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Computer Science alumnus wins national app competition


The startup culture at Purdue -- particularly with Computer Science students -- has exploded the last few years. The Anvil is a CS-student led workspace nestled in the former location of University Church, near Purdue campus in West Lafayette. The unique, open space was designed to promote ideas for

Kris Reyes
Kris Reyes

the next great website, app, software or hardware.

The university also backs startup companies – mostly in concert with faculty – through Purdue Foundry.

Alumni are in the mix as well. In October, CS and Mathematics alumnus Michael Stoppelman swung by The Anvil to talk code and startup strategy with dozens of students. He joined older brother Jeremy Stoppleman at Yelp years ago and helped make the site a multi-million dollar entity and the go-to place to review service industry businesses.

CS alumnus Kris Reyes (BS ’04) has gotten in on the startup scene after completing his academic career as a postdoc in mathematical programming at Princeton University. He recently launched Meru Apps, LLC. Reyes’ company builds “apps around the interaction between people, their world and cloud-based data.

Reyes’ work was deemed the best at a recent reference data challenge hosted by National Institute of Standards and Technology. His winning entry was an android app called Meru Lab Reference, which “gives scientists, students and educators quick access to the NIST data through Near Field Communication tags, physical smart-chips capable of storing a small amount of information and communicates with mobile devices through special scanners built into most modern phones and tablets.”

Question: Was the startup idea prevalent during your time at Purdue?

Answer: It was just starting to blossom back then (2000-2004). Faculty founded some of the start-up companies that I was aware of, but I don't really recall any programs tailored or targeted to students. It was definitely nothing compared to how it is today. Actually, I just checked out the University's page for innovation and entrepreneurship and am a bit jealous. We didn't have these resources -- or at least I wasn't aware of them, when I was a student. If I were a student in West Lafayette today, I would definitely be taking advantage of as many of these resources as possible.

Q: Was this your first venture into a startup while in academia?

A: I did join one startup prior to forming my own company (financial tech company Vatic Labs), and it was there that I gained the confidence in myself and my ability to found a company of my own.

Q: You recently finished a postdoc at Princeton. Would you ever return to academia? Do faculty with something like Meru impress students? Does it give them more “cred” as educators?

A: I don't think I'll ever formerly go back to academia, but I'm working in a space that intersects with science and research, so I'm able to stay in contact with the academic community and stay up-to-date with the state-of-the art, which is important as a start-up. … I had left academia to join a start-up before starting my own so I never got to be simultaneously educator/founder. However, in the past, my work and conversations with the grad students I supervised often touched on the idea of starting up a company based on our research. Meru Apps has a bit of that at its kernel.

Q: What lessons or inspiration from your time at Purdue have helped you during your career?

A: First, and most obvious, was my education. I think the CS program at Purdue offered a great mix of practical and theoretical work, which I've come to appreciate in a concrete way at my startup. Another important feature of the Science program at Purdue is its emphasis on personal and professional development past the classroom. For example, I was involved in a corporate mentorship program where I (along with a cohort of other College of Science students) was paired with an employee from Eli Lilly (in my case). I learned a lot of so-called "soft skills," like networking and career development through that program -- lessons that have stuck with me since graduating.

Q: What advice would you give to Science undergrads today looking to make it in the startup world?

A: I would say always keep your eyes open for problems to fix, especially among your fellow undergraduates. College students and young professionals are the key influencers when it comes to a lot of recent, consumer-facing startups. That said, don't worry about trying to be the next Facebook. The most important thing is that you're solving a problem, have a decent business/monetization model and are persistent at what you're doing. 

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