The picture-perfect co-op

Last January, Carlos Villalobos picked up and moved to San Francisco to work on co-op as a digital marketing specialist for Adobe Systems, the multinational computer software company. He loved the job, working remotely from little cafés, talking shop with his Fortune 500 clients, and helping the big-name sports, retail, and banking brands promote their goods and services through online media.

But his greatest joy of living in California derived from exploring his new environment and getting to know its merry band of ambitious entrepreneurs. He chatted with Jack Dorsey, the co-founder of Twitter. He hung out in Silicon Valley, observing the daily grind of the startup life. He watched with wonder as his fellow passengers on the bullet train tapped away on their laptops, coding new apps and websites with unfettered fervor.

And then and there, in the midst of entrepreneurial reverie, he glimpsed a future in which he had claimed a patch of fertile land in this vibrant ecosystem of newfangled ideas. “I was bitten by the tech bug,” recalls Villalobos, DMSB’15. “Seeing these big companies succeed pushes you out of your comfort zone and makes you want to get out there and start something of your own.”

In the spring, he turned his words into action, co-founding Bökeh, a wireless enabled camera lens that connects to the iPhone. Villalobos, a fourth-year business major from El Salvador, conceived of the idea, which is currently in the prototype phase, while taking notes in class. “I really like taking photos from cool angles, but I found myself not knowing how they would turn out,” he says, noting Bökeh’s superior resolution. “Why not design a camera lens that could help you snap this perfect picture?”

Bökeh—a Japanese term for the aesthetic quality of the out-of-focus areas of a photographic image—has drawn the interest of local student-run venture firms as well as the movers and shakers in Northeastern’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Last month, Villalobos and his co-founder Diego Rivas, E’16, discussed Bökeh with Hugh Courtney, dean of the D’Amore-McKim School of Business, who, Villalobos says, “immediately fell in love with the concept.” In short order, Courtney connected the budding entrepreneurs with a trio of mentors, Northeastern professors who specialize in consumer electronics, lean design, and mass manufacturing. IDEA, Northeastern’s student-run venture accelerator, connected Villalobos and Rivas with lawyers, who are currently helping them file for intellectual property and register Bökeh as a Limited Liability Company.

“Bökeh is gaining fearless traction, and we believe we’ve built strong momentum to launch this product in the upcoming months,” Villalobos says. “Northeastern has been extremely supportive, and one meeting has led to another with someone else who has been able to help us further its development.”

Up to the point of his California dream to try his hand at entrepreneurship, Villalobos had been nothing if not a tireless worker with a penchant for absorbing and imparting bountiful knowledge. He rose early to make the most of each day, sought advice from sagacious friends and colleagues, and shared his own nuggets of wisdom as a resident assistant and brand ambassador for Strikingly, an intuitive website builder. But Bökeh, he says, would never have come to fruition if not for his California co-op.

A few months ago, Villalobos told the Twitterverse why co-op has transformed his life, tweeting “#iheartcoop because I was able to move to the West Coast for six months.” In a recent interview, he added: “Co-op is much more than just a work experience. It’s a life-changing adventure.

Later this month, Villalobos will pick up and move to London to work on co-op as an investment analyst for Wellington Management, the independent investment management company. When he returns, who knows what he’ll want to do next. “I might end up having to run a company,” he says.