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These Johns Hopkins students want more undergrads to start companies

With TCO Labs, Pava LaPere and Anthony Garay are looking to provide more startup resources for undergrads. Meet them on April 15 at Hatch.

Hopkins students Pava LaPere and Anthony Garay. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

Anthony Garay was always interested in entrepreneurship as a kid. When he got to Johns Hopkins last year as an undergraduate, he was looking for a student group or other organization to get involved in.
“When I didn’t see that, I said, you know what, ‘Let’s make one ourselves,'” the computer engineering major from New York said.
As he and Pava Marie LaPere learned more, they saw that the university was starting to put resources to help create undergraduate startups, like a fund that supports undergraduate startups. They also saw startups formed by undergraduates, like FactoryFour, FitMango and Proscia, as well as efforts like a student-run hackathon and venture fund.
For more companies to take root, they believe more community-building needs to be done.
“We’ve realized it’s perfectly plausible for us to be able to create an entirely student-run entrepreneurial ecosystem at Hopkins,” Garay said.
“And what’s really necessary is that it’s coming from the students,” LaPere said, instead of a program that takes a top-down approach built by administrators.
Garay, LaPere and other students are working under the banner of TCO Labs to grow that community.
This semester, they’ve been working on building the nonprofit, as well as organizing the first events for students to see what building a company is all about. They’re also working to build resources that can connect to people who have done it before, whether they are alums or in the wider Baltimore tech community.
LaPere and Garay said they think students have ideas, but may not pursue them because they haven’t seen it done before, their peers aren’t talking about it and they don’t know about the resources. Plus, students may not know that getting involved in startups may not necessarily mean forming a company.
“What we really try to do is show them that it is entirely possible to start a company not only at Hopkins, but in the city,” said LaPere. The sophomore who came to Baltimore from Tuscon, Ariz., has since decided on staying in the city after she graduates. Connecting students with the city is especially important to her.
“If you do something at Hopkins, you do something in Baltimore. You can pass that off as tautological or you can try to find the meaning in those words,” LaPere said.
One place where that will be on display in the near future is Hatch, an April 15 event at Hopkins’ Mudd Hall that will feature talks from alums who are active in Baltimore’s tech community like Dave Troy and Kelly Keenan Trumpbour, as well as alums who went on to lead companies elsewhere like Ben Hwang of Profusa. It will also have workshops and a a showcase of local startups.
LaPere and Garay are planning on more. They’re targeting to have bigger offerings when students return for the fall semester.


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