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California dreaming for UCPH graduate

With a start-up company founded among legendary technological heavyweights, Henrik Brink, a University of Copenhagen graduate talks to our University Post reporter about his success in Silicon Valley

In the land of dot-coms, advertising, social networking and the latest technological advances, new roots are being planted for the next generation of technological start-up companies.

Take University of Copenhagen’s physics graduate Henrik Brink, who took the opportunity that would endear him to the notion of the ‘American dream’. We talk to him about his journey from Copenhagen to California and back.

‘California dreamin’

What brought you to California in the first place?

»I first came here while working on my Master’s thesis. One of my supervisors visited U.C. Berkeley for a few months and he offered me the chance to join«.

»I was at the Centre for Time Domain Informatics and besides working on my thesis, I also made a website for research uses. I had some experience as a software developer and I managed to impress them a little I guess«.

»After graduating I contacted the group leader in Berkeley and got a job there, mainly doing research in machine learning and image processing. Now I am back in Copenhagen and based at Founders House, a shared space for start-ups«.

Check the website of Founders House here.

How to start a start-up

What gave you the idea of starting a company?
»At Berkeley, we were applying machine learning to Astronomy. To study large numbers of images you need a lot of computers, and it is useful to train them using machine learning.

We realized that many techniques we were developing could also be used outside Astronomy. After a lot of talking we said ‘OK, let’s start a company and see what we can do’«.

»Big companies like Google and Amazon are already using machine learning extensively, but a lot of small companies can’t afford specialized programmers. Our idea is to develop services for them«.

To check the website of Henrik’s company, wise.io, click here. Here you can read more on machine learning [link to the other article].

What’s the competition like for a company like yours?

»A number of start-ups are providing services similar to ours, although we have some new ideas that we think will make a difference. Google provides its own service, but there are some severe user limitations.

At this point, the market is quite big and there should be room for everyone«.

The Bay Area effect

Has it been advantageous starting up in the San Francisco Bay Area, compared to being in Copenhagen?

»I think that in the Bay Area there are as many good ideas as in other places, it’s pretty easy to start a company in Denmark, after all, but what you will find there is an interesting mix of entrepreneurial mindset and highly skilled individuals.

Another big difference is in the funding opportunities for start-ups, some of the most successful venture capital firms are located there, and they take larger risks.

Of course you don’t have to be in California to start a company, but it’s definitely a motivating environment«.

Talking is testing

Besides moving, do you have other advice to give to a student or graduate who wants to found a start-up?

»I think that one important thing is to talk to a lot of people about your ideas, as it is an easy way to find out if they are any good.

And don’t be afraid to write someone an e-mail, even if you don’t know them. In the worst case they won’t respond, but in the best case they can make the difference«.

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