On Nov. 30, the Brownstone Review Committee will announce the three student groups that will live in the brownstones on 114th Street vacated by the fraternities after Operation Ivy League. The Application Development Initiative, along with 13 other campus groups including seven Greek organizations, the Student Wellness Project, and several cultural associations have submitted applications. While I can only speak for my group, I do believe entrepreneurship and technology at Columbia need a home, a brownstone, where they can take root and flourish.
Many of the groups have representation on campus, but technology and entrepreneurship remain unsupported. Columbia needs a standalone symbol, a highly visible campus location to build community and demonstrate Columbia’s commitment to entrepreneurship and technology. A place where students can live and work together, building new and amazing things. A place where every idea, every suggestion is met with a network of support and resources for how to make it happen, not reasons for why it can’t. A place where all students, ranging from those seeking their first exposure to those working on the final stages of projects, can go. Columbia needs a space where we can all learn the power of entrepreneurship, and the importance of impacting the world around us.
I have had the distinct pleasure of meeting with and talking to many of my peers who have had that nagging idea in the back of their mind for the longest time, that problem they wish someone would solve, or that indescribable urge to have a positive impact on their community. Most often, these desires are forced to take a backseat as we rationalize: It’s not the right time. I don’t have the skills. I don’t even know where or how to start. I’m just a student in college. But the time for excuses is over. The act of living together would foster a tangible sense of community, an outlook not based on the fear of failure but encouragement for that yet unvoiced idea to become real.
Since my sophomore year, right around the time I became involved with the founding of ADI, I’ve been intoxicated by the need to build and create. We built this organization—unique as a campus student group in its dedication to technology and providing educational resources for students to learn and create—from 20 members to over 600 people who have shown interest in hearing about and attending our events. We created programming for students to learn and teach each other technical and entrepreneurial skills. We’ve successfully held DevFest, a week-long campus-wide series of technical and entrepreneurial lectures culminating in presentations of new applications and potential companies in front of a panel of experts drawn from both NYC and Silicon Valley.
Through tech talks, where we invited industry professionals to discuss cutting-edge technology, and hosting student-run workshops, hackathons, job fairs, and alumni dinners, connecting students with alumni working in NYC, we are developing a community of builders. A community whose collaboration can produce hot, new tech startups like Codecademy, a successful company started by ADI members, or that simple tool to make everyone’s life a little easier, like ADI’s schedule builder.
With a dedicated space, ADI can hold events like a five-week iOS workshop series in the same place at the same time. Students can work on a project for multiple hours together without getting booted from a room, leave half-finished projects laying around during all-night hackathons for others to give feedback on, and come at any hour of the day for advice.
There has never before been such a large community of alumni and students interested in entrepreneurship as the Columbia Venture Community of over 2000 members. The rising importance of technology is not limited to Columbia’s campus. New York City’s tech scene has never been any bigger with the NY Tech Meetup of over 28,000 members, or initiatives like Mayor Bloomberg’s engineering campus on Roosevelt Island.
The combination of New York City’s grassroots tech community, coupled with the growth of ADI as an organization, has created a perfect storm of forces dedicated to nurturing, educating, and facilitating entrepreneurship. ADI has made great strides on behalf of the entrepreneur community, but those strides are not enough. Columbia needs more. We need a place for all of us, who are restless with what is and want to work towards what can be. Support entrepreneurship and technology at Columbia, and work with us to make great things.
The author is a Columbia College senior majoring in computer science. He is the president of the Application Development Initiative, a former Spectator alumni director, and a former Spectator sales director.
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This op-ed is part of a series providing an opportunity to each group applying for a brownstone to explain why it deserves a space.