Startup Class to Japa Mafia

HANNAH LEE / AGGIE

Class for aspiring entrepreneurs can help students create small businesses

Creating a business venture from the ground up seems like a daunting task. So how does one go about forming a startup?

“Just start,” said Liz Tang.

Tang is the director of the Student Startup Center at UC Davis and is a part-time lecturer for entrepreneurship classes. The Student Startup Center is an area where students can tinker around with different technologies, such as VR, 3D printing and small computer kits. The room, in Bainer 1122, is where Tang teaches a project-based entrepreneurship class and it is also where Japa got started.

Created by undergraduates Mathew Magno and Charles Chen, Japa is one of a few small businesses that began in a class at UC Davis. In some UC Davis parking lots, where Japa is currently active, small sensors determine if a car has filled a parking spot. Users then can check their phones to see where open parking spaces are. TAPS at UC Davis can also find this app useful, since it automatically counts how many cars are in a parking lot and can show how long a car has been in the same spot.

“I think why this [Japa] really became a real viable business is that it’s [parking] a real problem that everyone, or a lot of people have on campus,” Chen said. “So [Magno] and I are drivers and we experience this pretty often.”

Tang tries to teach the course so students can continue their business ventures after the class is over. The first step is forming a team who all want to tackle a problem or an idea.

“It’s really common in entrepreneurship in general,” Tang said. “If you think about it, these cofounders and you, it’s a relationship like a marriage. You have to be completely dedicated to each other and to the idea.”

Traditionally, entrepreneurs draw up business plans and present these ideas to investors. However, Tang has seen evidence that shows going a different route is better.

“We’ve learned the best way is to […] identify whether a company’s going to work is by testing assumptions,” Tang said.

For Japa, Magno and Chen tested the assumption that people wanted an easier way to find parking spots. For Picnic Day, they dressed as traffic cones and saved spots for people. Then they would call drivers and direct them to that spot. In this way, Magno and Chen could get direct feedback from drivers on whether or not they appreciated being directed to a spot. The results were a success.

One of Tang’s favorite quotes is by Steve Blank — “No business plan survives first contact with a customer.” With this, Tang explained the pitfalls of entrepreneurship, where one steadily loses confidence in their ideas and work. However, being persistent and willing to adapt to the customer’s needs is key. Tang acknowledges that it is hard to keep going with a company or an idea when it seems like nothing is going right, but all of the successful startups get their confidence back after hitting a low point.

Initially, Chen and Magno were intending on creating the parking sensors themselves. After many unsuccessful attempts, they found a hardware company, nWave, to partner with. With the parking sensors already made, Magno and Chen just have to create the software that connects the sensors to the app.

Recently an investor put $300,000 into Japa and other schools and hospitals have been interested in the program. Magno and Chen are planning on working on the app full time after they graduate this quarter.

Chen is hoping that he and Magno will follow the path of the “Paypal Mafia.” The people who started Paypal became very successful and started many other businesses and ventures. By being part of the “Japa Mafia” Chen aims to be successful in his future startups.

“We’re just starting to blow up now,” Magno said. “We’re doing city parking, so street parking […] the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento […] eventually we want to do everything.”

 

 

Written by: Rachel Paul — science@theaggie.org

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