Project Olympus start-ups gather for show-and-tell event

About 200 people gathered for Project Olympus's annual show-and-tell presentation on Thursday in Rashid Auditorium.

Project Olympus is an initiative meant to provide students with the opportunity to build their own start-up companies. It has a show-and-tell event every year, where students, alumni, and faculty present their projects to dozens of businesses and companies.

Computer science professor Lenore Blum, the founding director, described Project Olympus’s success.

“The past few years, we’ve had 105 [projects] and around 68 have become companies,” she said. “Of these, we have received $20 million in first-level funding, and a remarkable two-thirds have been students in these companies."

The projects at the show-and-tell ranged across many disciplines.

Associate professor of chemistry Danith Ly presented a project on the future of curing diseases. His model described how to tackle curing multiple diseases by linking the solutions to DNA and RNA.

Ly's project was followed by one from Ph.D. student Chris Harrison. Harrison was named by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as one of the Top 35 Innovators Under 35. He presented a project that focused on the future of cellphones and digital technology. He brought to light the idea of how cell phones can be built to project images anywhere — even on the owner’s hand.

Following Harrison's presentation was a project by robotics associate research professor Paul Scerri. Scerri's project was based on a robotic airboat that could be mobilized by an Android phone. The airboat's features included low cost, cooperative behavior, and a recharge station.

“I first came up with the idea 18 months ago,” Scerri said. “Normal research funding was hard and we didn’t know how to deal with the commercial appeal of the project. Project Olympus really helped out by setting us up with the right connections and teaching us business strategies. It helped out with [the] marketing and administering the business side of the project.”

Scerri, like most others, was generally optimistic about the effect Project Olympus had on his idea. He described the atmosphere of the event as “genuinely exciting.” He found solace in meeting with other innovators and seeing them go through the same process and difficulties.

One attendee at the Project Olympus show-and-tell was Ryan Longeway. Longeway is a University of Pittsburgh alumnus, but took classes at Carnegie Mellon. He expressed interest in helping young entrepreneurs with their start-ups.

“I really love helping people out,” he said. “I’m here to both advise and recruit.”

Scerri had words of advice for anyone pursuing the entrepreneurship path: “Entrepreneurship is not a linear path of success; when one idea fails, try another one.”