The Charger Blog

Discovering a New Country and what it Takes to be an Entrepreneur

Mechanical engineering major Kevin Rivas ’19 reflects on his experience living and learning in Hungary and his deep dive into entrepreneurship and innovation.

May 22, 2018

By Jackie Hennessey, contributing writer


As the ferry floated along the Danube River, all of Budapest opened up before Kevin Rivas '19: the majestic Parliament building, the old world architecture in silhouette, the cobblestone streets.

So much was new last summer: that view, the parades, songs and merriment that spilled into the streets all over the capital city on St. Stephen’s Day, the paprika, liberally sprinkled in so many dishes in Hungary, and the stories his fellow college students from Hungary, Russia, Serbia, Romania, and Italy told about their lives.

Over 10 days, Rivas, a mechanical engineering major, worked on idea generation and product development, collaborating with a team of students in two different business startup competitions. He took part in seminars with founders of successful startups from Central and Eastern Europe, with professors from an array of universities, and a leader from OTP Bank, one of the largest banks in Central and Eastern Europe, all as part of the Mathias Corvinus Collegium-OTP Bank Summer Academy, a deep dive into entrepreneurship and innovation.

But one of the most valuable lessons he left with, he said, was getting to know the people and culture of Hungary, exploring a new city, eyes wide, camera in hand.

"It let me see how important it is to travel and to get to know people from different cultures, to talk with them and see them living their lives. In Hungary, they care deeply about their history and their culture and, at the same time, they are very entrepreneurially focused." Kevin Rivas

It confirmed for Rivas that he wants "to work in the creative world of research and development in manufacturing engineering," eventually running his own biomedical engineering company, one with a global reach. "I’d like to work to create products that help people," he said.

His other big takeaway? "With the right planning and right drive, anyone can move forward and create their own business," he said. "You can succeed — with a biomedical startup or a nonprofit or developing a new division for a major bank — if you have innovative ideas and do your research. With planning and real initiative, you can make things happen."

Kevin Rivas, Mikhail Anuchkin (Russia), Ramon Brown (Tufts University)

The trip capped a summer that centered on innovation. For the first two months, he took part in the Quinnipiac University Center for Innovation and Engineering (QUCIE) Summer Entrepreneurship Academy Internship Program in partnership with New Haven Promise, working on product development. Rivas developed prototypes for a device that relays the UV index of a specific location — at public parks or stadiums — letting people know in real time how quickly they can get sunburned at that locale. It worked so well, he is continuing to work for one of the startups, Vanessa Research Inc., at the Hamden-based incubator, The Garage.

Rivas is a New Haven Promise Scholar, and Patricia Melton, New Haven Promise president, encouraged him to apply for the internship and summer academy.

"I am very pleased that Kevin had such a great international experience, where he could learn new perspectives from peers across the globe. I am sure it will help guide him in the future." Patricia Melton, New Haven Promise president

Norman Gray, the Carlton Highsmith Endowed Chair of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Quinnipiac University, mentored Rivas at the incubator and was a featured lecturer at the academy. Gray said it’s important that students are "exposed to global markets, ideas and cultures." "No longer do we live in a society where the product was conceived and manufactured in the same town/city; today, the idea could be generated in Hungary, developed in the U.S.A., made in China, and sold in Europe," he said. Gray said that successful entrepreneurs work hard, mitigate their risks by doing their research and due diligence," and surround themselves with innovative thinkers. "Kevin is an entrepreneur at heart."