Engaged Student: Caroline Pugh
College can be the door that opens up opportunities later in life, but Caroline Pugh has taken advantage of her status as a student to launch those endeavors now.
Pugh, a junior majoring in business information technology in the Pamplin College of Business, is already a chief operating officer. She is one of three co-founders of VirtualU
, which launched this summer. She's partnered with CEO Louis Cirillo, a senior computer engineering major in the College of Engineering, and Nick Gagianas (MKTG ’12), who serves as chief marketing officer.
The idea is simple, although the technology is not. VirtualU is developing a scanning technology for retail stores that will allow customers to scan their bodies and create personalized body models or "avatars." Customers would get scanned once at the store. Afterward, they can go home, access their three-dimensional avatar, and try on clothes virtually when they shop online.
"When you try clothes on with your model, you can even turn your avatar around and see how the cloth would move on your body," Pugh said. "It’s very real, active. You get that perspective on what that piece of clothing would actually do on your body."
In a matter of months, the startup has taken off. "We ask venture capitalists how long they think we have been around. Most guess around 18 months. When we tell them four months, they are shocked," Pugh said. "Not many startups can say they’ve had a demo day or they were featured in Forbes
in that period of time. It's a testament to our team and what we are willing to do."
In October, VirtualU placed in the top 20 out of 600 startups from all over the world at the pitch competition Distilled Intelligence
The co-founders said their youth contributes to their success. "We have a competitive advantage that we are so young. We can work really hard right now because we don’t have a lot of risk involved with having a startup,” Pugh said.
Pugh has been trying to promote entrepreneurship among students. Last year, she served as president of Virginia Tech’s Entrepreneur Club
. Under her leadership, the club attracted a record amount in sponsorship, and membership soared. She is currently president of the Washington chapter and director of partnerships at the Kairos Society
, an international student-run organization of entrepreneurs and innovators.
Through the society, Pugh has had the opportunity to spread the word about VirtualU at global entrepreneurship events. At the WIE Symposium
, for example, she met Susie Crippen, founder of J Brand jeans; Cherie Blair, the wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair; and Golden Globe-winning actress Geena Davis, among others. Pugh connected with people such as Peter Thum, the founder of Ethos Water
, and billionaire Naveen Jain at the Clinton Global Initiative Conference
"A lot of students at Virginia Tech don’t see a startup as an option after graduation," said Pugh. "As more successful spinouts come out of the university, there will be more enthusiasm for entrepreneurship."
The VirtualU co-founders have relied on the help of alumni, regional leaders, and local businesses, including TechPad
, which provides work space, resources, and mentors to help get startups in the Blacksburg area get off the ground.
Pugh hopes their product will be considered a game changer in the online shopping market. "If we accomplished what we did this summer," she said, "imagine what’s going to happen next year."