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Introducing Opzi, a Cornell Startup

A few weeks ago a new Cornell community went live. Opzi, the brainchild of a recent alumnus, Euwyn Poon '04 J.D. '07, promises to rethink the way that Cornellians learn and collaborate with each other. As longtime readers know, I'm particularly interested in figuring out how to connect and inspire all of Cornell's disparate constituencies, so Opzi is grounds for excitement.

At its heart, Opzi is a question and answer site exclusive to the Cornell community. You can share your knowledge, get answers, and make new connections with fellow students and alumni.

Of course, this isn't the first time we've seen a unique crowd-sourcing technology promise changes to East Hill and beyond. CUWiki was launched to great fanfare a couple years ago, but hasn't been very active for quite some time. So hopefully Opzi will meet our expectations.

Euwyn, who actually spent some time practicing corporate law in New York City prior to launching Opzi, graciously agreed to answer some questions for us. A consummate Cornellian, he calls himself "an entrepreneur, software developer, and attorney."

You trained to be a lawyer and now you're heading a startup. What was the impetus for Opzi?

I attended Cornell Law and practiced for 2 years at an NYC firm, but always maintained a strong interest in web startups. I created Opzi after venturing into the startup world and realizing the importance of mentorship and connections. Given my own roundabout journey through law to startups, I wondered if I could have made better choices if I knew who to reach out to earlier on in my career.

In a big community like the Cornell network of students and alumni, there are millions of interesting connections to be made, yet it's difficult to figure out who to connect with. There also exists a wealth of knowledge and experiences that people are generally happy to share, but have nowhere to do so.

Opzi is a product that addresses both problems. It's an interactive question and answer community that incentivizes people to share knowledge as well as creates networking opportunities for people within the big Cornell network.

Cornell is a diverse, multi-polar campus featuring students with all sorts of competing interests. How will Opzi cater to the biomedical engineer and the landscape architect, the budding investment banker and the soon-to-be labor organizer?

We're already seeing a wide range of questions on Opzi, from questions about law school and finance, to questions about campus life from incoming freshmen. We created Opzi with this wide range of questions in mind. The questions Opzi presents to you is determined by topics and people you choose to follow. To help people access the archives better, we also just rolled out a search feature.

What's going to happen once you have thousands of Cornell students and alumni using the service? How will the content be filtered and edited?

The goal is for Opzi to be completely sourced and moderated from the "crowd". Currently it's the core team that's pruning and filtering content, but in the same vein as Wikipedia, we hope to appoint more moderators to help us in these efforts.

Has anybody used Opzi yet in a way that you didn't intend? Where do you see the service branching out to?

We initially thought of Opzi as a tool to help students network and get career advice from alumni, but quickly realized that the site could be used to create new connections between Cornell students, between current students and incoming freshmen, and between alumni. Right now, we're focusing on making the site as useful as possible to the Cornell community, but once we settle upon the right set of features, we might think about bringing Opzi to other networks.

One of the goals that President Skorton has for Cornell is to become more of an 'innovation ecosystem' and to encourage more entrepreneurship both on-campus and off. How receptive have Cornell staff, faculty, and alumni been to your ideas? Are there any venture capital firms sniffing you out yet?

The Cornell administration and faculty have been incredibly helpful so far. We had a soft launch right around the time of the Entrepreneurship @ Cornell conference last week, and members of the Cornell faculty like Zach Shulman and Dan Huttenlocher were incredibly generous with their time and advice. We're just starting to roll out to the Cornell alumni network, so hopefully they'll embrace the product. We just received seed funding from a prominent Silicon Valley incubator and are on solid ground financially. No comment on VCs :)

Where would you rather have your last meal: Ivy Room, CTB, or Hughes?

An everything bagel with Philly Lite from CTB was a staple of my college diet, and the curly fries at the Ivy Room were pretty memorable. However, as someone who spent the better part of 3 years in Myron Taylor, I have a soft spot for Hughes. So Hughes it is.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on April 23, 2010 (#)

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