Senior seminar students had a special front-row seat to hear from seven computer science alumni who have been active in entrepreneurial ventures during the fall 2021 semester.

"This course captured my attention because of the visiting entrepreneurs I would be able to learn from and befriend," said Adi Sircar. "I also wanted to surround myself with ambitious, creative, and adventurous students, many of whom I could collaborate with in the future."

Upon arrival at Virginia Tech, Sircar immersed himself in the the startup culture. He joined the Innovate Living & Learning Community and attended entrepreneurship classes and workshops every week. This class was a natural progression to fuel his entrepreneurial spirit. 

Department Head Cal Ribbens, who has taught this course in past semesters, had an idea to flip the tables a bit and invite alumni to be in front of the students, wrapped around an entrepreneurship theme. 

"We are fortunate to have so many alumni who have forged their own path to entrepreneurship and are eager to come back and share their experiences with our seniors who are about to embark upon their own journeys," said Ribbens. 

The course was organized around in-person visits, with flexibility for those alumni to meet students remotely. In advance of the alumni's visit, students were tasked with preparing a summary of the alumni's technical/business career, professional journey, as well as their activity in products or sectors. 

For the on-site visits, seniors were also able to have lunch with the alumni for a more informal interactions. For Cory Bishop, this was a humbling experience to meet Srinidhi Varadarajan, senior vice president of solutions at Fungible, Inc.

"For all his successes I could read about, I could see the passion, the excitement, the brilliance, energy, integrity, kindness, and pure interest in his eyes and in his heart," said Bishop. He was also impressed by his excitement for everything, describing him as 'jovial.'

Bishop further added, "He also seemed to take many opportunities in his life that came by him, even though they weren't what he originally intended." Remote alumni also were able to have these informal interactions in small student focus group settings prior to the class.

Srinidhi Varadarajan speaks to the computer science senior seminar students.
Never a shortage of good conversation and excitement when Srinidhi Varadarajan speaks about his projects and shares funny stories with the senior seminar students.
Srinidhi Varadarajan visited the human-computer interaction lab at the Moss Arts Center as part of his campus visit.
As part of his campus visit, Srinidhi Varadarajan visited the human-computer interaction lab at the Moss Arts Center so he could try out some of the latest technology.

Several alumni met in person and virtually with computer science students pursuing entrepreneurial projects with Apex Center for Entrepreneurs, open to all Virginia Tech students, any year and major. 

As the seminars were held on Fridays, Sircar said it was his favorite way to end the week. "You get to be in a room full of bright and innovative students chatting with an incredibly passionate, charismatic, and experienced visiting entrepreneur." 

Matt Pfiel, CEO and co-founder of TravelBoss, said he was equally energized and excited to give back to the university in this way. "It was really interesting seeing the curiosity around how to venture into the world of startups," said the 2005 alumnus. "That's why it's so important to give back - there aren't books for this stuff.  Establishing relationships between alumni who have experience and the future generations is key for success."

In addition to Varadarajan and Pfeil, other alumni speakers included Greg Lee ('94); Alex Obenauer ('12); Wayne Chiang ('06, '09); Mary Miller ('85,'95); and Rajat Gupta ('99). Four of these alumni also participated in a virtual entrepreneurial panel in November 2021 for the alumni community. 

Computer science senior seminar stands stand with Srinidhi Varadarajan.
Computer science seniors enjoy networking time with Srinidhi Varadarajan as part of the fall 2021 senior seminar. Photo by Andrew Cybak.

"Even if you aren't interested in becoming an entrepreneur or running a business, you can learn a lot about work and life just from getting to ask these experienced and wonderfully kind folks what their journeys have been like," said Bishop.

"And the best part is, they shared all their years of experiences with us so hopefully we can multiply their successes and avoid their failures they already made through those years," shared Bishop.