Social Fuse: Technology Entrepreneur Center brings interdisciplinary students together

TEC News Stories

10/4/2013 5:28:00 PM

Story Highlights

Students Helping Students

In a large University like ours, it’s easy to find the large amount of resources we have access to. Home to top-rankings in engineering, business, agriculture, and the social sciences, the possibilities for finding skills outside of your major are infinite.

Last Thursday, the Micro and Nanotechnology Atrium held a forum for connections.  Start-ups, led  by students, talked about their groups and their needs for specific tech or business skills in order to  push their business forward.  Some of  the start-ups already have their digital skills but need someone to help with the marketing. Others have a great idea for a product and audience but don’t have the tools to make it. The Technology and Entrepreneur Center (TEC)strives to connect these students

Super Girl is a start-up led by Supriya Hobbs and Janna Eaves. Supriya and Janna want to empower girls to find inspiration in pursuing science careers through their toys. That’s why they want to make dolls modeled after women who are leaders in science.  Each doll would be a younger version of the particular leader, making it easy for children to see that, “she was once a girl just like you.”

Supriya and Janna

Supriya and Janna developed the idea through their involvement in the Women in Engineering organization on campus. They would organize learning activities with young girls to get them interested in STEM careers. But they also saw a path of empowerment for young girls through science. Supriya said that her time at the University of Illinois is instrumental to their start- up’s success. ”lllinois has a rich entrepreneurial spirit.  Without Innovation LLC, I wouldn’t have even considered a venture,” said Supriya. Innovation LLC is a Living-Learning Community that offers highly specialized workshops, courses, and competitions to entrepreneurial students.

Super Girl is looking for students to join with skills in coding, web-developing, and marketing skills and you can contact them at

Kirthi Banothu, a computer engineering major, is also leading a student start-up called Backpack Hack. Backpack Hack centers around a feedback device that helps the visually impaired navigate their surroundings. The feedback can be through ultrasound, heat detection, sonar sensors, and arduinos.

“I like the breadth of opportunities at the University of Illinois, and especially our proximity to Chicago’s tech scene,” he said.

Kirthi Banothu

“I think one of the biggest misconceptions with entrepenuership is that you have to be a software developer. There have been wonderful ideas that just fail because of problems in marketing. Apple is a wonderful example of how that [marketing] side of it makes a difference. The coalition of people coming together with different ideas is what makes a successful product,” Kirthi said

Backpack Hack is looking for students with programming, coding, and industrial design skills. They can be reached at

Social Fuse event coordinator, Danyelle Michelini, said she wants these events to create a casual atmosphere wherein to share ideas. It’s easy to participate, as Danyelle said they allow for 15 groups to sign up and present their ideas on first-come first-serve basis.  Danyelle said TEC hopes to host at least two events each semester. Danyelle said there may even be a third event to look forward to this fall to keep up with the demand for the entrepreneurship outlet, noting that over 30 groups signed up for the 15 time slots. The next event will take place November 14th so keep a lookout for a location on the TEC website.

Danyelle Michelini

Danyelle and TEC understand that a successful company is built on individuals with varied skills and backgrounds, and hiring outside help late in development is no match for having a driven group of interdisciplinary founders. She says “A lot of people would say that you can learn as you go but I think it really gives you a leg up if you  have people from all different disciplines on your team. You have those people who bring the exact skills that you need plus they’re passionate about what you’re working on, so they’ll push your team forward.” Together she and TEC are working to ensure that out of the many great ideas like Super Girl come lasting and sustainable companies.

Students making entrepreneurship connections at the event:

Media Contact

Todd Sweet

Director of Communications
1066 ECE Building
(217) 333-5943

Meg Dickinson

Assistant Director of Communications
1068 ECE Building
(217) 300-6664