On Thursday, February 26, a well-attended and high-energy event was held on Hult’s Boston campus to celebrate and explore student entrepreneurship in the greater Boston/ Cambridge area. This region has historically been a hotbed for student entrepreneurship, pioneered by MIT.
Many famous student startups were born in the Boston community before achieving iconic status, including Facebook and Microsoft as well as ZipCar, Akamai and Napster. More recently, student –founded startups such as Rent The Runway, Uncharted Play and Plated have vaulted to prominence.
The event was organized and facilitated by Hult Global Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Mike Grandinetti, in his role as Faculty Advisor to both the Hult Startup Platform and Hult Science in Business Student Clubs. As a serial entrepreneur, mentor, angel investor and educator in the Boston area for over 20 years, and currently Managing Director of StartupNext Boston and a Community Impact Fellow with OpenIDEO, Professor Mike tapped into his network to bring in a range of experiences for Hult’s students to benefit from. After starting things off, Professor Mike facilitated a fireside chat with each speaker and then guided a question and answer session with a very engaged audience of students from both Hult and other area universities.
Professor Mike kicked off the event in Hult’s aptly named Fenway Bleachers auditorium, with its great view of the Zakim Bridge. He started by testing students knowledge of well know Boston student – founded startups as well as student familiarity with recent Kickstarter project. He then provided an overview of the current state of student entrepreneurship on a global basis, including enabling factors such as the consumerization of IT, short-term coding academies, affordable subscription cloud-based apps, pre-accelerators, university accelerators and seed capital funds, student entrepreneurship – focused VC funds and crowd-funding.
The event also included two student entrepreneurship–focused venture capitalists, one from the DormRoom Fund, Bruno Faviero, Managing Director, who focuses on managing investments for the 12 major research universities in the Boston area; and Kate Murdock, who focuses specifically on funding Northeastern University bred start-ups. In addition, Kate serves as an analyst at Northeastern’s IDEA accelerator, where over 200 startups have been launched and incubated, including a few that were recently VC funded. Bruno is the Founder of Hacking MIT and other MIT – related startup events. Bruno and Kate discussed the extraordinary range of startups being launched around the greater Boston area by students, with a focus on the 23 companies that DormRoom Fund has invested in directly.
Michael Gaiss, former SVP of Highland Capital Partners and current founder and CEO of BigThink!, which focuses on connecting students interested in entrepreneurial careers with startups, spoke about the stark difference in hiring requirements between large corporation and startups. Unlike corporates, startups focus less on GPA and more on hands-on experience that indicates a passion by the student for the role and the market space. He also discussed his observations as Entrepreneur in Residence at UMass Boston, where the school recently expanded its Venture Development Center.
For the benefit of the Science in Business Club, Professor Vinit Nijiwhan, who runs Boston University’s Office of Technology Development, spoke of the challenges and successes of commercializing university based research. During his tenure, he changed BU’s model from licensing to startups, with great success. With this new startup-driven approach, BU has achieved more success in commercializing its science and technology in the past five years than in the previous 30 years.
At the conclusion of the event, Professor Mike, Bruno and Kate served as mentors for a pitch session. Many Hult students stepped up to pitch their ideas to a crowded room of 100 plus attendees where they received constructive feedback. Many also used the opportunity to get real-time input from their fellow students on the desirability of their ideas.
In summary, the event was exceptionally well received by the engaged students who asked many great questions, volunteered to pitch, and engaged in direct discussions with speakers during the networking breaks scheduled through-out the evening. It’s clear that student entrepreneurship is thriving in Boston.