Lyle Stevens, DMSB’09, grew up in a family of “serial entrepreneurs,” which he said instilled in him the drive to start his own venture one day. He came to Northeastern eager to learn how to run his own business.
The problem was he needed an idea.
It wasn’t until after he graduated that the business major came up with SplashScore, a Facebook application that measures online social influence and pairs leading users with companies that want to promote their businesses.
To help bring his venture to fruition, Stevens turned to IDEA, Northeastern’s student-run venture accelerator. Over the last few years, IDEA has granted SplashScore a total of $25,000 in gap funding, including $10,000 to launch and build the app.
“I didn’t really start utilizing IDEA until I was out of Northeastern,” Stevens said. “It’s great that it is still a resource for folks who have graduated.”
IDEA was founded in 2009. Last month, it reached the $500,000 mark in the amount of gap funding it has granted. Over the past five years, IDEA’s Gap Fund has helped 35 ventures—many of them Northeastern students or alumni—jumpstart or continue their journey to success. IDEA ventures have collectively raised $6.4 million in external funding and 14 ventures have “launched,” or graduated, from IDEA.
“It means a lot,” said IDEA CEO Max Kaye, DMSB’14. “Half a million is a big number, and it’s a milestone for IDEA. But more importantly, the outcomes show that the model is working and we’ve helped 35 ventures reach their own significant milestones.”
Dan Gregory, faculty adviser to IDEA, said, “the Gap Fund was created to provide educational grants to entrepreneurs who demonstrate a dedicated effort to learn how to develop and launch a new business.” Every two months, IDEA’s Gap Fund grants up to $10,000 in capital to qualified ventures. To determine eligibility, the ventures are put through a rigorous month-long review of their plans, milestones, and capital needs.
This is just one of many resources IDEA offers to students and alumni to help them create, develop, and accelerate new businesses. Others services include coaching, mentoring, and connecting the fledging entrepreneurs to investors outside of the Northeastern community. In addition to IDEA, Northeastern offers a range of programs and resources that together serve as ecosystem that fosters the entrepreneurial spirit of its students, faculty, and alumni. These include the Center for Research Innovation, the Center for Entrepreneurship Education, the Health Sciences Entrepreneurs Program, and the Northeastern Entrepreneurs Club.
Kaye said IDEA’s gap funding model—which allows ventures to reapply for additional funding but does not dole out large lump sums—allows the program to help ventures reach specific milestones and either validate their plans or pinpoint areas of improvement.
One of the most recent entrepreneurs vying for IDEA’s gap funding is Kate Pipa, DMSB’13, who co-founded Genius Box, which brings themed STEM experiments to your front door. She’s applied for $10,000 to go toward market research and product development.
“The funding would help us bridge the gap to launch,” said Pipa, who explained the plan last month at NEXPO, IDEA’s bi-annual venture showcase.
Andrew Cabasso, DMSB’09, echoed Pipa’s sentiments. His company, Offsprout, which designed an easy-to-use website builder, recently received gap funding for its forthcoming launch.
“We started with IDEA in early 2014, and it has been a great experience,” Cabasso said. “They helped us in terms of solidifying our pitch, finding our market, and creating a business plan.”
While IDEA’s gap funding milestone is cause for celebration, Kaye said the group would continue working hard to meet the needs of Northeastern’s entrepreneurs. “We need to continue to do the things we are doing well,” he noted. “There is a lot of work always being done on the ground.”