• IDEA seeks to fund, support start-ups at Northeastern

    by  • June 21, 2012 • News • 50 Comments

    By Lorenzo Holt, News Correspondent

    As Northeastern’s entrepreneurship program rises in national rankings, an upstart student group dedicated to the cultivation of business ideas is helping to lead the way.

    The Princeton Review ranked Northeastern the nation’s ninth best college for undergraduate entrepreneurship last fall. IDEA, a student-run and operated organization, is a key asset to that program. It provides students, faculty and alumni with resources to design and develop their own business ventures.

    “What’s unique about IDEA is that it’s a peer-to-peer program,” Dan Gregory, the group’s faculty advisor, said. “I think students can feel more comfortable when they’re talking with people their own age.”

    IDEA offers coaching, business connections and up to $10,000 in no-strings-attached funding, making it attractive to ventures of all kinds, ranging from military robotics to real estate to clothing.

    Students have asked for IDEA’s help with a variety of projects. influencers@ is a marketing agency designed to raise awareness for products unconventionally, while Mini Pops is a new alternative to popcorn, a seasoned sorghum grain that is all-natural and more cost-effective to produce.

    Students create 70 percent of all ventures at IDEA, and 36 percent of these originate in the business school.

    The team at IDEA uses a three-step process to prepare a new venture for launch: coach, connect and fund. When someone brings a new venture to IDEA, it is generally just that — an idea.

    A coach, usually an MBA student, is assigned to the venture to help create a business model and guide it through the early planning stages. Service providers such as law firms and public relations companies work with IDEA to lead workshops in their areas of expertise.

    Once it’s time to implement the business plan and look for funding, another mentor is assigned to the venture. This person is typically a faculty member with business experience.

    “If you monetize coach time, the advisor mentor time and the service provider time, it is way more valuable than the funding,” IDEA CEO Chris Wolfel said.

    The time and help offered by service providers allows students to gain a stronger understanding of professional standards and practices while establishing connections with successful companies.

    IDEA also seeks to facilitate networking with programs like Investor Insights, an event where three to five venture capitalists answer questions from the audience.

    “It’s amazing, seeing as some of these guys meet with five people a year,” Wolfel said. “Getting access to these is great.”

    IDEA’s first annual Pitch-A-Thon will be held July 25, during which the top 15 to 20 creators will pitch to a private room of investors. This invite-only, investor-only event is a new way to connect entrepreneurial students directly to potential investors.

    The Gap Fund is IDEA’s main source of financing, composed exclusively of alumni donations. For a venture to qualify, it must be approved by its coach, mentor, advisory board and investment committee. Each venture is evaluated by its business plan, financials and resumes, according to five quality-based criteria. The money received is a grant with no contractual obligations.

    There are seven rounds for funding over the course of a year: three per semester and one over the summer. Unlike a standard business plan competition like MIT 100K, IDEA does not have one winner, and the ventures are not competing against each other. All ventures that merit funds will be granted money.

    “It’s something that can really benefit everyone in the university,” Wolfel said. “I think a big goal is to make sure that everyone at Northeastern knows about IDEA, and then expand from there.”

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