Note: This interview has been edited for clarity.
For most undergraduate students, moving to a new country and starting college would be a lot to handle, but imagine doing all of that and starting your own endeavor. This is exactly what Daniela Negri did.
Daniela Negri is a senior business and technology student at Miami University and the founder of the app, Eureka Match.
I recently got the chance to speak with Negri and her mentor, Hassan Tabbah, over Zoom to learn more about the project and Negri’s life as a student and entrepreneur.
Kate Luongo (DC): If someone was meeting you for the first time, how would you introduce yourself?
Daniela Negri: My name is Daniela Negri and I am an international student from Brazil, so all the way from São Paulo to Miami University. I’m studying business and technology at the business school because I am very passionate about this branch between business and the tech world. I chose to go to UM because of the entrepreneurial opportunities that we could find as students. [The students] have all of the resources to pursue any dream, any endeavor.
That’s where I’m at as an undergrad, studying, but also willing to pursue some callings in the entrepreneurial world.
KL: Can you tell me a little bit about your daily life as a student?
DN: I guess this question unfolds in two parts: before COVID, and during COVID. But to combine both experiences, I am very focused in terms of classwork, so I try to make the most I can out of classes.
Outside of class, I love going to office hours. As a Brazilian student, English is not my first language, so here in the U.S., I found it extremely helpful that I could talk to professors. That was extremely valuable as a student entrepreneur as well because all professors were very supportive when I said I wanted to do something outside of class. This also helped me to go out there and take what I learned inside the classroom and apply it early on, so office hours were huge for me.
For fun, I also try to keep practicing some sports that I love and try to be active.
KL: Oh, what sports and activities do you do?
DN: Horseback riding is my passion, [I] have a connection with animals. I also like playing the guitar and singing. Expressing yourself creatively also helps you to be more creative in the business world.
It’s important to keep it real. Sometimes we hear stories that are like, “Oh, you won’t sleep, and it will be super intense.” It is intense. There are ups and downs, but you can find activities that help you balance and manage your stress, like a sport or, let’s say, listening to music or playing an instrument.
I want to make sure that all people know that it’s possible to pursue something rather than thinking, “Oh that’s not for me,” because this is what we are told – that to be an entrepreneur in college, you have no life. Of course it is super demanding, but you can make it if you can balance your time.
KL: Where did the idea for Eureka Match come from?
DN: Since I arrived at UM, I really wanted to find a way that we could leverage the potential of all the amazing students on campus. So, let’s say I’m a business tech student, how can I connect with engineers and computer scientists? We complement each other, but it’s very hard to branch out. They have different classes. They study in different buildings. So how could we leverage the potential of our student database and reach out, make new friends or kick start a new business? I always had this in mind. And when the [Business Plan] competition came along, I was like, “Why not apply this concept of a networking app, but designed specifically for students to make professional connections?” I felt there was no app tailored for this specific niche.
I went from there, did a lot of research at the UM campus talking to over 100 students and knowing how their needs were in terms of networking, and I found so many interesting patterns. Students that were artists felt the same way, that they wanted to branch out. Music students wanted to connect with music business students. I met a pre-med student [who] really wanted to know more architecture majors on campus because she loved architecture and she couldn’t find any. So I was like, “How come we have so much potential, but it’s so hard to meet new people?” Especially since nowadays we’re addicted to our cell phones and it’s hard to randomly say “Hi” to someone and ask, “What do you study, what do you do?”
That’s how the general concept came along.
KL: Once you had the idea, where did you go from there?
DN: It all started during the business plan competition that UM hosts annually, so this was back in the beginning of 2019. They encouraged students to submit a paper of a concept of any idea that could turn out to be a business.
I applied for the business plan competition with this concept and the name was already there, Eureka Match App.
That’s where I had the chance to meet my incredible mentor, Hassan. I was awarded second place, so it was an incredible experience and the money prize helped me to kick start the endeavor. [Hassan] helped in so many areas such as communication skills and how to properly manage in the real world. This assistance was crucial.
From there on, I also had the chance to meet incredible students at UM and they felt really passionate about the idea. As a business and technology major, it was my job to [connect] the business side with the tech side and talk with the developers [about] how we could make it work, make it live on the app store and have students download it. It was an amazing process because I had the chance to have this kind of real world experience of talking with the computer scientists. We [also] require a lot of feedback from the students on how we can improve the platform, so it all went from there.
KL: Hassan, could you tell me about how you got involved as a mentor?
Hassan Tabbah: I’m a retired executive but I volunteer my time with the University of Miami mentoring students. And we had the competition that Daniela just spoke about and I judged this competition.
I was on the sideline watching [Negri] present and I reached out to congratulate her on the idea and how she articulated her point of view. She then reached out to me and asked if we could work together to develop this idea more fully. I give her credit for that because other winners that I have worked with have taken the money and did not do a heck of a lot with it. She actually invested the money, built the app and brought it to life.
KL: Daniela, can you tell me a little bit more about the app, Eureka Match?
DN: We call ourselves the one-stop professional networking tool for college students. Once you’re on the home page, you can browse through the students’ profiles to see their name and major. Then you narrow down the cards by major, interest, nationality, and other filtering criteria. Once you send a connection request and if it’s mutual, you have the chat space in the app to start conversations. It also enables you to search your friends by name and send them a connection request. We are open for undergrads, grads and alums, so everyone who has their credentials can explore the database. The browsing profiles experience is something that a lot of students like and is fun. I wanted to make this blend of making a professional app that also sounded cool and appealing for our market.
KL: What were some of the obstacles you faced as a student entrepreneur?
DN: Maybe a common obstacle for me and the other students in the team is to manage school work with an external project. The project outside is something we love and are passionate about and we believe in the mission. But I won’t lie that sometimes you have midterms week or finals week and things get a bit in the way. You cannot just say, “Oh, I have midterms, I’ll just forget I have this outside project.” You need to balance both. Time management is key to overcome this specific obstacle.
And then we have other obstacles that are more tech-related because we are student-run, so it is a learning process for everyone. It’s not like we’re out there doing this for a living. We’re constantly learning on the go.
KL: Did you ever foresee yourself becoming an entrepreneur before college?
DN: My mom is a self-made entrepreneur. Being raised by my mom and seeing her do this throughout her career was definitely my main motivation. She was a dentist, so she used to actually treat her patients, but then one day she had a terrible back problem and she was told she could not work anymore. She had to raise two kids, my sister and I, and that’s when her entrepreneurial spirit kicked in. She started this business which is now a franchisee company. She has clinics and manages other dentists that offer affordable health treatments in Brazil.
In the beginning, there was a lot of gray area, as there is in every entrepreneurial endeavor – ups and downs and endless hours of work. But to see how rewarding it was for her professionally, how much she grew as a person and literally seeing her
So if you see someone who is close to you pursuing an endeavor and if you [are] inspired and intrigued, maybe you have the entrepreneurial bug.
KL: What are your goals for after you graduate? What future do you see for Eureka Match?
DN: My app right now is kind of my baby, so I’m very focused on making it grow and expanding its possibilities.
Eureka Match has the potential to be out there and benefit other student communities. Right now, we have a pilot as a school project that is closed for Miami students. It is 100% focused for UM students. But it is a platform that we could open to other campuses across the country, such as UConn. Right now, you can select the school, major and then a couple interests.
If we had other campuses that are enrolled in the app, I could search that I want to meet someone from UConn that studies a certain major and then I could see your student database. What I’m trying to do at UM is make this connection between students and areas of knowledge.
This would be the biggest goal with Eureka Match. Definitely pursuing something as an entrepreneur motivates me. Let’s see where life takes me but it’s definitely something I’m looking forward to.
KL: Do you have any advice for students who want to pursue an idea?
DN: It all starts when you’re passionate about something or you’ve seen a problem in your day-to-day life. It happened to me as a student coming from Brazil wanting to connect. It could happen in any other scenario in your life. If you see that you could have the tools or the knowledge to solve it and if you’re passionate about it, I would say go for it.
Make sure that you do your research and try to conceptualize it. Organize yourself and make sure that you’re ready to commit the time for it. Validating your idea is very important. Go outside and see if it’s not [just] a personal need or problem and see if it’s applicable for other people so you know you have enough market.
Always seek mentors to guide you along the way. These are people that I am sure you can meet as an undergrad, and this will be a connection for life and it can be life changing in your career.
Don’t let some other stories scare you, because so many times you see lectures and you get scared. Rather, try to find stories that actually inspire you.
You are enough to make it happen.