Beyond the Internship: What PSIP Alumni Are Doing Now- by Peter Chen '19

Since its inaugural summer in 2016, Keller Center’s Princeton Start-Up Immersion Program (PSIP) has provided hundreds of Princeton students with immersive and impactful internships at emerging businesses. Along with curated dinner-talks from founders and investors as well as informal social and cultural outings, students worked alongside key decision makers to acquire first-hand knowledge of the world of early-stage startups. Since leaving the program, PSIP alumni have leveraged their experiences in unique and diverse ways in their respective career paths, whether it be through academic pursuits, full-time employment, or even starting companies of their own.

Students found PSIP to be a tremendous opportunity to explore their passions for technology and develop soft and applied skills for endeavors at Princeton and beyond. Victoria Scott ’18 was a Computer Science concentrator who participated in the 2016 New York and 2017 Tel Aviv cohorts, interning at Trendalytics, a fashion data intelligence platform, and SecuredTouch, a behavioral biometrics product reducing fraud for online transactions. For Scott, “having real life work experience in PSIP allowed me to see the value in my classes, and how the lessons I learned could be applied in practice…Both of my independent work seminars were entrepreneurship related. My first seminar was with Robert Fish, and throughout the semester I created and wrote a business model and financial plan for an intelligent-writing application. My second independent work seminar I focused on creating a sustainable fashion line. Having real life work experience in PSIP allowed me to see the value in my classes, and how the lessons I learned could be applied in practice.” After graduating, Scott has been working full time at IBM on Watson, a computer system capable of answering questions posed in natural language. “We're working with technology that has never been used before and finding a market that does not yet exist,” said Scott. “We are risk-takers and innovators. Working in an environment similar to the one I am currently in prepared me for the challenges that many small companies and entrepreneurs face.”

For Irene Fan *18, a graduate student in Computer Science who interned in New York 2017 as a project manager at The Muse, an online career resource, her time in PSIP confirmed her desire to pursue a career in project management. “It confirmed that PM is the right track for me. My knowledge in machine learning enabled me to initiate and execute my main project at The Muse, which had brought significant change and positive impact to the business by the end of my internship. PSIP provided a unique opportunity for me to closely witness how actual entrepreneurs work with each other and how quickly plans and assumptions can change for a startup. It’s something you can’t learn from reading about entrepreneurship.” Since graduation, Fan has been working full time as a program manager at Microsoft. An intern from the New York 2017 cohort who interned at AbleTo, a therapy startup, and has since then completed a software engineering internship at Amazon Web Services, recalls that "as a software engineer intern at AbleTo, I was exposed to the technical challenges that a medium-sized startup must tackle on a daily basis. A software engineer must understand the tradeoff between short-term benefits and long-term design considerations. In order to maintain scalability, parts of the existing platform must be redesigned, which is an expensive process in time and resources. At the same time, clients demand new features. An engineer must find a way to achieve both goals. This experience has allowed me to become a better software engineer and contributed to my success in professional pursuits."                

Several alumni also found their PSIP experience especially pertinent to careers in business and finance. An intern  at digital marketing consultancy Systematic Inventive Thinking in Tel Aviv 2017, now full-time data scientist at another management consulting firm, noted that PSIP “made me realize I enjoy doing more quantitative things than not. Israel is also a melting pot of people with really diverse, unconventional backgrounds, so that really broadened my scope of things I could choose to pursue in the future. On top of working full-time, we were also taking courses on entrepreneurship at the IDC (Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya), and that helped me think a bit like an investor, which is a useful skill in a business setting.” 

For other students, PSIP marked a significant stepping stone for ongoing research pursuits and graduate studies in a diverse variety of fields. Manisha Kapasiawala ’19, a Chemical and Biological Engineering concentrator, interned in bioinformatics research and development at Phosphorus, a human genome startup, in New York in 2017. “I've realized that biotech startups need to work hand in hand with research in academia to incorporate relevant scientific discoveries into their products and services,” said Kapasiawala. “Thus, a successful entrepreneur cannot work alone; they must be a leader in their field and establish partnerships with academia, industry, nonprofits, the government, and/or other entities to ultimately improve their products and services.” Since her internship, Kapasiawala had been awarded an NIH fellowship to pursue summer research in cancer systems biology in the Ideker Lab at UCSD, after which she hopes to work in the biotech industry after graduate studies in systems biology.

Rae Perez ’19, an Architecture and Computer Science concentrator, worked as a Product Development intern in New York in 2017 at Speakable PBC, a startup that develops civic action products on news content. For Perez, “the skills I developed in web design and development have been instrumental in developing my own design portfolio…Architecture studios demand a proficiency in design tools that they don't really teach in classes. This internship really sharpened my design skills, which helped a lot with my own personal academic and profession design work.” Furthermore, her PSIP experience “motivated me to work at a smaller company or non-profit after college, since I enjoyed having a small team to work alongside. I feel that I understand better what the motivations and consequences of starting a company are. After working at a somewhat socially-minded startup, I also have developed a particular perspective on what it means to actually do good through entrepreneurship.” Most recently, Perez worked with Professor V. Mitch McEwen in design and fabrication, programming and operating large scale ABB robots as well as producing models for McEwen’s studio.

Having real life work experience in PSIP allowed me to see the value in my classes, and how the lessons I learned could be applied in practice. - Victoria Scott '18

Lastly, many entrepreneurially minded alumni have leveraged their time in PSIP to pursue careers working at startups and even starting companies of their own. Vincent Po ’18, an Electrical Engineering major who interned in New York 2017 at Shade, a wearable device to help patients struggling with lupus track their sun exposure, is now on a Venture for America Fellowship working at hardware design and development agency Loft. Venture for America is a program that seeks "to revitalize American cities and communities through entrepreneurship" by training recent graduates to work for startups across the US. Per Po, “my time in PSIP gave me an experience within hardware development that I wouldn't have found anywhere else. Hardware engineering roles are rare, no matter where you go, but even more so are those at companies like Shade, where small teams mean both ample mentorship as well as challenging and important responsibilities. It helped me realize that small startups were where I wanted to work in the future, and in turn discovering and joining the 2018 class of Venture for America fellows and from there finding my current and dream job.”

For Avthar Sewrathan ’18, a Computer Science concentrator who interned in New York 2017 in product management at Andela, an online education and recruitment business with a focus on African technology talent, PSIP was a critical learning experience that led to the founding of his own company Afari, a decentralized social media platform. According to Sewrathan, the internship “increased my confidence to pursue entrepreneurial ventures and expanded my network which helped me co-found Afari…Experience at a growth stage startup like Andela taught me systems and processes including exposure to best practices for business intelligence, key metrics, PR and marketing, appreciation for remote work and building company culture across locations and time continents.” After PSIP, Sewrathan “continued to take Entrepreneurship classes in my senior year. Made me realize the regret minimizing decision was to pursue research and projects in the crypto and blockchain space [including participating in eLab, Keller Center’s Summer Accelerator Program]. This started the domino of events that led to the co-founding of Afari.” Afari is currently hiring interns for the 2019 cohort of PSIP New York.

PSIP is about to welcome its fourth cohort with a breadth of internship offerings in its New York City, Tel Aviv, and newly introduced Shanghai locations. For more information, please visit the Keller Center's PSIP site