Student Spotlight

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

Student spotlight

Student Spotlight: Ann Rajan
Kyra Lavalais

Name: Ann Rajan
Year: Sophomore
Major: Computer Science Major, Applied Statistics Minor
TEC Programs: Cozad, Chicago TEC Workshop, Silicon Valley Workshop




How would you describe your U of I experience in 3 words?
Inspiring, engaging, and thrilling. I’ve gotten the opportunity to learn from so many accomplished individuals and get involved with different endeavors at the university. 

What’s one thing that you love about this Campus?
No matter what you’re interested in, there’s bound to be someone else who has the same interest. The opportunities to find and pursue your passion are limitless. 

What is your favorite TEC program?
My favorite TEC program has to be the Silicon Valley Workshop. Not only were all the speakers so inspiring, but the other students on the trip were incredibly passionate and driven. I had a great time learning about different stages of startups, entrepreneurs’ personal stories of failure and success, and getting to know the other students. 

How would you summarize your experience in Cozad?
Cozad was an incredible experience where I got a lot of insight on the foundation of a good startup. I used to believe that it was all about the product, but there are so many other components that need to be considered as well. I learned so much from the process as well as the other participants of Cozad. 

What made you decide to compete in Cozad New Venture Competition?
During first semester, I had the opportunity to build out an idea I had previously along with a few peers. As an all-freshmen team, I was initially apprehensive to compete because I knew I would be competing with many other people with a lot more experience. However, I decided to just go for it and try to learn as much as I could from the process and my peers also participating in Cozad. 

What was a highlight of the Silicon Valley Workshop?
I found one of the most inspiring speakers to be Sundari Mitra, CEO of NetSpeed Systems. She was incredibly passionate about technology and entrepreneurship and made it her mission to impact the world. As a fellow Indian female, I could relate with several of her experiences, and it was generally encouraging to see her stand so strong in the industry. 

What was a highlight of the Chicago TEC workshop? Or something that surprised you?
I was really thrilled to see so much innovation in spaces in Chicago such as 1871 and Tech Nexus. People don’t really talk about too much innovation in Chicago - the default has always been Silicon Valley. However, this trip opened my eyes to see the many entrepreneurial opportunities available nearby. 

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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.


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