A psychology major researching human happiness develops an app to help people build connections. An English graduate student working to increase literacy rates creates a reading app for preteens. A team of architecture graduate students promoting art enrichment employs augmented and virtual reality technology to deliver an immersive, interactive art experience. This summer, the Keller Center's eLab Accelerator program was full of humanities-focused entrepreneurs.
Although the entrepreneurial space at Princeton is historically brimming with students in engineering and science fields, 45% of this year’s eLab Accelerator business creators came from humanities departments.
“Having the humanist’s perspective in creating impactful innovations is essential,” said Cornelia Huellstrunk, executive director of the Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education, which created the eLab Accelerator in 2012. With that need in mind, the Keller Center is creating several new programs and curricula specially designed for humanities students.
Psychology major Donald Della Pietra was among the humanities-based founders on stage at the 11th annual eLab Demo Days, Aug. 2 and 4 in Princeton and New York City. He and his team were pitching their startup company Unite, a map-based event discovery app that allows people to easily find activities in their area.
Pietra took an entrepreneurial approach to addressing issues he saw percolating during the pandemic: people feeling increasingly isolated and lonely.
Having focused his undergraduate research on happiness, Pietra was keenly aware that engagement and connection are critical components of human happiness. So with the help of his computer scientist teammates, Pietra is combating loneliness and fostering happiness through his online platform that brings people together.
Kate Clairmont, a Ph.D. candidate in the English department, is no stranger to the startup world. She worked at two early-stage companies and understands what is needed to build a successful venture. With that understanding and a desire to improve literacy rates, Clairmont founded Readwell, a subscription-based, distraction-free reading app that offers high-quality books to preteen readers.
While researching her dissertation on fairy tales, Clairmont discovered a trove of high-quality, enriching, and thought-provoking children’s literature, but it was not reaching its target audience. So she and her team of book lovers curated a library of beautiful stories designed to spark a lifelong love of reading in 8- to 12-year-olds.
Sophie Jiang joined eLab to bring her years of experience in architecture, design thinking and art gallery exhibition into practice. She and her team of graduate architecture students have jumped into the business creation space to democratize access to art.
“The team’s shared motivation in facilitating the psychosocial wellbeing of vulnerable populations with innovative technologies and designs was the driving force behind me joining this team,” said Jiang. Their company, MoVA, Museum of Virtual Arts, uses delightfully entertaining augmented and virtual reality technology to create interactive art experiences.
Of course, there were STEM-based startups among this year’s eLab teams. For example, engineers and mathematicians came together to found Boreas, a lifestyle technology company producing low-cost portable personal air quality monitors. Its mission is to empower users to improve their well-being by providing instantaneous and long-term tracking of pollution exposure and airborne health risks.
Like Clairmont, Burke Pagano also has experience working in a startup company. That background and his entrepreneurial coursework gave him confidence to found Sift, a sustainably-minded second-hand eCommerce marketplace for college students. The Sift team hopes their swipe-right/swipe-left interface, inspired by dating apps, will resonate with their Gen Z peers.
In addition to its flagship eLab Summer Accelerator program, the Keller Center offers numerous other programs for students, postdocs and faculty members to increase the impact of their work through entrepreneurship. The eLab Incubator program, which runs during the academic year, will start taking applications in September.