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Tomorrow Makers

These young alums aren’t waiting to see what the future holds: They’re creating it, thanks to the skills they learned at SCU.

We live in a time of radical, complex, and accelerated change. People who don’t understand or anticipate and plan for the rapidly changing global economy risk having their careers and lives disrupted. As futurist James Canton says, “You’re either managing the future or the future is managing you.”

Thanks to the diverse skills learned through their Jesuit education, Santa Clara grads have the flexibility to navigate this rapidly changing world. Rather than watch and adapt, young alumni are increasingly becoming the ones disrupting existing markets and creating new approaches.

“A Jesuit education instills in our students and alumni a hunger to engage their imagination as well as their skills,” says Elspeth Rosetti, director of the Career Center. “They tackle problems in new ways and have Silicon Valley as a welcoming proving ground for their ideas.”


Disruption under glass

Six years ago Allison Kopf ’11 stood on stage in Washington, D.C., accepting accolades at the Energy Department’s Solar Decathlon. The junior physics major had spent a year leading construction of SCU’s California-cool solar-powered house, which took third place out of 20 international student teams.

Fast forward to September 2015, when she presented at TechCrunch Disrupt’s Startup Battlefield competition for technology startups, the signature event at an annual conference in San Francisco. TechCrunch is a leading website for technology news.

Kopf and her co-founder were there to pitch their startup, Agrilyst, which makes software to track and optimize production variables in greenhouses and other kinds of indoor farms.

And they won.

This was a big deal, and not only because first prize was $50,000. Past winners have included the personal finance website and cloud-storage source Dropbox, which was recently valued at $10 billion.

Agrilyst is poised to take advantage of the need for increasing efficiency in how food is produced and distributed. Demographers predict that food production will need to increase by 70 percent between now and 2050 to meet increasing global demand. “That’s not a hundred years from now,” notes the 26-year-old. “It’s something in our lifetimes.”

Agrilyst has been called Google Analytics for Greenhouses. Its CEO says, “Our moon-shot mission is to change the way agriculture thinks.”


Nailing it

Nailbot is an inkjet printer that applies fingernail art. Its creators hope the beauty machine also will change the look of the labor market in the tech world.

Robotics engineer Casey Kute Schulz ’08, a veteran of the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Lab, is one of the cofounders and the technology lead of Preemadonna, the startup that makes the Nailbot. The company made it to the final round of six in last fall’s closely watched TechCrunch Disrupt Startup Battlefield competition in San Francisco, which was won by Allison Kopf ’11 and Agrilyst.

The Nailbot works with a smart phone app and can print any digitized image, including photos, onto a nail with a pass or two of the printer head. Getting nail art done professionally at a salon costs about $5 a nail, she says. The Nailbot costs $199 and comes with enough ink to do 5,000 manicures, she says.

Schulz says the initial target market for the device is teen and tween girls.

“Ninety-three percent of teens decorate their nails regularly with 14 percent decorating daily,” she says.

The company aims to do more than disrupt the manicuring industry, however. It wants to encourage girls to consider careers in technology, like Schulz, a mechanical engineering grad. The company’s Indiegogo crowd-funding appeal offered supporters a Maker Kit (an early prototype of the Nailbot) that girls can use to learn programming.


Linking lawyers

UpCounsel has been called a cross between eHarmony and Uber. That makes its co-founder and CEO, Matt Faustman J.D./MBA ’09, a kind of matchmaker for lawyers and clients.

He’s also one of the 150 “Next Wave Top Professionals 35 & Under,” as selected last fall by the career-oriented social networking site LinkedIn.

UpCounsel makes matches between vetted, independent lawyers and businesses pining for quality affordable legal services. The lawyers who register with the site (more than 10,000 so far) are like Uber drivers in that they bid on individual jobs.

Cutting out law-firm overhead and the profit margins needed to put money in partners’ pockets results in businesses paying pay about two-thirds of what they would if they went with a traditional law firm, the company says.

UpCounsel is seen as a potentially disruptive force in the legal services industry. But disruption is nothing new for Faustman. While studying law on the Mission Campus he founded a company to help make student notes more widely accessible and reduce reliance on expensive hardbound textbooks.


Super recruiting

Making LinkedIn’s list of 150 “Next Wave Top Professionals 35 & Under” almost seems like faint praise for a recruiter renowned for locating and landing people with “superpowers.”

No, Rachel Saunders ’11 doesn’t work in HR at the Hall of Justice, home office of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, et al. She’s at Yahoo, where her title is manager of the associate product manager program. “Superpowers” is the term Yahoo uses to refer to people seen as having the ability to exceed expectations in a role.

What makes this former assistant poetry editor for The Santa Clara Review famous (in tech-talent-recruiting circles anyway) is how she personalizes her head hunting. Instead of emailing dozens of potential candidates, she’ll customize her approach to a select few. That sometimes means spending hours scrutinizing social media and other public sources of information for clues about a target employee’s hobbies and passions. In her initial email to them, she’ll often include an article she thinks might interest them.

“When I send a mildly tailored email, I usually get a 25% response rate,” she told an interviewer for LinkedIn’s Talent Blog. “However, when I really customize the email and show the candidate I’ve done my homework, the response rate jumps to 60 to 70 percent.”


BlueLight special

In 2015 the White House offered a boost to promising ideas with its “Smart Cities” initiative. The program aims to help local communities modernize how they manage traffic, crime, and growth.

One of the companies recognized as a tech innovation leader was BlueLight, headed by Preet Anand ’10, a teammate of Allison Kopf on Santa Clara’s Solar Decathlon team.

BlueLight is a location-sharing app designed to address the 911 delay when dialing from a mobile phone. Because 911 still operates through landlines, it can take responders minutes longer to pinpoint the location of a cell caller in trouble. BlueLight, where available, solves that problem by routing mobile calls to the closest responder via GPS.

The app can also simultaneously text family members, friends, or other pre-selected contacts a link to a map of the subscriber’s location in real time.

“Most people use BlueLight for a little more peace of mind,” says Anand, who majored in engineering physics at SCU. “Emergency response is the most vital function of any community,” he says, but when it comes to applying technology in this capacity, the United States hasn’t been a leader.

The subscription service costs $19.99 per year or $9.99 per year for a student with a .edu email address. As part of the $160 million Smart Cities Initiative, BlueLight plans to test a pilot program in four cities beginning in 2016.

Before founding BlueLight, Anand worked with game company Zynga, where he was the youngest lead product manager.