Pomona Entrepreneurs Take on the World

Pomona Ventures, Pomona College’s first organization dedicated to student entrepreneurship, will be giving selected students up to $4,000 to start their own companies this summer. The grants will be in the form of summer fellowships funded primarily by Pomona alumni, similar to the Summer Undergraduate Research Program, and students will work with the Career Development Office.

Pomona Ventures was originally founded two years ago by Walter Rivera PO ’13, who realized there was no help for young entrepreneurs at Pomona. Rivera’s outreach to prominent alumni has garnered much support for the group.

“Our goal is to help realize students’ potential for entrepreneurship,” Rivera said.

By bringing in successful entrepreneurs as guest speakers and providing students with networking opportunities with successful alumni, Rivera and other members of the group hope to foster an entrepreneurial community at Pomona.

All members of the group have started companies, which are all in various stages of development.

Laura Berman PO ’14 left Pomona to co-found a company along with a fellow Pomona classmate. The company, called Melon, manufactures electroencephalogram (EEG) headbands. The headbands measure brain waves and are connected to an app on a smartphone “that helps people help track their environment and how that relates to focus,” Berman said.

After receiving funding to start the company, she and her business partner moved to Boston as part of their funding agreement. They later traveled to China on an all-expense-paid trip to learn the manufacturing process for the headbands. But the process has not just been a series of trips around the globe.

“[The worst moment] was in September when we felt like we were failing,” Berman said. “We were living with our parents, and we felt like college dropouts.”

They have since relocated to Santa Monica and are excited for Melon to launch shortly.

Brennen Byrne PO ’13, Mark Hudnall PO ’13, and Jesse Pollak PO ’15, all computer science majors, have started Clef (the French word for “key”), an app that replaces usernames and passwords with a safer method of logging into accounts.

With Clef, people can log in to various accounts on their computer using their phone by taking a picture of the website’s QR code. Their information is stored on their phone. According to the founders, logging in this way is more secure since it involves cryptography instead of usernames and passwords.

“It’s a portal to the Internet,” Pollak said.

This past summer, Byrne, Hudnall, and Pollak were sponsored to travel to San Francisco for the Launch Festival, where they were able to present and demo Clef. Hudnall and Pollak both agreed it was one of the best moments in the development of Clef, which has since been released to the Android app store.

“We were getting real-world validation,” Pollak said.

Rivera, after four years of extensive networking, has developed Exponential Capital along with Samantha Smith, a senior at New York University, and David Maasz, an Audi executive in Budapest who is also their mentor.

Exponential Capital is an economic development firm focused in Eastern Europe, where, according to their website, they “build services and technologies to grow startup ecosystems.”

The three met at the Kairos Society, a program for students to develop projects while being mentored by successful entrepreneurs.

Despite the difficulties of having three business partners all working in different parts of the world, Rivera spent six productive weeks in New York this past summer working on the project and networking.

Exponential Capital has been hired by the European Union and is working with Hungary’s major universities and the Chinese and American Embassies in Budapest.

“If you’re moving to Hungary, you’re going to go through [Exponential Capital],” Rivera said.

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