This summer, the Dingman Center will be conducting interviews with the nine student startups who are participating in the Terp Startup summer incubator phase of our Fearless Founders accelerator program. Participating student entrepreneurs received a stipend up to $5,000 that would enable them to work exclusively on their startups over eight weeks in the summer.
Rising University of Maryland sophomores Christopher Look (CEO) and Sanna Madan (CTO) are the youngest founders in our Terp Startup incubator, but their spot is well-earned. Their venture, Senvision, uses a machine-learning algorithm that conducts sentiment analysis of companies on social media to track stock market movement. Their desired end-product will be a mobile app targeted to millennials to help them invest smarter through day-to-day trade, yielding higher returns. Competing apps tend to rely on a mutual fund strategy, which places the user in a more passive role and denies them the ability to effectively educate themselves about the stock market. The Dingman Center interviewed the founders about their startup, which they launched in their freshman year.
How did you first come up with your idea?
Sanna: We knew each other from high school and we were part of this STEM magnet program. We took a lot of computer science courses and were involved in research—I was doing cancer research, the computational side of things.
Chris: And I was doing computational biology research but I also had done two years of machine-learning in internships, so I knew what to take from machine learning to predict on something. Which was exactly what the stock market was a perfect model for. I knew the steps we needed to take to go from just having news data to be able to predict on the stock market. So it was a matter of figuring out those exact steps and then executing them.
Sanna: We started Senvision the summer after high school because we wanted to be able to do something during college. We’re both interested in data science and computer science and wanted to apply ourselves and do something ambitious.
Chris: We wanted to try something that wasn’t just biology, because that’s what we’d always done, so we thought about trying something new, like finance. We didn’t know anything about finance, we were just pure STEM majors. So we wanted to learn about it and possibly make a venture out of it.
What are some major milestones you’ve achieved so far?
Sanna: We’ve developed an algorithm that we’re happy with and we back-tested it on historical data and it has shown promising returns.
Chris: For the past two and a half months, I’ve been live trading with some companies in the Dow Jones, and I’ve had about 5% returns on $2,500, or $130. Which isn’t too bad—it’s not mind-blowingly amazing—but it’s something we’re definitely happy about sharing with the rest of the world.
What’s your team dynamic like?
Sanna: We’re both kind of just doing everything. We’re both involved in the business side, we’re both involved in the tech side, legal…
Chris: I’m taking classes through the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program (EIP), so I’m learning more about the business side of things. Sanna is a computer science major, I’m a bio-engineering and computer science major, so we still need the business side, which I’m trying to specialize more in right now. Personality-wise, we’re actually rather similar I would say. We’re both pretty hardworking and ambitious.
Sanna: Since we’ve known each other for so long we can be candid with each other. A lot of times you can be afraid to speak your mind and you don’t want to offend the other person, but in this case we know each other so we can straight up be like—
Chris: ‘This is a stupid idea!’ *everyone laughs* And then we can have a really good discussion about it, which I think is really good.
How do you feel about working in an incubator?
Chris: It’s actually really different. Over winter break we would meet every weekday from about 8 or 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. We’d be coding the entire day. We wouldn’t even talk to each other that much, we were just trying to get all the code done. I don’t want to say it was lonely, but it lacked that interpersonal interaction. But being in an incubator is different because people are around you talking all the time. You get to interact with other people and learn about things you may not have ever thought about before. I think it’s a great experience.
Sanna: And you get to hear about what other people are working on, and how they’ve gotten to where they are. And the fact that we have a mentor assigned to us, Philip Eliot, [Managing Director of Paladin Capital]—he’s been giving us a lot of advice that we really wouldn’t have been able to come by easily without him. Before, we were just the two of us on our own, and now we have a network of people to help us.
What are you hoping to achieve during Terp Startup this summer?
Sanna: This summer ideally we’d like a working app and at least 5 users on our app.
Chris: Even a small amount of users means someone out there is willing to trust us with their money, which is I think a big milestone.