Last spring, I joined the internship stress-fest, frantically applying to every biomedical engineering internship I could get my hands on and fervently hoping that I would get an offer. I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do—work in industry for the summer in order to get real-world experience with my major and get a better idea of what I want to do post-graduation.

Cue the Viterbi Startup Garage Summer Smasher program, a summer program that provides students with experience in entrepreneurship by matching them with a startup and having them work there over the summer. I had learned about it in my Engineering Honors Colloquium class and thought it was interesting, so I applied on a whim and somewhat forgot about it amidst the rush of internship applications. However, as soon as I opened up the acceptance email and learned about the startups offering internship positions, my plans changed entirely. I realized that although I still do want to work in the medical device industry once I graduate, this was my chance to experience being part of a startup, and I found some really cool ones that I was eager to work with.


After a series of interviews with various startup companies, I was left to choose between two startups that I was extremely excited about: OpenSesame, which was working on a 5-G social experience application, and Launch, which was creating an AI-based chatbot for companies. Unable to decide, I took on both! I had completely different roles in the startups I was working with: I worked on marketing for OpenSesame and product development for Launch.

To be completely honest, working in a startup environment was challenging, but it was also really fun! Everything moved so quickly and plans changed spontaneously as new ideas emerged, which I found interesting to be a part of. For Launch, I was doing something I had never done before: actually creating a chatbot, using tools that I had never used before: Elasticsearch (an AI-powered search engine), Rasa (a conversational AI tool), and the Slack API (creating a chatbot in Slack). It was pretty tough—I spent many, many hours running into Python errors and facing problems that I had no idea how to solve. However, with the help of Google and the Launch CTO, I was able to create a working search bot by the end of the 8-week program! And then, as I was about to submit it, I accidentally deleted the entire thing! But despite it having taken me multiple weeks to create, I was able to recreate the bot in only a few hours after I deleted it (not including the time I spent crying). This was just a testament to how much the startup experience taught me: despite the short amount of time I was working there, I gained a skillset that I never would have gotten in my major-related classes, and I became comfortable enough in those new skills that I was able to recreate my entire project in a fraction of the time it originally took me.


Some tools I learned how to use/improved my knowledge of this summer


Unlike established companies, there wasn’t really a vertical hierarchy in the startups I worked with: as part of OpenSesame, I worked directly with the founder, and it was so empowering to have my ideas heard by him and see my input being incorporated into the final product. Before this experience, I was nervous to share my ideas, especially with the CEO of a startup, but the founders that I worked with were incredibly kind, supportive, and approachable. I was given a lot of freedom to pursue my ideas and I left the program feeling like I had made a tangible contribution to both companies I worked with.

Throughout this whole program, I also learned a lot about entrepreneurship and how to approach creating my own startup. Every week, we had an “Oceanside Chat,” in which a speaker hopped on Zoom to talk to us about a different aspect of the startup experience. Through this, I learned about patenting, getting equity funding, pitching to VCs, learning from customers, and much more!


One of the many interesting Oceanside Chats put on by the Summer Smasher program!


At the end of the program, each Summer Smasher participant got the chance to present what they had done that summer in front of all the companies in the Viterbi Startup Garage! Summarizing my experience at each startup made me realize that I had learned so many new skills and greatly improved my creative thinking abilities by spending those 8 weeks in the startup sphere (not to mention, I met a bunch of super-cool people and made some new friends!). Summer Smasher was definitely a smash in my books, and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s interested in entrepreneurship or even just learning something new!

Neha Yadav

Neha Yadav

MAJOR: Biomedical Engineering YEAR: Class of 2023 HOMETOWN: Benicia, California PRONOUNS: she/her/hers INSTA: @nehaha.838 On campus, I'm a project manager for Engineers Without Borders, on the Associated Students of Biomedical Engineering Executive Board, and a researcher at the USC Biomedical Microsystems Laboratory. I have some experience in entrepreneurship—I won the Min Family Social Entrepreneurship Challenge in 2020 and interned at two startups last summer. In my free time, I love reading, hiking, and road-tripping!