Milad Mirghahari came up with his idea the way many entrepreneurs do, by trying to solve a real-world problem he faced daily.

The difference in Mirghahari’s case is he was only 15 years old. Mirghahari’s family operated two Subway franchises and in his words — they were failing.

The main problem — they could not find good talent. They lacked ambitious, committed employees who wanted to succeed. After peppering his mom with questions long enough, she told him, “you think you can fix it — do it."

He did. He scoured through resumes, reached out to other Subway franchisees, gave himself the title of franchise director and started interviewing candidates. After candidates got over the initial awkwardness of interviewing with a teenager, the quality of employees got better.

But while working to improve his family’s business, Mirghahari stumbled onto something much bigger. He realized he could use data science to improve and ease the process of finding the right employee and finding the right job.

The result — KROW network — an online job finding and recruitment platform that intelligently studies skills, experience and other data to seamlessly match candidates and recruiters. Mirghahari developed this venture, both the technological and business aspects, as part of the new “Foundation of Technology Entrepreneurship” course, offered by the Ying Wu College of Computing (YWCC) at NJIT.

A computer science sophomore at YWCC, Mirghahari said enrolling in a course that mixed computing skills and entrepreneurship was perfect. “I saw how many students were interested in solving huge problems, who had the drive to bring about huge change,” he said.

The course is taught by Dr. Suresh Kumar, a professor of practice focusing on innovation and entrepreneurship, and a seasoned entrepreneur with a number of successful startups under his belt. Kumar joined YWCC in the fall.

“My course is based on the lean startup program I helped design and teach while at Rutgers University and Columbia University. It is an experiential learning course that reflects how entrepreneurs with a great idea but limited financial means can launch a successful venture in the real world,” said Kumar. “This is easier to achieve in the information technology space, as developing good software does not require huge capital and other investments. Even young students can do it if they have good ideas and are determined enough. My course helps them become familiar with the processes they will encounter and learn the skills they will need to move beyond the stage of a cool idea.”

Creating an innovation and entrepreneurship program within YWCC, focusing on software ventures, has been a priority of YWCC Dean Craig Gotsman, who has a successful entrepreneurial track record of his own. “21st century tech innovation is driven mostly by young entrepreneurs and their startup ventures”, says Gotsman. “Examples abound. Large corporations now realize that acquiring innovation produced externally is easier and cheaper than trying to do it internally. I’d like our students to be aware of that and play a role in this lucrative innovation economy. Developing your own IT venture is a viable alternative to going to work for a large corporation on graduation.”

Supporting Student Entrepreneurs

But Kumar and Gotsman can take the students only so far. “At some point they have to spread their wings and fly on their own. We are trying to find ways to support their flight”, Kumar says.  

In the fall two teams of student entrepreneurs in his course received modest equity-free grants through the National Science Foundation (NSF) I-Corps Program, including the one led by Mirghahari and Michael Hobbs for the Krow Network project. The NJIT I-Corps “node” is managed by Dr. Michael Ehrlich of the Martin Tuchman School of Management and Judith Sheft of the New Jersey Innovation Institute (NJII), who have also been very active in promoting entrepreneurship throughout NJIT.

A second team of students from Kumar’s course received an NSF I-Corps grant for its work on eCubed, a software application that will assist NJIT in connecting with the Newark business community. Students Parth Mehta and Joel Gordy are mapping the entrepreneurial ecosystem at NJIT to connect startups with like-minded business leaders.

A third team of students competed in a business plan competition last month — also organized by Ehrlich as part of the Newark Innovation Acceleration Challenge (NIAC) — and won a $3,000 award from sponsor Capital One. That team created “Experience Newark” — a mobile app designed to help tourists create a personalized experience when coming to Newark for cultural events or other activities in the city. That team included students Steven Dias and Rahul Mody.

For more information on the innovation and entrepreneurship program at YWCC, contact Dr. Kumar at skumar@njit.edu.