Carolina Perez

Industrial Engineering and Operations Research, Class of ’22

In early 2020, Carolina Perez BS’22 helped launch Hubbub, an entrepreneurial venture designed to cut down on needless purchases and waste. She and her two co-founders, Adekunle Balogun BS’20 and Patrick Varuzza BS’20, created the web-based marketplace to allow college students to cheaply rent and seamlessly return all manner of items key to college life, whether it's a minifridge, a graphing calculator, or a fan for those steamy NYC summers.

Hubbub has taken off since it debuted almost two years ago, and the team has already expanded from Columbia to New York University. Now, they expect to be bringing on more employees for their next end of the semester rush. But for Perez, this venture means more to her than turning a profit.

“There's this huge weight on the shoulders of people my age to do something, to make sure that we can live on this planet for more than the next couple of decades,” Perez said. “I want to be doing something that I can feel proud of and feel like I'm contributing to a better future.”

In addition to serving as Hubbub’s co-founder and COO, the industrial engineering major has also held internships at major companies like L3Harris Technologies and Goldman Sachs.

We spoke to Perez as she headed into finals to learn how she got started with Hubbub, where she sees her startup going next, and how she’d like to inspire others to create projects that can make a difference.

What got you interested in Industrial Engineering?
I actually stumbled onto a Youtube video talking about industrial engineering. I realized it was kind of the perfect fit for me because it allowed me to grow technically. But especially at Columbia, the industrial engineering program really integrates a lot of business and other real-world applications. I think that was something that was really interesting to me, because I always felt the most fulfilled when I could be doing something technical, but where I could also see progress being made.

In engineering, it’s pretty well known that the first year is notoriously difficult. It was an especially interesting transition for me because I came from a public school where very few people went to the Ivy League, so I really didn’t know anybody here. I was stressed, I didn’t originally understand how grade curves work, and it took me finding upperclassmen in Columbia Engineering to really tell me that everything will be okay, that you'll get through this.

Having that social life was really helpful, but COVID really threw a wrench in that socialization aspect. I think I was still able to find ways to socialize, and Hubbub was a big part of that. All us co-founders were very interested in sustainability, and we were involved in groups like EcoReps, which is this sustainability student group on campus, though we hadn’t really interacted much. I was introduced to Patrick Varuzza through a mutual friend, and when we sat down for lunch one day he told us about his idea, which I thought was really cool. At the time he was preparing to write applications for grants and competitions, and I told him I had experience with grant writing. That’s how I got involved.

When COVID happened, we kind of just took the time to step back from the on-the-ground operations and just talk to people. And we talked to hundreds of college students, friends and peers, and we tried to understand this issue of ownership a little bit more.

How did that experience change your thinking?
COVID was the perfect test case for understanding what happens when things that people used to value suddenly become worthless to them. They are so preoccupied with getting somewhere else, in this case they had no choice but to leave dorms or apartments, and these products are no longer their priority. It leaves behind all this waste—it leaves behind money that they spent on these items.

You really start to wonder why is it so easy to go to buy something and then to throw it away, and then to buy it again later? It's really causing these big corporations to be the sole winner in this exchange. And that waste is being dealt with by the city or the school that you belong to.

A big part of it is convenience, we realized we also need to make it just as easy as clicking on something to get two-day shipping, used in good condition. Then you can stop using it whenever you want and it doesn't have to go to waste.

Where do you see yourself and Hubbub headed?
We have a hub at Columbia and NYU, so we want to continue making hubs at universities and make those kind of like our foothold into the surrounding area. I think college students are a great first beachhead market. We know them, we know that they are in this transient stage in life where they're constantly moving and we know they need things on the less expensive side. But we definitely think that there's a market beyond students.

I really want to see where Hubbub goes. I've been doing this for over two years with my co-founders, and I would love to be able to have this be my career for the foreseeable future. I would just hope that whatever happens with Hubbub, or with the future of my career, I just really want to help people collectively.

What would you say to other students contemplating the entrepreneurial path?
Whatever people want to do, even if it isn't necessarily directly involved in things like environmentalism, I think it’s just as valuable to try and make some impact. You should be able to do what makes you happy or what it takes for you to survive, but as long as your values remain strongly linked to the people in your community, to the betterment of your community, then I think that's what really matters.

Because even if you’re not getting directly involved in a startup, you can still support positive change since we all understand the issues we face. Why are we not incentivizing a more sustainable system? I have been encouraged by my peers. Seeing how much the gravity of the situation is on their minds makes it all the more important that we look at more solutions.

Student Spotlight

I want to be doing something that I can feel proud of and feel like I'm contributing to a better future.

Carolina Perez
Industrial Engineering and Operations Research, Class of ’22