2021 Most Disruptive MBA Startups: Circle, New York University (Stern)


New York University, Stern School of Business

Industry: Virtual Events/Video Conferencing

Founding Student Name(s): Kidae Hong (CEO, Founder), Claire Park (Co-founder)

Brief Description of Solution: Circle is an online networking platform focused on fluid interactions and rich networking features. It’s a one stop shop for virtual networking events. Think Zoom plus Linkedin. Hosts can easily set up and manage networking events without going through all the complications with breakout rooms. Guests can see each other’s profile and connect with each other even after the event is over.

Funding Dollars: Received a grant as a Stern Venture Fellow, currently raising seed capital.

What led you to launch this venture? In December of 2019, I (Kidae) held my birthday party and invited over 10 friends to my house and had a great time. Then the pandemic happened, so by the time Claire’s birthday came around in June 2020, she had to invite the same friends to a Zoom birthday party. Not surprisingly, the same group of friends who had spent a great time in-person found it difficult to mingle over Zoom because everyone had to have just one single conversation. Claire and I soon realized that Zoom was not able to provide the natural experience of a social gathering and felt the need for a solution that could replicate social experiences online. When we went back to school, we realized business schools could also benefit from a better solution for virtual networking. So, Circle was born.

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture? Stern and other top MBA communities have embraced Circle for many online events including official alumni mixers, recruiting events, and student club activities. We’ve had events with over 100 students, but soon schools will be hosting events with over 300 students.

How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture?
NYU Stern was the perfect place to start Circle. We interviewed our MBA fellows on their experience with offline and online networking events and we met with the Office of Career Development to hear the school’s perspective on what pain points they had holding networking events online. We also had amazing professors as advisors and I (Kidae) am currently a member of the Stern Venture Fellowship program, which supports high potential NYU entrepreneurs in advancing their venture through a customized summer program.

What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? Claire and I have previously co-founded three companies in Korea, so our entrepreneurial journey started back then in 2012. At the time, I had just graduated from my bachelor’s program, and one of the last classes I took was an entrepreneurship course taught by Professor Cheol Soo Ahn. He had started his career as a medical doctor, but later founded an anti-virus company which went public in Korea, and was recently a presidential candidate in South Korea. He shared stories from his personal experiences on starting and running a company, and showed me that no matter the background, it’s possible to build successful companies.

Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? If I have to choose one, I would choose the Managing a High Tech Company course that Professor Jihoon Rim taught. We were able to learn from his experience in industry leading one of Korea’s largest tech companies with many relevant examples and cases. I’ve also learned a lot from some hands-on technical classes – Python, Data Analytics, Product management, etc.

What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? Professor Jihoon Rim, who was a CEO of KakaoTalk (the most popular messenger app in Korea) helped us a lot in our initial journey. His advice was casual. Why not try? You won’t know until you try. But it was really motivating since it reminded us that there is nothing to lose, and school was the perfect place to start this business.

What is your long-term goal with your startup? Currently, we are expanding our business to other top business schools. Moving forward, we’re looking to expand the use case of Circle beyond business schools as the need for a large group of people to freely move around and mingle organically in small-sized groups exists in every sector and industry. We envision a place where people can find valuable connections which can help their career and lives.


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