Tandon student Alexandra Debow speaks into a microphone at TechCrunch Disrupt.

For Alexandra Debow, a Computer Engineering major at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, a global life and education isn’t an ambition—it’s her reality. A child of Canadian parents, she grew up in Hong Kong. Since then, she has lived in Shanghai, Paris, and, now, New York City. “I went to an American international school growing up,” she says. “So I was lucky to have an infusion of a bunch of different cultures. For as long as I can remember, I was always interested in tech entrepreneurship and being a bridge between Chinese and Western business.” So there was one university that seemed like an obvious fit to pursue her goals: NYU Shanghai.

The exterior of the NYU Shanghai campus main building.

Starting in Shanghai

Alexandra was uniquely prepared to excel at NYU Shanghai, where half of the student body is from China and the other is a mix of international students from around the world. First, she was already fluent in Mandarin. Second, she’d gained experience with China-based start-ups through internships in high school.

At NYU Shanghai, she studied data science and continued to pursue her interest in business through internships at Alibaba and several local start-ups. But, during a semester abroad at NYU Paris, she “got super into venture capital and tech.” As a result, she decided to transfer to NYU Tandon in New York City to further her experience and deepen her connections in those fields.

Students working in Tandon’s MakerSpace.

A New Beginning at Tandon

From the start, transferring to Tandon felt like a natural fit for Alexandra. “I’ve always been interested in building stuff,” she explains. “And Tandon is a great place to establish frameworks for problem-solving, no matter what you do.”

Still, once she was in Brooklyn, the New York City borough that Tandon calls home, she realized she had a new problem to solve: how to keep in touch with all the friends she’d made throughout her life and travels. “When I came to Tandon, I thought, ‘I’ve moved around the world and met all these awesome people. How do I stay in touch?’” she recalls. “So instead of saying, ‘Goodbye,’ I started to say, ‘I’ll see you again somewhere, somehow.’ Then, this phrase, ‘somewhere, somehow’ became synonymous with wanting to keep in touch and the feeling I wanted to maintain of seeing people whom I care about again.”

A New Approach to Social Media

While keeping her new mantra in mind, Alexandra got to work quickly. On her second day of class at Tandon in fall 2022, she and two friends from other universities started developing swsh, an acronym for “somewhere, somehow.” Their goal was to build a new social media platform “that helps deepen connections with the people that you really want to see again.”

So what sets swsh apart? “The way we currently keep in touch is like a one-way distribution channel,” Alexandra explains. “For example, on LinkedIn, X, or Instagram, you put out a PR announcement like, ‘Hey, I had a baby,’ or ‘I moved,’ or ‘I went on this vacation.’ Basically, you distribute a message. And the other side is sending an individual message. For instance, I text you if I want something: ‘Hey, I want to hang out with you; hey, I want this information from you; hey, I want this whatever.’” However, swsh aims to bridge that gap. “We want to make it fun and easy to keep in touch with people without feeling like it’s a lot of work.”

What is that like in action? “As with most consumer social apps, we iterate,” she says. “Now we have a lot of fun polls and games. For example, you can guess the answers to questions and vote on your friends. Things like, ‘Who’s most likely to…?’ based upon different superlatives. It makes it really fun to keep in touch with your friends, even when they’re not there.” Next, the company is developing live experiences, where friends can keep in touch via a shared camera experience that’s natural and intuitive.

Tandon student Alexandra Debow (center) along with swsh cofounders Princeton student Weilyn Chong (left) and Yale student Nathan Ahn (right).

Growing a Business Through University Resources

As Alexandra and her cofounders developed swsh, they tapped into NYU’s rich trove of entrepreneurship-focused resources. “We did the January Term start-up sprint at the Leslie eLab. Then, we did boot camps at the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute. Additionally, we participated in the NYU Stern School of Business Entrepreneurs Challenge, hosted by the Berkley Center for Entrepreneurship. There, we were finalists,” she says. “We’re super tapped into the NYU founder community, and we do a lot of large events at NYU.”

What’s more, swsh has already raised funds, mostly through connections made during Alexandra’s time at NYU and Tandon. “I connected with a bunch of awesome founders whom I met in New York City and online,” she explains. “And they provide invaluable advice and share their experience with fundraising.” Moving forward, Alexandra hopes to continue to grow her business and explore the tech world as she completes her degree. “I definitely want to continue to grow swsh,” she concludes. “And I want to deepen the connections I’ve made throughout the world.”