Student Spotlight

Each month, TEC shines the spotlight on one student involved in our courses, programs, or both!

Student spotlight

Student Spotlight: Brian Uzananski
Ugonna Akuba



Name: Brian Uzananski

Year: Senior

Major: Computer Engineering

TEC Programs Attended: Social Fuse, Cozad, & Silicon Valley Workshop





How would you describe your Illinois experience in 3 words?

Insightful, exciting, and unexpected because I wasn’t really aware of all of the opportunities available at U of I. TEC definitely helped me get into startups on campus, mainly through TE 360. That was a huge eye-opener for me.

What’s one thing that you love about this Campus?

I like that it’s pretty much a tech hub in the Midwest. I’ve been to Silicon Valley, but there’s still a lot of startup activity in tech happening here. There’s also a lot of people interested in tech as well.

What TEC programs have you participated in?

I went to the Silicon Valley Workshop in 2016. I just finished participating in Cozad and have done SocialFuse. I also went to a Cozad Mentoring event in Chicago for Cozad finalists.

What is your favorite TEC program?

Cozad was the most worthwhile and I learned the most from it.

What are working on right now?

I’m working on my startup Pwr. It’s an adaptive smart charger and power pack.

How would you summarize your experience in Cozad?

It was a lot. You learn a lot of stuff about what goes into starting a startup. Talking with the mentors definitely showed me a side of it that I wasn’t aware of before. I’d say it’s definitely a good experience because it’s been really fun. In general, I didn’t really think my idea was a good idea at first, but getting to the finals definitely validated it a little bit.

What made you decide to compete in Cozad New Venture Competition?

This was an idea for our senior design class and we just kind of kept thinking about it and working on it. By the time the final submission came around we already had a whole business plan, so we thought why not take it further.

What is something you learned from pitching at Cozad and Social Fuse?

I learned that no matter how much you prepare, you’re still not prepared enough. I also learned that it’s pretty important to look for feedback when I was preparing for my pitch. Seeking out more feedback then you need is what helped me.

What was a highlight of the Silicon Valley Workshop?

At the Silicon Valley Workshop, I saw the CEO of Bloom Energy talk and I found that to be one of the most interesting experiences there. He’s one of the more visionary CEOs and to be able to go to the workshop and see one of those people talk, and ask questions was really cool.

Is there something that surprised you about Silicon Valley?

One thing that surprised me is how huge software is going to be. It’s interesting to see that so many of the startups that we visited were based on software. Also, that fact that there were some hardware companies doing really well, like Bloom Energy or Tesla. Right now, my startup is very hardware based and it doesn’t have much code at all, so that was important to show me that it’s not just software out there.

Were you always interested in entrepreneurship?

I’ve always been a huge fan of Apple and Steve Jobs and his vision. I really always thought about doing a  hardware startup so I was pretty excited to be in the finals of Cozad with Pwr.

What advice do you have for students that want to begin looking into entrepreneurial opportunities?

I see a lot of people interested in entrepreneurship, but they keep putting off working on their idea. I think Cozad is a great way to start working on something because they give you deadlines and you have to submit material. So by participating in Cozad, it gets you thinking and working towards it. I think it’s probably the best way to get into entrepreneurship, and also things like Social Fuse if you go and just pitch because you’re getting started somehow.


Click for more

Student Spotlight: Jessica Austriaco
Ugonna Akuba





Name: Jessica Austriaco

Year: Sophomore

College/Major: Bioengineering & ILEE

TEC Programs: SocialFuse, BOLD






What is your connection with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign?

I’m a sophomore pursuing a dual degree in Bioengineering and Innovation, Leadership and Engineering Entrepreneurship (ILEE).

Why did you decide to pursue this degree?

TE 333: Creativity, Innovation and Vision was recommended to me as a really good class by a couple of upper classmen that I know which lead to me be interested. Also, Bold is a group for women in entrepreneurship and leadership that just started this year that I am the president. I thought I would have so much fun taking these classes and I also wanted something to add to my engineering experience.

How would you describe your U of I experience in 3 words?

Diverse, Opportunity, and Challenge. Diverse because that was the biggest reason I chose U of I. It’s so diverse here. There are also a lot of opportunities here. If you want to be involved in something, you can just go and do it. There’s always new things popping up everywhere and new things to start if you want to start something because we definitely have the resources. It’s also a challenge because the work is really challenging and all the life challenges are helping me grow.

What’s one thing that you love about this Campus?

I love the opportunities. I’m always online trying to find new things to be involved with. You can walk on the quad and there’s always something different every day.
What was your favorite TE Course you’ve taken? Why?

Some of my friends were telling me about some of the brain teasers they used in TE 333 and I was like I would love to take a class where they told you brain teasers. I’m having a lot of fun in the class right now. It’s so different. It’s listed as an engineering class, but we learn how to be more creative, which is something that is never touched on in most engineering classes.

What TE Course did you find the most beneficial? Why?

TE 360: Lectures in Engineering Entrepreneurship is very beneficial in terms of networking. You get to meet a lot entrepreneurs that come into class or people that are really involved in entrepreneurship around the school.

How would you summarize your experiences?

I think TEC programs in general are really well advertised, so you get different types of people and also a large amount that come. I love meeting people from different majors, backgrounds, and interests but everyone’s interested in starting something or pursuing a project that they’re passionate about. So you get a mix of creative people and that what makes it really cool.

Is there anything that surprised you?

I was surprised to learn that entrepreneurship was such a buzzing community here. I knew that there were a lot of start-ups that came out of U of I, but I didn’t realize that it was this big community and TEC sort of brings everyone together. It was really cool to explore and find out about.

How has participating changed your views on entrepreneurship?
Working hard to promote BOLD and also working with people in BOLD has made me more passionate about getting more women involved in entrepreneurship, and also just excited about the whole field in general. I didn’t grow up thinking “I’m going to start a company one day,” but now I’m like maybe I will because there are a lot of resources here and in TE:360 we’ve been learning about the process of start-ups.

What do you hope to accomplish in terms of entrepreneurship?

I always have new ideas, but even if I don’t end up starting a company, I’ll definitely be interested in different projects or innovating within where I work. I started a leadership council in the C.A.R.E. Tutoring Space in Grainger Library because I was like this is a cool program but nobody’s doing anything to make it better, so I started a little group with my boss. Entrepreneurially, maybe I won’t start a company, but I’ll definitely keep innovating. I’ll continue to do those little kinds of things like that.

Were you always interested in entrepreneurship?

I’m always interested in new things. Innovation is a really broad word and it’s a buzz word around the university. When you really think about it, people that innovate are people who want to start new things or want to make thing better and that’s something I’ve always been interested in.

Do you think you’ve changed your way of thinking?

I always wanted to be involved in new tings and improve things, but I never had the resources or the word to describe what that was. Now that I’m involved with TEC, it’s easier for me to look at things and think “how can I make this better?” or “where do I want to start?” It has really change my perspective in terms of what I’m involved in and what I want to do on campus.

Click for more

Technology Entrepreneur Center

Engineering at Illinois

351 Coordinated Science Lab, MC-228
1308 W. Main Street
Urbana, IL 61801

Social Media