Ron Barrett
Ron Barrett

Michael Pinsky ’15 and Vaidhy Murti ’15 first met freshman year as they watched a Yankees game in Frist Campus Center. “We were the only two people there, and so we started talking, we became friends, and now we’re roommates who’ve co-founded a company together,” Pinsky said.

The company is called Friendsy; with 10,000 users at seven colleges, Friendsy allows Web users to browse for potential friends and send relationship requests to their classmates. The application requires users to have an “.edu” email address — “the roots of what made Facebook successful,” Pinsky said.

Courtesy Brian Geiger ’16

Pinsky, a psychology major, and Murti, a computer science major, led one of seven teams taking part in the Keller Center’s eLab Summer Accelerator Program, a launch pad for student startups. “Each week was like another few miles in a marathon summer,” Pinsky said of the 10-week program. Participants received housing, mentorship from industry leaders, and no-strings-attached funding.

Cornelia Huellstrunk, eLab’s director, said that of the 20 student ventures in the program’s three years, most are still in business. These include Duma, a Nairobi-based employment network, and Firestop, emergency-response software for firefighters.

Other ideas pursued by this year’s teams: a prototype for a secure credit card, a fashion brand focused on ethical sourcing, motion-tracking technology, a nonprofit for solar-power distribution, American Sign Language-learning technology, and a nonprofit that connects critically ill children to musicians.

The climax of the 10 weeks came when students presented their ideas to venture capitalists and tech supporters in Princeton and New York. Afterward, Murti said, he and Pinsky received a call from panelist Sheryl WuDunn *88, senior managing director at Mid-Market Securities and former New York Times journalist, who “grilled us a little bit more.”

WuDunn said later that she was impressed with the student presentations, but cautioned that there is a “huge jump from having a great idea to finding a potential customer.” For Friendsy, the challenge is to “scale up and get tens and tens of thousands” of users, she said.

Students didn’t have to look far for inspiration. Presentations took place at the Manhattan headquarters of AppNexus, an online-advertising company co-founded by Brian O’Kelley ’99; that same week, CEO O’Kelley’s firm became the first New York ad-tech company with a billion-dollar valuation.