Meet­ings of new stu­dent groups often draw huge crowds. The chal­lenge is main­taining that enthu­siasm and participation.

That’s never been a problem for the North­eastern Entre­pre­neurs Club, the pop­ular stu­dent group that was rec­og­nized last year as the world’s sixth best col­lege group of its kind. Its weekly meet­ings draw an average of 120 atten­dees rep­re­senting a broad cross-​​section of the stu­dent body.

Mem­bers of the group use these meet­ings to dis­cuss entre­pre­neur­ship and inno­va­tion, inviting CEOs and busi­ness leaders from successful—and often rel­a­tively new—companies such as Run­K­eeper, Lev­elUp, Bound­less, and Kigo Kitchen, a new con­cept restau­rant in the Curry Stu­dent Center. Guest speakers serve to inspire mem­bers to take inno­va­tion and entre­pre­neur­ship into their own hands, sharing key lessons they learned while devel­oping their own businesses.

We’re com­pletely student-​​led, and as leaders of the club we realize that the stu­dents are giving up an hour of their day on a Tuesday or a few hours on a Sat­urday. So we want to make sure it’s really fun while we’re teaching real stuff,” said club pres­i­dent Matt Bilotti. “We’re adding value by con­necting them to suc­cessful people in the com­mu­nity, and we’re teaching skills that trans­late to what our mem­bers are inter­ested in doing.”

Those efforts, Bilotti noted, moti­vate and encourage student-​​entrepreneurs who are eager to start their own com­pa­nies or develop the next gen­er­a­tion of cutting-​​edge products.

The motto of our club is ‘live your pas­sion,’ and I really think that’s the foun­da­tion of what we do,” he said. “We’re all about helping stu­dents find what they want to do and making that happen.”

Busi­ness school dean Hugh Courtney meets with stu­dent entre­pre­neurs at Demo Day. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

That next gen­er­a­tion of entre­pre­neurial leaders was on dis­play recently at the club’s Demo Day, one of its biggest events of the year and the cul­mi­nating event of the Husky Startup Chal­lenge, a series of boot camps, net­working events, and work­shops designed to help stu­dents turn busi­ness ideas into mar­ketable prod­ucts. This year’s event, held Dec. 5 in the Curry Stu­dent Center Ball­room, gave new busi­nesses the oppor­tu­nity to show­case their work and a chance to split $5,500 in prize money.

The quality we saw this year was higher than ever before,” said Husky Startup Chal­lenge director Maroun Najjar. “In past years, it has always been clear who the win­ners would be, but this year there were just so many it was hard to make a final decision.”

This year four ven­tures won prizes: Coherent Clothes, FindU, Little Lux­u­ries, and audi­ence favorite Hey WTF Records.

More than any year before, Najjar said, com­pa­nies fin­ished the Husky Startup Chal­lenge with not just busi­ness plans and pro­to­types in hand, but with fully formed prod­ucts, web­site, and mobile appli­ca­tions. This year was also the first in which Demo Day show­cased inno­va­tions from Engi­neers for the Greater Good, a 54-​​hour hack-​​a-​​thon for the devel­op­ment of phys­ical prod­ucts and inno­va­tions designed to help people living in the devel­oping world.

The club’s growth has encour­aged mem­bers to look for ways to involve stu­dents who aren’t on Northeastern’s phys­ical campus, said director of strategy Cory Bolotsky.

Starting with our last speaker of the semester, Kayak CTO Paul Eng­lish, whose com­pany was just pur­chased by Price­line for $1.8 bil­lion, we’ve begun live-​​streaming our events online,” Bolotsky said. “We have stu­dents who are on co-​​op or around the globe, or alumni who just could not be here, who still want to be involved.

The club plays a key role in Northeastern’s Center for Entre­pre­neur­ship Edu­ca­tion, helping stu­dents develop key busi­ness skills that they can turn into full-​​fledged busi­nesses through IDEA, the university’s student-​​run ven­ture accelerator.

Bilotti is eager to see the club con­tinue to grow and evolve. “I see what we’re doing as building those next real leaders who will step away from North­eastern and really make an impact,” Bilotti said. “Who knows what we’re going to be able to do when we have a full alumni net­work of crazy suc­cessful people.”