July 2008 Issue
The Fence
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Bright Idea

Nick Wolff stepped in the door that Monday evening and saw five people crammed into the tiny, worn apartment. Equipment covered every available surface of the small living room, except for two couches taken over by people. A huge server and large printer dominated one wall, a projector and white board obscured another, and two computers filled up the desk top. As Wolff says, "This was entrepreneurship incarnate. [Brian] was actually living in the idea."

'Brian' is Brian Wirtz, a Tepper School graduate student, and 'the idea' is his business venture, dubbed Bright. Wirtz says he came to Tepper, in part, to get Bright off the ground. His concept is to use Web 2.0 live voice and videoconferencing to have experts answer questions from Internet users that need human answers. For instance: Does this outfit match for my date?

Determined to make his project come to life, he contacted Lenore Blum, Distinguished Career Professor of Computer Science and director of Project Olympus. Wirtz was aware that Olympus's endeavor is to nurture new businesses for the region, and, in so doing, create technologically oriented job opportunities. Blum offered him moral support, telling him to get Bright started and come back to Olympus whenever he needed help.

He placed a help-wanted ad in TartanTrak, a campus online site. Wolff, a junior majoring in Information Systems and a Tartan football player, answered. He figured Bright might add to his resume some Web 2.0 and business experience.

When he walked into Wirtz's apartment for the first time that night, Wolff wasn't sure what to expect. Wirtz made quite an impression. "Brian is so pumped with the idea," says Wolff, "it was easy to get on board." He has no regrets, either. "In a small setting like this, your ideas are valued right away. Everyone contributes. Deep down, that's what you want--to have a say."

During the following few months, the Bright team expanded to seven. Although ideas grew, physical space didn't. Tired of jockeying for computer plug and couch space, Wirtz got in touch with Blum. The team then left for a semester break and returned to an actual office on Craig Street, just a few blocks from campus, complete with new carpet, printer, chairs, and outlets for all.

The team members, who receive an ownership stake in Bright in lieu of pay, know that the work space from Olympus is another step in the fledgling company's development. -- Melissa Silmore (TPR'85)

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B! So that's your apartment in the picture! That is cramped! It's neat that you got written up! See you soon! Dad

Mona Vac

I read about your article and I have been writing to professors at CMU of a project that perhaps they would engage to do or not. Perhaps you can help?