Nick Loeper ’18 demonstrates software to Jimmy McDermott ’21 (center) and Branick Weix ’19. (Image: Peter M. Julian)
The audio equipment in the Carroll School of Management’s Fulton Honors Library was inexplicably piping sound into neighboring classrooms, and so, to introduce the Shea Center for Entrepreneurship’s third annual Demo Day, executive director Jere Doyle ’87 ascended the riser at the front of the room without a mic. No problem, Doyle told the audience some 50 strong on that evening in late February. “I talk loud,” he said. “But that’s how an entrepreneur has to be: You have to be nimble, flexible, create things out of nothing, and you just go with the flow.”
The participants in Accelerate@Shea, the startup incubator serving undergraduates and graduate students across the University, seemed to receive the wisdom converted: They stood nodding around a cluster of high-top tables, themselves prepared to take the stage to describe their recent entrepreneurial undertakings.
The nearly 30 of them, representing 12 young companies, had just spent the previous six weeks developing their ideas into prototypes, websites, apps, MVPs (minimum viable products), and businesses. They’d been chosen by the student executive team of the Shea Center from a pool of applicants, on the strength of their ideas and commitment. Aided by mentoring from faculty, staff, alumni, and members of Boston’s startup community, they had coded, marketed, manufactured, and incorporated. Now they would share the results.
Doyle ceded the stage, and the students, mic-less and in-turn, stood to pitch. “Minno is the first ever social card,” said senior Trevor Massey of his enterprise. “LinkedIn is your business resume; Minno is going to be your social media resume.” (A communication major, Massey is one of a number of students in the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences participating in the program this spring.)
“Millions of people have been crazy for simple but challenging games on their mobile phones,” said Wanting Zhu ’21. “Just think about it: What if we could use the popularity of those games to build brand awareness for businesses? That’s exactly what Freedie is doing.”
“Genis is a sustainable apparel brand that focuses on creating products out of upcycled fishing nets and plastic bottles,” said Will Dailey ’20. “Our first product is a women’s bomber jacket that looks as good on the beach as it does on a night out.”
A few presenters clearly rued the absent sound system, including Suhee Vesper Yun ’18. “You’ll have to bear with my asthma,” she said, stifling coughs as she introduced the toy company for which she has filed three patent applications. “At Dream Dolls, we believe toys can promote diversity and character by allowing children and collectors to choose everything from body shape, height, body color, tattoos, piercings—you draw it, you sketch it, you tell us, [we’ll] make it.”
“Forgive my appearance and the way I’m talking,” said Brian Gong, a junior and a member of the fencing team, brandishing a bandaged hand. “I was competing this weekend at the ACC championships, and I got a mild concussion and a sprained wrist.” His company, LinQ, creates web tools to help students share resumes, contact information, and other documents with campus recruiters, the result of which, Gong said, will be a more respectful job search. “It was drilled into my head that I needed to pitch, pitch, pitch,” he said of his experience attending career fairs. “It just didn’t sound like me.”
Concussed, coughing, confident, or shy—the students introduced their products elevator-style, without videos, slideshows, or other aides. In 15 minutes, 11 groups delivered pitches. (Due to a scheduling conflict, Kelly Stone ’19, the founder of Koru Clothing, which designs apparel for individuals with development disabilities, could not attend.)
Crackers and cheese, fruit and bottled water had been set out on a black-clothed sideboard at stage left. And from wooden tables horseshoeing the library walls hung computer paper on which was printed the name of each presenting startup: Venu (connecting musicians with their fans), impact.d (data gathering for nonprofits), Fisherman (restaurant websites), UniflyAbroad (services for undergraduates studying overseas), and on. Ignoring the snacks (for the most part), the students reconnoitered with teammates at their tables after presenting and prepared to meet the audience—some joining genteel scrums, cellphones in hands, to demonstrate or display their products to faculty, students, and guests. Business cards were exchanged, and growth strategies spelled out. Standing before his table, MBA student Peter MacDonald of Wunderite cradled a laptop with a touchscreen and swiped through a demo of the MVP he’d developed for the company’s website.
“One of the classes I took focuses on SQL,” MacDonald explained, referring to Structured Query Language, a programming code. “I literally applied it right away.” Wunderite, which consists of five undergraduates, a law student, and four additional MBA students, has been described by Crunchbase, an online news site that covers startups, as “a data exchange platform for the commercial insurance marketplace.” MacDonald puts it this way: Wunderite provides businesses with “a Facebook profile, but for insurance.”
JB Bruggeman ’19, whose company employs students to deliver dining-hall food direct-to-dorm, handed out white T-shirts branded with its name, BC GET Delivery. (“We found that students respond well to being given free clothing.”) He and cofounder Jack Antico ’21 launched the program at Boston College’s Hillside Café in January, a milestone achieved, he said, with the help of Accelerate@Shea.
“The most important thing that this program provides is mentorship and leadership,” Bruggeman said. “My business started as an idea, and I was seeing it through, but I needed help with legal, I needed help with PR, I needed help with other marketing things, I needed help with leading a team and building a team.”
Through the Shea Center’s ongoing speaker series, Bruggeman gleaned practical advice from working entrepreneurs, including Duncan Walker ’13, head of research and strategy for the digital marketer Jebbit. Walker, who attended Demo Day, is a board member of Soaring Startup Circle, the accelerator and venture fund created by and for Boston College alumni (slogan: “From the Heights to new heights”). Last year, Soaring Startup Circle accepted three former Accelerate@Shea companies—Darkroom, Busways, and CompuCog—to participate in its 12-week summer accelerator, a distinction that comes with office space, mentorship, and an initial investment.
To the students of Accelerate@Shea, Walker stressed the importance of a metrics-based approach. “Measure everything,” Bruggeman recalls him saying, advice that continues to shape how GET Delivery makes decisions.
After two hours, the audience started to disperse. The room quieted, and Bruggeman began packing away the extra T-shirts. Other presenters were stowing laptops, cellphones, and marketing handouts. Over the next few weeks, Bruggeman, his fellow presenters, and more student entrepreneurs would enter their business plans into the undergraduate-run Boston College Venture Competition. The winner receives $15,000.
Bruggeman paused to survey the thinning crowd. “The best part about events like this is that you get the opportunity to tell people about your idea. . . . The biggest thing is making sure the word gets out,” he said. “As soon as possible, we’re going to be in every single dining hall here. And soon after that, we’re going to be in every single dining hall in America.”