Students go from being first in their families to attend college to founding startups
An NYU fellowship is helping to make it possible
As aspiring entrepreneurs, Mohammad Asfour and Louis Ciano were always on the lookout for emails from NYU’s Entrepreneurial Institute. That paid off when a notice arrived that applications were being accepted for the NYU First Generation to College Founders Fellowship, which would provide training and mentorship — and the opportunity to receive up to $5,000 in scholarships — to those chosen.
The requirements: applicants were to be among the first generation in their families to attend college, and they had to be trying to solve a meaningful, real-world problem in an innovative and marketable way. Fortuitously, each had already been working on entrepreneurial ventures, and neither had parents who had attended college, making them eligible to apply.
They’re now both part of the current Fellowship cohort, which is supported by Santander’s Universities program, and while they’re busy with their usual Tandon classes, events and workshops at the Leslie eLab, and, of course, refining their winning ideas, they took the time to tell us a little more about themselves and their work.
Name: Mohammed Asfour ('22)
Computer Engineering, with a minor in Computer Science
The startup I co-founded is called Xloosv, a private social communication app. The name is a play on the word exclusive, because the platform we developed is going to be aimed at students attending the same university. So, for example, you’d need an @nyu.edu email address in order to join the community and connect with other NYU students.
I got the idea when I realized how hard it is to be at a university and try to make new meaningful contact with peers, whether you were looking for a roommate, trying to sell a textbook, or simply wanted someone in the same major to hang out with. I hope this platform helps students create meaningful connections with their peers from their first day on campus throughout their entire college journey. We have an alpha version that we’ll be testing with a small group of students, and with their feedback, and resources from the Fellowship, we’ll start iterating and refining.
Neither of my parents attended college due to the high expenses and lack of resources in their country at the time, but they worked hard and managed to forge a successful career. My father worked in Palestine then immigrated to work in Saudi Arabia before launching his own startup in customs clearance. My mother has always assisted him and taken care of seven children (including me) while he was at work. I will always be grateful for what they did and hope to make them proud!
Name: Louis Ciano ('24)
Physics and Computer Engineering (with a strong interest in Business and Technology Management
I was working with a group of friends on a project, and it involved long meetings where everyone talked, multiple ideas got dissected, and it was easy to get overloaded with information. No one wanted to go through lengthy recordings or transcripts to review, so occasionally, by the next meeting, it was difficult to remember the highlights or what needed to be revisited. A Bluetooth device that could record and provide real-time text analytics and summaries would have been really useful, so I developed one.
Recalled is a hardware solution that gets placed in the meeting room; the software is all on the backend, so the user doesn’t have to worry about that. It will be voice-activated, and there will be the opportunity to do voice training so that it recognizes who on the team is speaking, how much they spoke, and other metrics that could prove useful.
Even though he didn’t attend college because he had children so early, my father was able to have a very successful career. He deals with printers and scanners—not developing them but working more on the sales side. (If you like donuts, you might be interested to know that he is involved in the labeling equipment used by Krispy Kreme.) It’s fun to think that one day I might develop a tech product that he could sell and distribute.