By Stephen Wilson

With teenagers navigating a pandemic, standard summer jobs like mowing lawns have shifted into more modern small-business ventures, like creating and selling digital files in the NFT (non-fungible token) marketplace.

Jumping into that business requires some creative chutzpah and knowledge of the space, a perfect topic for Innovation Week at the Dyer Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. 

In its third year, the week is dedicated to celebrating risk-takers, learning from innovators, and inviting creators to inspire Lafayette students. This year co-sponsors included Landis Center for Community Engagement, Lafayette Easton Alliance, Economics Department, Gateway Career Center, and Engineering Division.

The first day of the week showcased NFTs, thanks in part to recent alumnus Chirag Nijjer ’20, who spent the week on campus leading many discussions, meeting with students, and emceeing events.

Alumni presenter speaks before a screen to participants at tables

Chirag Nijjer ’20 led discussions and met with students during Innovation Week.

He worked remotely during the bulk of the day in his role as customer success lead at Google and stepped away for lunchtime and evening Dyer activities as a representative of EntreKey, a personal passion project where he consults with owners and entrepreneurs, and also creates content to help them better understand business fundamentals.

In addition to his talk on NFTs, Nijjer led a digital marketing workshop for students and area non-profits, and a session on monetizing personal branded content.

Kristin Koscielski Frampton, director of marketing & communications, at The Children’s Home of Easton, joined a few other people from non-profit organizations for the workshop. As one of the area’s oldest non-profits, the donors skew older and Frampton sought some approaches to connect to younger audiences.

“Chrag emphasized how powerful video can be and reminded me how easy it is to grab a phone and shoot a quick video,” she says. While they already use Facebook and Instagram, she is now in the middle of launching a YouTube page that provides a more personal glimpse into the work at The Children’s Home.

Niijer understands how important personal connections are.

“My time at Lafayette was filled with a lot of personal growth and amazing opportunities,” says Nijjer. “I was very fortunate to have some amazing mentors and advisers during my time at Lafayette, so it felt nice to be able to come back, see myself on the other side of the table, and be part of the Lafayette magic for the current students.” 

Nijjer served as one of the center’s inaugural fellows and helped co-found the Lafayette chapter of Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization (CEO) and Lafayette Consulting Group (LCG).

LCG played a key role in the week as they sponsored a pitch competition. Four student-led ventures presented ideas, ranging from a dorm room haircut platform, an investment app designed for college financial clubs, a data-driven financial market insights business, and a CO2 emissions reduction platform.

Participants and judges from the pitch pose for a photo

Judging the event were Nicole Hurd, president, Scott Hummel, director of engineering, and Yusuf Dahl, director of the Dyer Center.

The 10-minute team presentations were packed with ideas, inspiration, and customer insights. Judges asked hard questions and passed out high praise. Vladimir Barshchuk ’22 took home top prize for his pitch for the investment app for finance clubs.

“Having students learn new topics, practice their pitching skills, and engage community partners are all key skills to becoming a successful entrepreneur,” says Dahl. “We were honored to have Chirag here to again drive us in new directions. His role as Innovator in Residence will be a tough act to follow next year for other talented young alumni.”

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