Entrepreneurship week celebrates innovation


By Sam Haas, city editor 

As applause echoed through the Curry Student Center ballroom, five beaming students, clad in white shirts and blazers, posed with the oversized $2,500 check they’d just received.

The quintet, representing fledgling student startup Bloom Backpacks, won the grand prize onMonday at the Husky Startup Challenge (HSC) Demo Day. The event was one of four days of programs comprising Northeastern’s celebration of Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW).

The week of events was organized by the Northeastern University Center for Entrepreneurship Education (NUCEE) alongside several student groups, including on-campus venture accelerator IDEA, Entrepreneurs Club and the Social Enterprise Institute (SEI).

“GEW is the one time of year we really try to put a big spotlight on a lot of different programs at once,” Lauren Dibble, marketing and mentoring manager for NUCEE, said. “The goals of GEW are largely to celebrate entrepreneurship at Northeastern and to showcase a lot of the great student work and activity.”

This year, Northeastern’s GEW includes four events: the HSC Demo Day on Monday, where students pitched ideas for companies they had spent seven weeks developing to a room full of judges and audience members; an SEI-hosted lecture on Tuesday; a documentary examining student research on entrepreneurship on Wednesday; and NEXPO, an event showcasing dozens of IDEA ventures, as well as several campus groups involved in innovation, on Thursday, Nov. 19.

“It’s a really fun time to be involved in entrepreneurship on campus,” Annika Morgan, CEO of IDEA and senior business major, said. “We want to show people what’s next, what’s up and coming.”

Recently named the fifth-best school in the country for undergraduate entrepreneurship by the Princeton Review, Northeastern has participated in GEW since 2008 – the year it was started by the nonprofit Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. Over the years, Northeastern’s GEW has evolved from just panels to be more student-centric.

“Last year, we tried to fit 16 events into four days, which was just a lot,” Dibble said. “This time, our strategy was to focus on fewer events that would hopefully have more impact so more people would attend.”

Monday’s HSC Demo Day, the culmination of several weeks of business “boot camps” put on by the Entrepreneurs Club, drew a full crowd to the ballroom. Students representing 19 companies gave short presentations onstage. Boston-based entrepreneurs and businesspeople picked the top-three pitches.

“Demo Day itself really pushes people to hone in on what [their] business itself is doing and create a very specific mission of what problem they want to solve and how they want to solve it,” Blake Billiet, third-year business student and co-director of HSC, said. “It’s the real opportunity for students to get hands-on with being entrepreneurial.”

Bloom Backpacks, which will offer customizable backpacks intended to decrease customers’ need for multiple bags, took home first place and a $2,500 prize.

Second place – and $1,250 – went to Rendevoo, an app designed to help people decide on weekend plans. In third, for $750, was Beantown Brew Mill, a company based on turning leftover barley from beer brewing into barley flour and selling it to local bakers, reducing waste and increasing chefs’ access to ingredients. My OnCampus Chef, a platform aiming to connect hungry students with people willing to cook and host meals in their homes, won the $500 audience favorite award.

Participants in the Demo Day said the pitches – and the HSC process as a whole – forced them to reconsider and adapt their business ideas multiple times.

“HSC was extremely valuable because it made us go through the process step-by-step,” Sam Banker, participant and third-year political science and business student, said. “We really had no idea what we were doing.”

Other GEW programs also brought professional advice to budding businesspeople. Jim Ziolkowski, founder and CEO of BuildOn, spoke Tuesday night about his experiences using entrepreneurship for social good. Wednesday featured a student-made documentary, panel discussion and networking session based on the theme of identifying and constructing founder teams.

GEW concludes tonight with NEXPO, where roughly 40 IDEA startups will present their companies to attendees in the Cabot Center from 6:30 to 9 p.m. The interaction between founders and audience members will help the companies make progress in developing their business plans, according to Morgan.

“Instead of our ventures going out and talking to 100 people on their own, they have this opportunity to have 100 people captive in a room to test their product, to taste their energy bars and to use their app,” Morgan said.

Photo by Scotty Schenck