In his early college days, Bill Wu faced uncertainty about his career. Overwhelmed by internships, part time jobs and the idea of networking, he never found meaningful job advice except through trial and error. Now a junior in Weinberg, Wu is developing a business idea that will make career-related information readily available to students – and soon, he may have the chance to pitch to investors to back him up.
Wu and Chirag Gupta, a McCormick senior, founded AlumTalks, an Internet-startup that provides an undergraduate resource to connect with Northwestern alumni. The group is one of 20 to advance in the third round of the Intel Innovators competition, a Facebook platform that gives up to $100,000 to young entrepreneurs with original business technology ideas.
The five groups with the most “social capital,” or Facebook votes, on Feb. 20 earn the opportunity to pitch via video conference to a panel of corporate experts and angel investors for a $100,000 prize.
This prize money, if won, will fund a Web development team to take AlumTalks to “the next level,” Wu said. Gupta and Wu envision the website as a comprehensive platform in which students can browse profiles, watch video interviews, ask alumni questions and receive answers directly. A search function will allow users to find resources by career path or major.
Gupta said the website will cater to all types of career needs. Pre-med and pre-law students will likely use it as a one-way information system, finding advice by reading interviews and articles, while someone interested in finance, consulting or business-related careers might need to use the site more heavily, getting their foot in the door and searching for networking opportunities.
“Every student can find value,” Gupta said. “It’s going to be a huge tool as any student enters the internship or job search.”
AlumTalks’s online platform idea fills a void in the Northwestern market, as current career resources are limited, Gupta said. Northwestern Alumni Association offers an opt-in-only directory in which the Northwestern community can view basic alumni information like name, graduation year, major and current city.
“[The database] is hard to search, it’s slow and doesn’t provide that much detail,” said Gupta, who has worked at UCS for three years. “It’s a huge pain point when trying to help students further their job search.”
Students face inefficiency in the search process, Wu said. Informational interviews are too often used to rehash generic career stories, while that time should be spent making deeper connections.
“We want students to go into that informational interview, already knowing exactly what the alum studied, what motivates them and how they got where they are today,” Wu said. “Then they can use that limited time valuably and have more personal conversations.”
Gupta said facilitating direct communication will also increase alumni involvement and consequently the power of the university’s networking system.
“Alumni that are willing and want to give back to their school will have a way to do so,” Gupta said. “I learned today that Northwestern expects only five to 10 percent of alumni to actively stay in touch with campus. If we activate our platform, that number is going to increase.”
AlumTalks began in late April 2011 by publishing video interviews with Northwestern alumni about their career stories. Gary Thompson (WCAS 1987), CEO of CLOUD discovered them and has served as an advisor. Later after the startup’s official launch, Gupta and Wu found that text articles were quicker to publish and began to recruit writers who had gained meaningful career experience from connecting with alumni.
Fall quarter, however, was when AlumTalks gained true momentum. After hearing encouraging feedback from entrepreneurs and investors at Chicago Tech Week over the summer, the group began marketing across campus. Their website now garners 3000 page views and 1000 unique visitors per month.
Once AlumTalks catches on with the Northwestern community, Wu and Gupta foresee expansion to other universities.
“For now we want to make sure enough NU students are using it first before we replicate the system,” Wu said. “We’re following the theory, 'Nail it then scale it.' Nail it at Northwestern, then bring it to other places.”