TCO Labs hosts Hatch Innovation Conference

By SARAH Y. KIM | April 20, 2017

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COURTESY OF DANIELA ZAPATA Students had the opportunity to network with Baltimore startups.

TCO Labs, a student-run nonprofit organization whose goal is to foster a stronger entrepreneurial environment at Hopkins, held its first annual Hatch Innovation Conference on Saturday afternoon in Hodson Hall. The conference brought together various student, alumni and local startups.

Sophomore Pava LaPere, Co-Founder and President of TCO Labs, talked about how difficult it was to find available startups for the conference.

“It’s hard to ask such a small team of people — as most startups are — to be like ‘Hey, take a giant chunk out of your work day and come to this conference,’’ LaPere said. “But we did try to put an emphasis on our alumni startups and we have a good chunk of them here.”

Among the startups present at the conference were B.Well, a digital platform for greater healthcare accessibility, MedHacks, a student-run hackathon that focuses on medical innovation and Balti Virtual, a virtual and augmented reality software developer .

Sophomore Brooke Stephanian, Co-Founder and Innovation Officer of TCO Labs, said that one of their goals for the event was to focus on Baltimore.

“We develop people with very technical skills that are able to come up with entrepreneurial ideas,” Stephanian said. “The problem is that they leave. Being able to connect them with the Baltimore community helps them stay and helps them grow.”

The conference also brought in six entrepreneurs, four of whom are Hopkins alumni, to take part in two speaker sessions.

The first talk opened with Hopkins alumnus Dave Troy, founder of the investment group Baltimore Angels and CEO and co-founder of Baltimore-based startup 410 Labs, which focuses on web and mobile technology. He encouraged students to begin their entrepreneurial endeavors at an early age.

“Starting young is a really great thing to do,” Troy said. “You’re kind of like stem cells. Plastic. You can re-form yourself to a lot of different shapes and sizes. You’re very malleable at that age to try different things and not worry so much about the consequences.”

The next speaker was Carmen Daniels Jones, President and CEO of Solutions Marketing Group, a consulting firm that assists companies in marketing to disabled people. Jones related how she overcame the barriers she faced as person of color with a disability.

Jones advised her audience to focus on how their entrepreneurship helps others.

“When you’re doing your work, ask yourself this question: how is someone’s life better as a result of crossing my path?” she said.

Hopkins alumnus Paul Grossinger, an investor, entrepreneur and journalist, closed the first speaker session with a speech on the importance of learning from one’s entrepreneurial shortcomings.

“You actually learn significantly more from your failures than your successes,” he said. “It’s not enough in my personal experience to just stand up and say I failed at this and sort of realize that. You have to strategically [ask] what did I do wrong?”

The second speaker session began with Richard May, CEO and Chairman of Innovation Village Baltimore, which seeks to strengthen entrepreneurship in Baltimore. He spoke about the need to create inclusive economies.

“When you get around people who are different from you, you’re peanut butter, you’re jelly, you’re bread, we’re going to mash you together, and you’re going to figure it out together,” May said.

Hopkins alumnus Ben Hwang, CEO of Profusa, a company that creates biosensor technologies, recommended that students seek out challenges.

“Anything worth doing probably has an element of intimidation to it,” Hwang said. “If you want the ability to impact half a billion people, that thought is intimidating.”

Kelly Keenan Trumpbour, who has used her investment firm See Jane Invest as a platform for funding female-led startups, commented on how businesses play a role in progressive societies.

“I hold the door open for women because I think their ideas are cool and fascinating, and business is a branch of the marketplace that informs politics,” she said. “If you become the next Bill Gates… your company and the template it sets for workplace culture, how you treat your employees, the products that you put out, the sustainability of those products — you will lead something that someone will study and model.”

In addition to the speaker sessions, students participated in three different workshops led by entrepreneurs. Hopkins alumnus Jacob Byrne, an Associate at Tydings & Rosenberg LLP, led a workshop titled “The Legal Side of Startups,” which focused on helping students understand the legal framework in place for startups.

Another workshop, led by Managing Director of entreQuest Chris Steer, discussed ways to create a motivating, exciting work environment.

Freshman David In attended Steer’s workshop and felt it was very informative and alleviated his apprehensions about the business world.

“I think this conference gave me a lot more confidence about what opportunities I can pursue,” he said.

Freshman Jayden Liu felt the startup showcase inspired him as a potential entrepreneur.

"It’s really good how these are all just budding startups, ideas that are still growing,” he said. “I have my own ideas and I want to see them grow, too, but I didn’t know how, so this is a cool way of learning.”

Stephanian recounted how the idea for TCO labs originated.

“Here at Hopkins the problem is they’re not that big of an entrepreneurial ecosystem, so when we came to Hopkins we found a group of peers who really wanted to help build that and develop it,” she said.

She hopes that the event furthers TCO Labs’ goal of building a stronger entrepreneurial space on campus.

“One of the problems we found was that a lot of students are very vocationally driven,” she said. “They want to be pre-med, they want to be pre-law. We think there’s a lot of room for development for more entrepreneurial-related experiences.”

Correction: The original article incorrectly spelled sophomore Pava LaPere's name as "Pava LePere."

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