Pictured above: (from the left) Nick Gagianas, Caroline Pugh, and Louis Cirillo.
A junior business information technology student who was the former President of the Virginia Tech Entrepreneur Club where she grew membership by 250%. This past fall she was named the Youth Ambassador for Entrepreneurship for the state of Virginia. As a result she and two other colleagues, started an organization called Campus Founders VA, forming a network of student entrepreneurs to accelerate the growth and founding of startups in the commonwealth.
This past summer, Caroline joined The Kairos Society Executive Team comprised of the world’s top student entrepreneurs as the Global Partnership Director and Washington D.C. Regional President. As President of the Washington D.C. Region, she aims to build and promote entrepreneurship as well broaden the Kairos presence through events and initiatives. Then as Director of Partnerships, she works with like-minded companies to support Kairos fellows in their entrepreneurial endeavors, build long-lasting partner relationships with Fortune 500 companies and other entrepreneurial organizations as well as line up mentors and partners for the annual event Kairos conference called the Global Summit. It is held in partnership with the New York Stock Exchange and brings together 350 students and 150 global shapers and influencers all over the world.
Caroline recently started a company called VirtualU with two other Virginia Tech students, Louis Cirillo and Nicholas Gagianas in Blacksburg, VA. As co-founder and COO of the company, Caroline forms corporate relationships and a network with retail, healthcare and technology executives around the world. She also works with her co-founders on a daily basis to formulate and execute business strategies in order to ensure our growth and sustainability.
She is also a contributor for Under30CEO.com and was recently featured in InTheCapital and Forbes for her efforts.
CIT: Tell us about your current venture.
Caroline: VirtualU leads the way in the evolution of online commerce by digitalizing human bodies as well as consumer products while integrating them into an interactive online environment. We are integrating and developing hi-resolution 3D human modeling technology for the fashion, fitness and gaming industries. Our mission is to blur the lines between virtual space and reality to make the online experience as real as possible.
CIT: What advice would you give an aspiring entrepreneur?
Caroline: Surround yourself with people that make you better. People who inspire you to work harder, mentors who are serial entrepreneurs, industry experts who can help you understand your market. These relationships can not only lead to personal growth but also growth for your own business. In many cases, networking has led to business relationships and partnerships that I never expected. The way that you network and form business relationships with people can often times show how you operate as an entrepreneur. More often than not, if you show professionalism, determination and persistency, that person will be more inclined to talk to you or even do business with you.
CIT: What events/meetup groups are essential for startups?
Caroline: Someone wise once told me to seek out and attend conferences that are not related to your industry. I find that entrepreneurs are often times so ingrained in their own expertise that they do not branch out and learn about new technologies in other spaces. This can often lead to a closed outlook. Going to a professional conference on another sector will allow you to learn directly from that industry’s experts, giving you an accurate snapshot. It’s also likely that you will realize new applications and uses for your product or service at these types of events which could help your business for the long run.
CIT: How important is collaboration and knowledge sharing to you?
Caroline: There are endless things to learn from other people. An crucial trait of any startup team is communication and the ability to openly collaborate. I would say that one of the best aspects of being a a part of startup that is comprised of students, is that there are always an abundance of ideas and being creative is a part of our everyday lives. It’s always fun to hear what my co-founders come up with and how the initial idea develops over time.
CIT: What makes your city's startup scene unique?
Caroline: The Roanoke/Blacksburg region is becoming a hot bed for entrepreneurship in Virginia. The increased interest and entrepreneurial activity from the student side has meant more startups and technology. There is a strong sense of connectivity and support from the community. Whether it’s alumni, faculty or other entrepreneurs in the area, there is always someone close who can provide advice or resources.
COO and Co-Founder of VirtualU