News | Student Life

Kaushik Tiwari, SEAS ’16, wins Thiel Fellowship to pursue startup

Kaushik Tiwari, SEAS ’16, will be swapping classes for a startup for the next two years.

Tiwari received a $100,000 Thiel Fellowship, which is awarded to student entrepreneurs to fund their scientific and technological projects, on June 2.

Tiwari will spend the next two years in San Francisco developing an interface that he hopes will allow users to compare costs of different medical procedures through a platform that Tiwari hopes will be similar to Airbnb, an apartment rental site.

His goals are to increase cost transparency and improve relationships between hospitals and patients.

“The biggest problem everyone knows about is the price—health care is expensive and we don’t know why it’s expensive,” Tiwari said. “The money that you pay doesn’t reflect back on the return that you get, on the quality of care that you get, so that was the biggest problem.”

Tiwari, who was raised in New Delhi, said he plans to start by comparing the expenses of procedures at hospitals internationally.

“I’m focusing on international hospitals because they’re easier to reach,” Tiwari said. “American hospitals are very secretive about their pricing information.”

Tiwari developed the idea for the interface by talking to patients in the St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital waiting room about their health care experiences and what they would like to see changed.

He then started working on the project last summer as part of the Summer Start-Up Session for students at the School of Engineering and Applied Science and Res. Inc., a living-learning center housed in Wallach to promote student startups.

Columbia awarded Tiwari a $6,000 Ignition grant to work on his project this summer, and he’ll spend the majority of the next few months trying to get hospitals to participate.

“Students realize that it’s possible to start a company, and that might be more exciting than working for someone else,” Ivy Schultz, the associate director of Entrepreneurship Programs at SEAS, who has worked with Tiwari through entrepreneurial programming, said.

After he completes the fellowship, Tiwari said he plans to return to Columbia if his project ultimately does not become a startup.

“I’m treating it as an opportunity to get out of school for two years, not because I hated it, but because there’s something that I want more. I look forward to going back to Columbia,” Tiwari said. “Most startups fail. That’s the reality of it.”

“I don’t know if at the end I’ll be successful or actually have a company, but the whole point is to explore and to focus on something I wouldn’t normally be able to do being in college,” he added.

elizabeth.sedran@columbiaspectator.com  |  @ezactron

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Thiel in one instance. Spectator regrets the error.

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