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CSOM Students Pitch Startups

Enterprising students find that Boston College offers opportunities and support for starting up a business

Jebbit co-founders (L-R) Thomas Coburn '13, Chase McAleese '13 and Jonathan Lacoste '15 speak at "Young Entrepreneurship Day" earlier this fall. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

By Ed Hayward | Chronicle Staff

Published: Nov. 15, 2012

Entrepreneurship has taken root on the Boston College campus, drawing on the expertise of faculty, course offerings, alumni mentors and competitions that give students a chance to test-drive their ideas and business plans in front of leading executives and venture capitalists.

Spurring the growing list of opportunities for students to study and engage in entrepreneurship is the expertise of the Carroll School of Management, which serves as the nexus of many of these efforts, but also attracts students from outside CSOM who are just as eager to learn about what it takes to launch a business.

“Creating a culture of entrepreneurship is important, but this is a piece of the broader culture of learning here at BC,” said CSOM Associate Professor of Information Systems John Gallaugher. “That’s what makes the University so unique – the chance to bring people together to share and discuss ideas. This is all part of that.”

Gallaugher has led the Carroll School’s TechTrek classes that conclude with visits to tech companies and venture capital firms here in Boston, the Silicon Valley and Asia. The courses attract CSOM students, but also students from the College of Arts and Sciences.

On an annual basis, new businesses are emerging from the Boston College Venture Competition, a six-year-old business plan contest that awards $15,000 in seed money. Gallaugher and recently retired CSOM faculty member Larry Meile launched the competition in 2007, with help from BC alumni and students.

Just yesterday, two businesses launched by past BCVC participants – NBD Nano and Wymsee – were among 12 presenters at Demo Day hosted by TechStars, among the most competitive start-up accelerator programs in the world.

Gallaugher says BC’s focus on giving undergraduate students the opportunity to explore entrepreneurial projects makes it unique. But the ever-increasing momentum around the programs stems from fundamental changes taking place in the business world.

“I like to call this the Golden Age of Collegiate Entrepreneurship. It’s never been easier to create a technology-focused business than it is now. Our first goal is to make sure they know they have this avenue available to them. Our second goal, if we do this right, is that quality businesses will rise to the top. I think that is what we are seeing right now.”

A number of BCVC-cultivated business plans have launched into companies that have raised at least $250,000 each. “I don’t know of anyone who has that track record at the undergraduate level,” Gallaugher said.

CSOM Dean Andy Boynton said the University is in a unique position to give students the opportunity to explore new ideas and take risks.

“Entrepreneurship is the unleashing of the spirit and the intellect – two things that, unfortunately, are often missing ingredients in large, established organizations,” said Boynton. “Entrepreneurship is also where the rubber meets the road with respect to one’s own effort having a direct impact on success.”

Alumni are playing an important role in the move to encourage student entrepreneurs by hosting company visits, mentoring teams and speaking on campus.

Earlier this year, BC hosted its first Entrepreneurship Week. The event gave students the chance to meet with Bill Clerico ’07, co-founder with Rich Aberman ’08 of the group-pay start-up WePay; James Reinhart ’01, co-founder & CEO of thredUp; Peter Bell ’86 and Dan Nova ’83, partners at the venture capital firm Highland Capital Partners; and Pat Grady ’04, a partner at Sequoia Capital.

There are an increasing number of students starting businesses while on campus, such as Jebbit – the 2011 BCVC winner that included Tom Coburn ’13, Chase McAleese ’13 and Jonathan Lacoste ’15 – which has already launched its brand engagement start-up.

Rounding out the key players are alumni on the BC Tech Council and West Coast Tech Council, the student coordinators of BCVC and the BC Entrepreneur Society, which last week hosted the StartUp Scramble, an intensive start-up brainstorm session that drew 60 students.

CSOM junior Ashley Macaulay arrived on campus this fall as a transfer student, concerned BC couldn’t offer entrepreneurship opportunities. She quickly learned otherwise. Now she’s working toward the launch this month of a social entrepreneurship initiative called Little Lux, which delivers toiletries to hospital patients.

Her 60-second proposal for Little Lux won the social innovation award in the fall Elevator Pitch competition hosted by BCVC, and placed second overall.

“There are so many people here with great ideas,” said Macaulay. “You can see there’s a culture of innovation across the University. BC fosters that culture of being open and sharing and helping out. People are always willing to help you make a connection.”