact. And I think universities are now increasingly taking control over that stage, and figuring out okay, how do we enable impact and not just be satisfied by the research that we're doing?

Venkat Raman  13:23  

Absolutely. And if I may add one more thing, I think universities can also are also making a teachable, right how to how to kind of figure out how to innovate, how to be an entrepreneur. And I think that I think is a wonderful, wonderful way to multiply this across the world. So absolutely. With that kind of background, tell us what is creative X, maybe first, just what it is, and then we can jump into how it was born?

Siva  13:57  [What is CREATE-X?]

Sure. So, So CREATE-X is Georgia Tech initiative. And our mission statement has two parts to it. Right, which is one is we want it's an initiative to instill entrepreneurial confidence in our students, and to help them launch successful companies. When people usually look at our mission statement, sometimes they go, Well, aren't they the same thing. And for us, it's not because we think entrepreneurial confidence is a life skill that students need to have when they go out into the world, regardless of whether they're going to do a startup or not. They could go work for the Home Depot's of the world and the deltas of the world or the Googles of the world, but they can be entrepreneurially confident within those organizations. Right and so that's a life skill that that we are instilling in them. Now. Along the way, we do help some of our students go on to launch successful companies and we'll talk more about some other statistics and but our students have done incredibly well. UW well, in terms of launching ventures that are now have now created hundreds of jobs right here in Atlanta, right, and so so that's the two part mission and, and so the initiative itself is broken down into three stages, we call them learn, make and launch, learn is classes that we teach on entrepreneurship. And to your earlier point, we actually teach them a systematic approach for how to discover problems and how to find value proposition, how to do customer discovery, and so on. So that's the Learn part of it. Make, we run research and prototyping programs, where we provide students with resources to build prototypes based on an idea that they have to serve a real need. And then in launch, we have an on campus startup accelerator, where we give students funding and coaching and mentorship for them to launch real companies. And so that's how Createx is organized. It's an array of programs that fall into these three categories of learn, make and launch. But at the end of the day, what we're trying to do is to instill entrepreneur confidence in our students, and help them launch successful companies.

Venkat Raman  16:10  

So how did this come about? How did this idea come about?

Siva  16:14  [Origins of CREATE-X]

Yes, it's got an interesting origin story that so that it's not just one person that led to the creation of CREATE-X. There's actually a bunch of us on campus, some of some faculty members, we have really successful alum at of Georgia Tech, Chris Klaus, who had created the internet security systems 20 plus years ago, while he was a student at Georgia Tech, and he was motivated to change the entrepreneurial culture on campus. So a bunch of faculty members on campus along with Chris, we came together and said, Okay, what is the future of education look like? Right? How do we enable our students to systematically tackle big problems through entrepreneurship? And, and that's how Createx was, was born in the 2014-15 timeframe.

Venkat Raman  17:07  

Very interesting. So you see this as a future of education kind of initiative?

Siva  17:14  

Absolutely. We are completely convinced that in addition to the technical skills that they learn at a place like Georgia Tech, if you couple that with entrepreneurial confidence, that trajectories out in the real world is going to be significantly better.

Venkat Raman  17:34  

So tell us more about it. How, How are you structured? How do you make all this happen?

Siva  17:39  [Structure]

Yeah. So going back to the Learn-Make-Launch sequence, right. So one of the reasons we consciously build that pathway Venkat, when you're trying to change culture on a campus like Georgia Tech, where not a lot of resources had existed around entrepreneurship for students, you want to reach students where they are at that point, right. And our students are used to taking classes. And so we said, Okay, what's the best way to have them consider this as a pathway, let's provide them a lot of set of learning resources.

Siva  18:16  

And so we offer classes and they get curricular credit for doing it. And the signature class that we teach is called Startup Lab, which is open to all students on campus. And when they come in, they we teach them this methodology of customer discovery. And they talk to somewhere between 100 250 customers during the span of that semester, a single student and their team. And so overall, between the students that we have, we actually have, like 5000 to 10,000 customer conversations, like, which is amazing. And this is an eye opening experience for our students because they technically very good, and now they realize that they can approach changes, and they can actually have deep conversations to understand problems that these people have. And then they can put their technical know how to use in solving these problems. It's a it's a completely eye opening experience for them. So that's the Learn phase.

Siva  19:15  

And then, we run research and prototyping programs. And the signature class that we teach is called idea to prototype and it's a research program, students can do it for one to two semesters. And they come in with hay here is an idea that I have, and I want to build a prototype. And they usually say, and I would love to get the mentorship of this professor in this lab because they are an expert in this field. And we make all that happen. So we give them a small research grant. And we approach the mentor, the professor and ask them whether they would be willing to mentor and we make that connection happen. And then the students work for one to two semesters building a prototype and in the process overcoming anytime political challenges they might have. But again, they get curricular credit for doing this, they get three to six credits, it counts toward the graduation.

Siva  20:10  

And then the last part of it is Launch, where students apply to get into the accelerator, we go through a rigorous selection process, and we let in teams, and then the summer program is pretty intensive experience for the students. And they are actually incorporating a company, that is their founder agreements that they have in place for between the founders, and they begin to so real customers. And so this pathway is very appealing to students, because even if a student's like, Hey, I don't really want to do a startup, but I'm okay with doing classes, right? Because that's part of my education. And let me learn more. And when they do the classes, they get excited, and they're like, Okay, maybe I'll do the next step, which is build something that using my technical know how, but that solves a real problem, and they go into the make phase. And then in the make phase, once they're done, they're like, wow, like I've come this far along. Now, let me see if I can just take it to market. And then they go into the launch phase. So it's a wonderful sort of sequence of stages for the students. And students who go through the all three phases, obviously end up with real companies.

Venkat Raman  21:22  

What fraction of the students who take classes sort of go to the next level, and then on to the launch?

Siva  21:29  [Student Stats]

So again, that's a wonderful question. And I'll give you the overall statistics first, which is we've launched about 300 ventures. And so if you do the math, that's about 1000. Students. And, and we've worked with over 5000 students overall, right? And so 5000 students enter the funnel, and about 1000 students have gone on to launching ventures. And on one level, like, we are actually very happy with it, right? Because there are students that we noticed that will do the Learn phase or the make phase. And then they'll just go work at a company. And then two years later, they'll send us a note saying, Hey, I just saw this entrepreneur opportunity. Now I'm ready to launch a company. Right, which is exactly what we want to equip them with. But within Georgia Tech, it's about a five to one ratio between students that enter the funnel. And then students who actually go on to launching companies.

Venkat Raman  22:22  

That's an awesome stat. I mean, that in itself is awesome, right? I mean, yeah. In the real world, I don't know what the numbers would be. But this is great. Exactly. How much of the faculty is involved in this?

Siva  22:39  [Faculty Involvement]

Yeah, so the faculty is a really big piece of this ecosystem Venkat because, because of a couple of reasons, right? One is, in any academic campus, if the faculty members are not boughten into a vision, it's very difficult to make that vision come true in a broader sense, right. And so from day one, we've had this philosophy that this has to be a faculty led effort. We do have non faculty members on staff, but it's a it's always been a faculty led effort. So that's sort of one. The second is entrepreneurship for a lot of our students is new, right? Yeah. And but at the same time, students already have a trustful relationship with our faculty members. And so when our faculty members stand in front of them and say, hey, here, come I will teach you this, right? The it sort of makes that process of learning something new, much easier. So that's the second reason. And the third reason is it's a scaling mechanism, right? Because our goal is to scale CREATE-X to a point where every single Georgia Tech student, before they graduate, would have gone through a create X program. That's what we're working. So 40,000 students, before they graduate would have gone through a create X program. Now, how do we get to that kind of scale? We could hire a lot of new people. But a better mechanism is faculty members already exist, there is already a faculty to student ratio that we maintain as a university. So why not just get more and more faculty members involved as we scale in order to deliver our programs, and there is a sort of a byproduct positive impact to this, which is that our faculty members who also want to learn more about entrepreneurship, and now they see create acts as a vehicle for me, I can just get involved and create x, I can learn what these methodologies are. And yes, I'm going to teach the students but in addition to it, now, I can think about how I can translate my research into startups. Right. So there is a interesting synergy there. So yeah, so faculty members are heavily involved in the delivery of all of our programs. We have 75 to 80 faculty members who are involved in CREATE-X at this point in time, participating in our different programs and working with our Students.

Venkat Raman  25:02  

Hi, there. It's me again. Hope you like what you're hearing today. If you do, you can check out more at almamatters.io forward slash podcasts.

Venkat Raman  25:17  

Students who go from sort of learn to make, do they get mentors, each make team gets a mentor.

Siva  25:23  

Exactly. So the make team would say, Hey, I'm working on this Materials, project. And I would love this professor and Material Science engineering to mentor me. And we would connect the professor to the student. And the nice thing is, it's very, very rare that a professor will say, No, I don't want to mentor this team, right? Because they see this as an opportunity to just spend time with some students who are genuinely interested in working on an innovation in their space. And our hit rate is like close to 100%. In terms of connecting the faculty member to the students,

Venkat Raman  25:59  

I would imagine that to be the case.

Venkat Raman  26:04  

Now, how much of this is across disciplines? How much of what's going on do you find interdisciplinary?

Siva  26:11  [Cross Disciplinary]

Yeah, again, really good question. So this was an open question on minds. Venkat, when we launched CREATE-X, but now we have the data. So students, in CREATE-X, come from 38 different majors. Wow. Right. And, and that is so such a positive side, because you can name a major psychology, public policy, computer science, material sciences, engineering, civil engineering, we've had students write physics, math. And and this is really important in terms of, especially when you're talking about entrepreneurial thinking and problem solving, because students from these different majors come with very different perspectives, right. And so when you have a team of four students, and they come from different majors, the way they approach the problem is very different. And so it helps them in an accelerated fashion solve that problem. And so for us, single discipline teams are the exception. Right? Most of our teams are interdisciplinary teams. And like I said, the students actually come from 30 different majors.

Venkat Raman  27:19  

That's fantastic. That's fantastic. You know, you and I know growing up in engineering sort of environments. It's very rare to do these cross disciplinary things. Exactly. It's a great thing to have before you graduate.

Siva  27:34  

Yep, exactly.

Venkat Raman  27:39  

Maybe you can give us a little feel for the types of projects, maybe some, you know, flagship or otherwise, projects that the students have done. And then we can talk about some, maybe, you know, maybe the success stories, however you want to sort of talk about it.

Siva  27:54  

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I'll talk I'll give you a few examples of success stories. And I also picked the ones to sort of show the diversity of the companies.

Siva  28:07  [Success Stories]

One of our first sort of successful companies that came out of CREATE-X is a company called fixed FixD. And the listeners can go to FixDapp.com. And it's an automotive tech solution. So if you have a car, and you're not a car geek, what happens is like something goes wrong with the car, like I would take my car into the mechanic, and the mechanic goes into the shop, does some diagnostics comes out and says, car, it's gonna cost you $300 To fix this. At that point in time, there is a huge knowledge asymmetry, right? Because I don't know much about cars, the mechanic does. And the mechanics are telling me it's gonna cost $300. And I have no way to even question or challenge that observation. And that's really what fixed salt. So there's a, there's a hardware that plugged plugs into your car dashboard, and there's an app on your phone. When something goes wrong with your car, the app is going to tell you, so it's going to cost you this much to fix this, you probably want to get this fixed within the next week. And now when I won't go into a mechanic, I know what needs to be done. I know how much needs to cost. And so I can have a more intelligent discussion with the mechanic. And fixed has sold over a million units of that product now. So there are a million cars in the country that are running the app, and they're doing incredibly, incredibly well. Each unit is $60 or so and so you can do the math in terms of the revenue that they've done. So they're doing really, really well.

Siva  29:45  

The other company that I would sort of highlight is a more recent company called stored StorD. It was founded by one of our students, Sean Henry, who was a freshman When he created stood, stood right now is an end to end supply chain logistics company. And they've crossed $100 million in revenue. And they just got a valuation of $1.1 billion, about 10 days ago. And it's a Kleiner Perkins Founders Fund investment. And, but what's interesting about stowed is when they started off, they were more in the storage locker space and they pivoted, they pivoted, pivoted. And they know they've sort of grown into this space, and especially with the pandemic supply chain, has become a big, big area of concern for businesses and stored was there to serve these companies and providing an end to end supply chain solution. So that's another company that's doing incredibly well.

Siva  30:52  

There's another company called Grubbly Farms, which I want to sort of do a shout out to. I didn't know this Venkat. But there are in the US that are 10 million households that have pet chicken. And which is was an amazing number to me when I first started, right. So and I don't know whether you have a dog like we have a dog at home, and the dog, like we spend a lot in terms of the food for the dog, right, right? Yes, absolutely. We're looking for high quality food. And now the chicken owners are doing the same thing, which is they're looking for high quality chicken feed. And that's what Grubbly Farms does. Grubbly Farms offers high quality chicken feed, and now they are also sort of broadening to other types of pets, but they are on the chicken feed business. And they're doing really well in terms of traction and revenue.

Siva  31:44  

Another company called Reframe, which is also a more recent company, went through great x and then went through Y Combinator. And what they do when cut is they have a psychology based app that helps people combat and reduce alcohol addiction. So they, especially during the pandemic, as you can imagine, alcohol addiction did sort of become a more severe problem. And Reframe, was founded by two of our students, Vedant, and Z. And they are doing really well they went through YC. And they are now serving 1000s and 1000s of users who are using their app to reduce their alcohol addiction.

Siva  32:34  

So these are some sort of quick examples of companies. And you can see the diversity, everything from automotive tech, to supply chain logistics, to the pet food industry, to sort of addiction reduction. And so and this is what sort of excites us the most when students come from 30 different majors, they're coming in trying to tackle problems all over the place. And and we have dozens and dozens of successful companies that are working on ideas like this.

Venkat Raman  33:08  

How do you, how do you as an organization, measure success? What what kind of criteria do you guys use?

Siva  33:17  [Measuring Success]

Yeah, again, a really good question. So there are leading metrics that we focus on. Again, at the end of the day, we are an educational institution. Right, right. So we care a lot about how many servants summary students do we serve? And what impact are we having in terms of entrepreneurial confidence, right. And so and like I said, we've sold over 5000 students, that's a big metric for us. And we measure Entrepreneurial Confidence, using surveys that we administer at the end of each program. And we see whether we've made a difference in terms of improving Entrepreneur Confidence. This is not a completely sort of buttoned up. Sort of area. In fact, we just recently hired a learning scientist to specifically look at, okay, how can we better measure entrepreneurial confidence and she's actually doing a wonderful job, trying to instrument are different programs so that we can measure entrepreneur confidence better. So that's, so these are leading metrics that we are certainly using to measure our success? And then of course, there are lagging metrics, right, which is, okay, we have now enabled this demographic of students to go on to do ventures, what kind of impact are these ventures having, right? How many jobs are they creating? What is the total valuation of the companies that we are helping launch? How many, like how much revenue are they making? Right? So these are sort of lagging metrics that we have started tracking as well and our the total valuation of our companies now is just based on stored over a billion dollars and over 500 jobs created right here in Atlanta. So those are lagging metrics that we're also sort of actively tracking and measuring.

Venkat Raman  35:09  

You know, having been in sort of the Silicon Valley and being involved in startups, one of the sort of downsides is that not everything succeeds. Yes, we know exactly very small numbers succeed. Now, part of the Entrepreneurial Confidence has got to be resilience, right? The ability to sort of get up and dust yourself and sort of try again. So how are you finding that with? I know, it's been five years, it's a short time. But things that don't go forward or stumble or yeah, don't have a future what.... How are your students handling that? What are you finding?

Siva  35:51  [Dealing with Failure]

Yeah, so that's an excellent question Venkat. Because I'll give you a starting point, which will serve as a backdrop right, like the average GPA of our incoming class this year was like 4.0. Right? So these are students that are doing incredibly, incredibly well academically, and so they don't want to fail. Right, right. But as you know, real life, you have to be willing to try new things. And that's going to come with failures. So one of the things that we talk heavily to our students about is this fail fast and fail safe within an academic environment, right. And so in a way we are adding value and just telling them, it's okay to fail, right? Because it's going to be useful for their startup efforts. But it's also going to be useful, sort of, in a broader sense. So that's sort of step one. There is another aspect to this, which is we are very conscious of right? Where if a student has gone to learn, make launch, and they failed in their startup, right? We don't want them to leave with less Entrepreneurial Confidence, right, like we and, and in fact, interestingly, we just launched a program through support from the Kern Foundation. And Georgia Tech has done this our School of Biomedical Engineering has a Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech has been using this technique called story based learning, where you have to student tell stories in order to internalize what they've gained and what they have learned. And so now we are actually, we just kicked off a program and CREATE-X to help our students internalize better what they've gained in terms of entrepreneurial confidence, even though their actual venture might have failed. Right. And so it's a great question. I wouldn't say that we have the answer to that question. But we are very conscious of it. And on one hand, we do talk a lot to students about failures and why it's completely reasonable to have failures, especially when you're doing entrepreneurial sort of efforts. And on the other hand, we are also sort of trying new pedagogical methods for students to internalize what they came through the program, even if their venture might have failed.

Venkat Raman  38:09  

No, I Yeah. I didn't expect a solution right away. But it's, you know, 90% of it is probably just being aware of it. Exactly. And having to sort of be empathetic to that issue.

Siva  38:20  

Yep, exactly.

Venkat Raman  38:26  

So what's what's ahead for CREATE-X? I mean, you mentioned scale, you wanted to touch 40,000 students on campus? What's ahead for CREATE-X?

Siva  38:38  [What’s Ahead for CREATE-X]

Yeah, so we are constantly, we think of CREATE-X as a startup in itself, right. And every year, we are eliminating some existing programs, we're creating new programs. And our mission is simple, which is to instill entrepreneurial confidence in our students and help them launch successful companies. And because we want to serve all of our students, we need to scale and but at the scaling is not going to come easily right. There is a resource side to it, which is we need more resources, and we need to raise those resources, but also, how do you scale while keeping the quality of the programming high, right. And so so those are things that we are sort of heavily thinking about and figuring out solutions. And so just to give you a sense, year one, we worked with about 55 students and helped launch eight companies. And this year, we will work with about 2500 students. And we helped launch at student startups this last summer. And so we've gone from eight to 80. But we really want to get to about 300 startups a year. So we still have to grow three to four times and and even though there are 40,000 students, we don't think our annual capacity has to be that much because students do spend multiple years on campus. So we need we think we need to grow to about 6000 to 7000 students a year. And so again, about 3x growth in the number of students we serve. But how do we do that effectively, I think is, is the bigger challenge that that we are focused on.

Venkat Raman  40:16  

So I have two questions before we wind down here. The first one has something to do with, you mentioned changing culture a couple of times. So, you know, you've been in at Georgia Tech for 21 years, you said, and then this has been, CREATE-X has been, what, five plus years? That's right. Have you seen any change in the culture? Have you been able to discern any positive change or big change?

Siva  40:46  [Culture Change at Georgia Tech]

Absolutely. No, no question. So students at Georgia Tech used to come in saying, I'm going to get a degree a really good degree, and I'm going to go work in the industry, and a lot of students still do. But now they are certainly willing to explore the entrepreneurial pathway while they are in school, they understand why it is not valuable for them to give it a shot, a to create impact if they're successful, but be there now learning valuable skills of spending time with customers doing product requirements, building product that matters, and then selling, and they realize how it's going to be useful for their career. So I'm certainly seeing a huge shift in the in the mindset of, of students. And I'll give you a funny example, that I just got an email from a student yesterday, a Georgia Tech student who just entered the Ph. D. program. And he's not picked his advisor yet. And he basically sent me an email saying, Look, I really want to do a startup. Yes, I want to pick an advisor, but I want to make sure that advisor is going to be supportive of my startup aspirations. So can you tell me who are the entrepreneur, the faculty on campus, so that I can restrict my sort of advisor search to just those faculty members? That's an incredible email. And I'm thinking back to when I was doing my PhD. Like, I wouldn't have even thought about a startup and using that as a filter to choose my advisor. Right. But I think it's timely given this interview is happening today. And I got that email yesterday. And I had a big smile on my face when I got that email that students are thinking along those lines.

Venkat Raman  42:29  

No, this is, you know, what you're doing is awesome. So congratulations to you and your team.

Siva  42:35  

Thank you.

Venkat Raman  42:40  

I kind of wanted to close with a question, or hopefully some advice from you on what you think is needed, or what kind of skills are needed for innovation and entrepreneurship? What should high school students be doing? As they are, you know, bound for college over the next few years?

Siva  43:02  [Advice for Tomorrow’s Innovators]

It's really good question Venkat. And I think the kids are already there, right? Like, I see kids coming in now saying, Well, I want to solve climate change, I want to help with reducing poverty, right. Like, I think they have big ambitions. No, no question. And coming to a school at Georgia Tech, they're going to get a world class education, they're going to get trained in the right technical skills. I think, if there is a word of advice, it was to stay curious, because one of the things, students obviously don't have a lot of life experience, right, like, where they've seen hundreds and hundreds of problems around them, and where they can pick and choose what the big problems are, and so on. One of the ways to combat it is by being curious. And so when you're talking to somebody, see if you can figure out what keeps them awake at night, what are the pains that they have in their day to day life? I think that's a big aspect of being entrepreneurial, which is problem finding problem finding problems that matter. And I think So curiosity is a big, big aspect to it. And then the second is creating a network of people that you can tap into when you're ready to take the entrepreneurial plunge, right, because entrepreneurship by nature, you are always going to be limited by the resources that you have, right? Because you're not going to have all the resources in the world. And that's where tapping into a network is going to be useful. So we see a lot of that happening, which is in CREATE-X, for example, even though these are Georgia Tech students, creating companies, we are okay with them bringing in students from other colleges to be part of the venture team, because we want them to have the right network in place. Right. And so we routinely have co founders from other universities Is that a part of startups that our students are launching? So yeah, I think stay curious, continue to form networks that you can tap into. And at the end of the day, it's all about, like generating value creating value for people around you, right. And so if you're focused on it, you're going to be able to bring up a really good change.

Venkat Raman  45:23  

Awesome. So Siva, this has been very exciting. And what you're doing is very inspiring. And I hope the legions of high school students get excited and do more and more innovation and entrepreneurship. And I thank you again for your time. I want to talk to you more, for now. Take care be safe. I'll talk to you soon.

Siva  45:45  

Yeah, thank you, Venkat. And I like I said, this was a real pleasure. And I'm hoping your listeners are going to look at this. And if they come to Georgia Tech, that's obviously awesome. But wherever they go. If this sort of explored the entrepreneurial pathway, then that's that's a big win for me.

Venkat Raman  46:03  

Absolutely. Thank you. Siva.

Siva  46:05  

Thanks, Venkat. Bye.

Venkat Raman  46:06  

Yup. Bye.


Venkat  46:14  [Wrap up]

Hi again!

Hope you enjoyed our podcast with Prof Sivakumar on Georgia Tech’s CREATE-X.

The Learn-Make-Launch seems like a very good approach to instilling Entrepreneurial Confidence in its students.

It is also quite remarkable what CREATE-X has been able to do in its 5 years:

  • 5000 Students have gone through the CREATE-X process
  • What’s amazing is that these students come from 38 different majors, and
  • Around 300 ventures have been launched. This involves roughly 1000 students.

Certainly a lot more to come from CREATE-X!

If innovation and entrepreneurship is your thing, I hope this podcast inspires you to explore Georgia Tech further for your undergraduate study.

For your questions or comments on this podcast, please email podcast at almamatters.io [podcast@almamatters.io].

Thank you all so much for listening to our podcast today.

Transcripts for this podcast and previous podcasts are on almamatters.io forward slash podcasts [almamatters.io/podcasts].

To stay connected with us, Subscribe to Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify or visit anchor.fm forward slash almamatters [anchor.fm/almamatters] to check us out.

Till we meet again, take care and be safe.

Thank you!

Summary Keywords

College Podcast, Georgia Tech, Innovation, CREATE-X, Raghupath Sivakumar, Entrepreneurship, US Colleges, College Admissions, undergraduate, Learn, Make, Launch

Is College in US for you?