On a Sat­urday in late August, Brian Hult arrived at a car deal­er­ship in Cold­water, Michigan, to show off his line of high-​​quality per­for­mance parts to Ford Focus enthu­si­asts who gath­ered to dis­cuss the pop­ular com­pact vehicle.

It was the latest step in an entre­pre­neurial ven­ture that started three years ago, but that really took off after Hult enrolled in the master’s pro­gram at Northeastern’s School of Tech­no­log­ical Entre­pre­neur­ship (STE).

Hult received his degree from STE in August, and his com­pany, HTPer­for­mance, was his “I-​​Cubator” project—the required business-​​development project that spans the three-​​semester master’s program.

At North­eastern, stu­dents get a true entre­pre­neurial expe­ri­ence,” says STE dean Paul Zavracky. “The only way to do that is to start a real com­pany; oth­er­wise, it’s just some fake project that’s not going to go anywhere.”

There is nothing fake about HTPer­for­mance, which develops parts for the Ford Focus auto­mo­tive after­market, a branch of the auto industry that man­u­fac­tures, sells and installs vehicle parts after the sale of the car by the orig­inal equip­ment manufacturer.

And the impact of the tech­no­log­ical entre­pre­neur­ship pro­gram on his busi­ness is just as gen­uine, says Hult. “The pro­gram really taught me to deter­mine whether the market was of sig­nif­i­cant size and how to dis­cover the unmet needs within the market,” he explains, “so that we could deter­mine whether we could build the busi­ness to an appre­ciable size.”

The self-​​proclaimed “car fanatic” used a year­long project-​​development course in the tech­no­log­ical entre­pre­neur­ship pro­gram to con­duct market research on pop­ular Internet forums such as Focaljet​.com and focus​fa​natics​.com (the start-up’s target demo­graphic is 19–27-year-old males with a high school edu­ca­tion or better who make between $25,000 and 50,000 per year), fine-​​tune his busi­ness model and develop more prototypes.

The master’s pro­gram cul­mi­nates in a pre­sen­ta­tion to a panel of external men­tors and investors who offer their opinion regarding the future poten­tial of each ven­ture, which helps the entre­pre­neurs sharpen their focus.

Together, with cofounder Jason Borden, who studied sus­tain­able product design and inno­va­tion at Keene State Col­lege, Hult has been bullish in making sure his start-​​up con­tinues to build momentum. The duo began selling parts–adjustable sus­pen­sion com­po­nents, light­weight bat­tery boxes and intake and exhaust prod­ucts, to name a few–just eight months ago, and havede­vel­oped a growing cus­tomer base. They leased a 2,000-square-foot space in Bridge­water, Mass­a­chu­setts, to man­u­fac­ture parts and con­duct research and devel­op­ment, and hope to tweak their prod­ucts to fit at least 10 dif­ferent models within the next five years.

The mar­keting event in Michigan was a quick and easy way to grab the atten­tion of car lovers. “Intro­ducing our prod­ucts to cus­tomers face-​​to-​​face is a great way of get­ting feed­back,” says Hult, who ear­lier this year vis­ited “Focus Fest,” a national event for car enthu­si­asts in Cen­ter­ville, Arkansas. “Plus, we’re able to find out what they’re inter­ested in and how we can address their needs.”

Hult says he’s not wor­ried about the larger, more estab­lished high-​​performance auto parts makers. “Our com­pany is posi­tioning itself as offering a pre­mium product,” he explains. “Other com­pa­nies don’t pay much atten­tion to the quality of the parts, and we’ve seen quite a few fail­ures on after­market parts.

We’re really investing in the engi­neering and design of our com­po­nents, as well as the quality and pre­ci­sion of manufacturing.”

HTP is growing tremen­dously,” adds Dan Gre­gory, a senior aca­d­emic spe­cialist in the School of Tech­no­log­ical Entre­pre­neur­ship and the I-​​Cubator director for dig­ital media projects. He’s impressed by the company’s inno­v­a­tive approach to tap­ping into the $257 bil­lion auto after­market industry; the sports com­pact vehicle sector that includes the Focus rep­re­sents $6 bil­lion in annual sales alone.

The number of people coming to their Web site is increasing and sales are increasing,” Gre­gory says. “They’re using tech­nology in a really inter­esting way and demon­strating the tech­no­log­ical supe­ri­ority of their prod­ucts. It’s def­i­nitely a busi­ness that can sus­tain itself.”