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In Conversation with ANTrepreneurs: A Deep Dive into the Journey of Vatsal Ananthula

Thanks to UCI ANTrepreneur Center for this valuable information about entrepreneurship:

Interview with ANTrepreneurs: Vatsal Ananthula

Vatsal AnanthulaAt the UCI ANTrepreneur Center, University of California, Irvine (UC Irvine) students can take advantage of a wide variety of resources and opportunities to help them explore the world of entrepreneurship and develop the skills to be successful in their professional pursuits.

From the Micro-Internships program to Innovation Challenges to startup coaching, the ANTrepreneur Center is the central hub for student innovators looking to bring their ideas to life.

One such student is Vatsal Ananthula, Cognitive Science major at the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley). Prior to transferring to UC Berkeley, Vatsal attended UC Irvine from 2021-2023 where he studied Biological Sciences and served as president of AI@UCI, the largest AI club at UC Irvine. As a UC Irvine student, Vatsal also conducted research on natural language processing for mental health through the UCI SURF program, worked as a Team Lead on the ZotBins’ computer vision research team, won top awards at various hackathons, and did data science for Vena Vitals, a Y Combinator-backed medical device startup. Currently, Vatsal is a student researcher working on clinical AI at Stanford University and the UCSF UC Berkeley Computational Precision Health Program.

Vatsal credits much of his success to the resources and opportunities he discovered at the ANTrepreneur Center. To help other UC Irvine students take advantage of these resources, Vatsal recently sat down with Ryan Foland, Director of the ANTrepreneur Center, to discuss his involvement with the Center, his future plans, and his best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Ryan: Ahoy Vatsal! Thank you for meeting with me; I know that you’re a busy man these days.

Vatsal: Thanks for having me, Ryan. I’m excited to be here and hopefully encourage other students to see how the ANTrepreneur Center can change their lives.

Ryan: Awesome, let’s start from the beginning. How did you get involved with the ANTrepreneur Center?

Vatsal: Early in my undergrad career, I helped organize a panel with UC Irvine academic leadership, science journalists, and researchers on science communication. Based on feedback from the panelists, I wanted to identify ways to educate people on scientific research. I asked myself: How do you equip people without a scientific background to approach social and political issues as objectively as possible? I felt that finding a solution to this question could have a positive impact on our society, pushing us to have more discussions based on a scientific approach. By coincidence a member of the audience who had worked with the Center before recommended that if I wanted to take this idea to the next step I should get involved.

Around this time, I remember seeing an email from the ANTrepreneur Center advertising help for any student with any idea. I decided to drop in and to share my thoughts. I was able to get a lot of good feedback and identify a direction to move forward. Although I did not end up fully pursuing this project, the advice I received was helpful for my future ventures, and the positive experience stuck with me.

Ryan: What ANTrepreneur Center resources did you find most useful in supporting your entrepreneurial journey?

Vatsal: The mentorship I received from ANTrepreneur Center leadership and graduate student consultants was very valuable. It was really helpful to have one-on-one conversations where I was able to ask as many questions as I wanted and receive personalized guidance. The Center also holds a variety of entrepreneurial-focused events throughout the year. I have noticed that successful founders, entrepreneurs, and scientists are always learning, and I found being in an environment with like-minded people to share ideas with was crucial in nurturing my passion for entrepreneurship. One of my personal favorites was a talk by Y Combinator Group Partner Surbhi Sarna. It was inspiring to learn from someone so motivated to solve a personal problem to teach themselves what they needed to grow a successful company, exemplifying the determination that entrepreneurs need to succeed. This, among other events, continuously served as a source of inspiration.

If you want to get involved with a startup, I found the Center’s Innovation Challenges to be one of the best ways to gain experience. These events mimic what it’s like to work at a startup because you have to work together with a team, develop a product, and communicate your idea in a compelling way, all under a serious time crunch. Last year, the Center hosted the Mental Health Innovation Challenge which I participated in. That was the first time I had to speak in front of a larger audience, and I really appreciated the opportunity to both improve my public speaking skills and gain experience in entrepreneurship.

Ryan: Can you tell me more about your experience competing in the Mental Health Innovation Challenge?

Vatsal: Around two years ago, I was looking at advances in Large Language Models (LLMs), and it seemed like a great field to get into because it was innovating at an incredibly fast pace. However, within the healthcare field, it didn’t seem like LLMs were being deployed to actively advance the standard of care. I was considering building a product to fill this gap in the mental health space. After speaking to academic researchers and engineers in the industry, LLMs seemed to be a promising option.

My team started with an initial concept working within one of the clubs on campus, but it was difficult to go very far with our product. When I heard about the Mental Health Innovation Challenge, it seemed like a great opportunity to kickstart what we were working on, gain feedback, and see how far we could go. With the help of the Center, we developed a compelling pitch, slides, and speech. I remember coming in multiple times asking for feedback with some of the team, and this was really important for our success. We ended up becoming...

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