If you have an idea for a new app, how can you find an iOS developer to help you turn that idea into a reality? Here in Champaign-Urbana, you might stop by SocialFuse, a recurring event hosted by the Technology Entrepreneur Center (TEC).
SocialFuse is an evening of pitching and networking that gives students, faculty, and community members the chance to share ideas and connect with others who are passionate about the same projects. The goal of SocialFuse, which will be taking place every other month this semester, is to “fuse” people from different majors and backgrounds — folks who might not otherwise meet — so they can work together on the next big idea.
According to Jed Taylor, TEC’s Director of Operations, students’ desire to connect with multidisciplinary teams inspired the first SocialFuse event.
Jed Taylor, Director of Operations, TEC
“We often get students who come to our office and ask for help connecting with others. Some say, ‘I’ve got an idea and I’m looking for certain types of students to work with me.’ For instance, maybe they’re looking for a software developer. Or, we have students who say, ‘I have a certain skill set, and I’m looking for a good idea or a team to work with.’ And then, as we go on trips and meet successful entrepreneurs — for instance the founders of PayPal or YouTube — they often say they met their teams on campus. So we decided to create a forum where people could come together and share their ideas.”
SocialFuse has expanded rapidly since its inception. Taylor noted that when they hosted the first event two years ago, 50-60 people attended. As a result, TEC decided to hold SocialFuse once a semester and had roughly 75 people at each event. Now, they’ve expanded SocialFuse to every other month, and the numbers keep growing.
“We’ve had 125 students per event on average,” said Taylor. “Last September 190 people were there.”
People attend SocialFuse to pitch the projects they’re working on and to find other people to work with them. The format for the event is that 20 teams are selected from brief applications submitted in advance, and each team has two minutes to pitch their project and say what they’re looking for. Teams vary in size — Taylor remembers teams as small as one person and as big as 10 people — and the ideas are as diverse as the presenters. “We’ve had people interested in developing video games,” said Taylor. “And one time a DJ came. He was looking for software developers.”
Some teams pitch fully developed ideas, but others share ideas in the very beginning stages. “This isn’t a competition,” said Taylor. “No one is being judged. You’re pitching to find people to work with — co-founders or co-workers.”
The pitches last for about an hour, and the rest of the evening is devoted to networking. The event sponsor for the evening — past sponsors have included Meyer Capel and Singleton Law Firm — often provides a raffle item, such as an iPad or free legal services. Icebreakers are mixed in throughout.
“We might ask everyone who is an iOS developer, or everyone who is in Art + Design, to stand up. We want people to see the different types of skill sets that are there,” said Taylor.
Most projects that have come out of SocialFuse are still in the works, but Taylor said that the event has formed plenty of connections already. For instance, Rithmio, the recent winner of the Cozad New Venture Competition, came to SocialFuse to find interns and full-time employees. And Miss Possible, which makes dolls to inspire young girls to go into STEM education, found people to work with them through a pitch presented at SocialFuse.
SocialFuse is always changing, and tonight’s event will highlight new partnerships and a new focus. “This time,” said Taylor, “we’re working with the Krannert Center. We’re focusing on social entrepreneurship, and we’re hoping to have several teams focused on projects related to social entrepreneurship there to present pitches.”
For tonight’s event, TEC has partnered with Prof. Noah Isserman, who has affiliations with the Department of Business Administration and the School of Social Work, to organize this event. Students from University of Chicago have been invited down to present some of their ideas. And, by hosting the event at Krannert, TEC hopes to hear from students with backgrounds in art and design.
“We move SocialFuse around campus in the hopes of getting different people involved,” said Taylor. “If you have it on the Engineering Campus, you’ll get different students than if you have it somewhere connected with Art + Design. It’s an experiment for us, and we’re hoping to have collaboration from areas all over campus.”
As it moves through different areas of campus, SocialFuse will continue to bring people together to work on entrepreneurial projects.
This month’s SocialFuse takes place tonight, January 28th, from 6–8 p.m. at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.
Photos from TEC's Facebook page.