Neil Soni: Collegiate Finalist In Entrepreneur Magazine Contest
An entrepreneurial whiz kid, Neil Soni turned the pesky questions of an inquisitive little brother seeking advice about where to go to school into a dynamic online startup that has created a personalized platform for college searches.
Soni, a CMU student majoring in chemical engineering, is one of five finalists vying for the title of Best Emerging 2012 Entrepreneur from Entrepreneur Magazine. The magazine asks readers to vote for the emerging entrepreneur finalists by Sept. 15 at http://www.entrepreneur.com/e2012college#727. Winners will be announced later this semester.
"I'm so excited to be part of this unique competition, but I could not have done it without the support of CMU, the Pittsburgh community and our team," Soni said.
The Germantown, Md., senior teamed up with CMU peers Jonathan Bender, a senior in information systems; Kathryn Thomas, a senior in design; Hector Lo, a senior in chemical engineering; and math majors Brett Byler and Yihuan Zhou to create a social online platform, called CollegeZen.com, that can help high school seniors match personal interests to a particular college culture.
"In my own case, I selected CMU because of its collaborative, problem-solving environment where there are no boundaries for what you can and want to achieve," Soni said. "What I have found through my business is that the happiness level at any college is not always determined by the academics, but by the opportunities available to students."
Soni has already experienced a feast of success. Mentors and peers say Soni's entrepreneurial DNA gives him a competitive edge.
"Neil is a high potential entrepreneur. He and his partners recognized a real problem in the marketplace—choosing the best college fit for you—and are passionate about providing a unique and differentiated solution with CollegeZen. At CMU, we provide an ecosystem of resources and mentors that help our faculty, students and alumni follow their entrepreneurial dreams. We are thrilled to be helping Neil achieve his dreams," said David Mawhinney, executive director of the Donald H. Jones Center for Entrepreneurship at CMU's Tepper School of Business.
Jim Jen, director of Alpha Lab, praised Soni for his professionalism and resilience. Soni received $25,000 in seed money from Alpha Lab, a South Side tech incubator founded by Innovation Works that has launched 51 companies since its inception in 2008. "We see a lot of emerging entrepreneurs like Neil who have a desire to stay in the city where networking opportunities are on the rise, funding for good ideas is available and there's a supportive ecosystem for startups," Jen said.
CMU's Soni also lauded the university for its culture of innovative thinking, through programs like Project Olympus, part of the university's Greenlighting Startups initiative, which is designed to speed CMU faculty and student innovations from the research lab to the marketplace. CMU's entrepreneurial culture has helped create more than 300 companies and 9,000 jobs in the past 15 years.