Entrepreneurship fever is sweeping Northeastern, and students all across campus are catching the bug.
A host of student-run operations is springing up to support Northeastern startups, offering skills and expertise in fields from accounting to graphic design to software coding. To help these groups forge an alliance, faculty member Dan Gregory made a lead gift last fall, inspiring parents, alumni, and faculty to join in. To date, support for the new initiative—which students named Mosaic—comes to $425,000.
The rise of student-led organizations helping students, faculty, and alumni realize their business dreams is a grass-roots phenomenon, Gregory says. It began six years ago with Northeastern’s student-run venture incubator, IDEA, for which he serves as faculty advisor. Inspired by IDEA’s success with peer-to-peer experiential learning, groups at diverse colleges started offering their know-how to IDEA’s ventures.
The trend picked up steam in 2013, when students at the College of Arts, Media, and Design formed a design studio, Scout, to create logos and packaging for fledgling ventures. At about the same time, law students at the IP Clinic—now called the IP CO-LAB—started teaching ventures about intellectual property law.
Today, Gregory says, student accountants, prototype manufacturers, social enterprise advocates, and other Mosaic members are helping ventures thrive. Instead of seeking specialized skills from outside vendors, entrepreneurs can often find them on campus.
“It’s an exciting time to be part of entrepreneurship here,” declared Annika Morgan, DMSB’16, IDEA’s Altschuler-Meyer CEO, during Global Entrepreneurship Week in November, when Mosaic was announced. That evening, a crowd filled the Cabot Center for NEXPO, a showcase of three dozen IDEA ventures and on-campus entrepreneurship resources, including Mosaic organizations.
A major goal of Mosaic is to break down silos across campus and give ventures access to the multiple disciplines that entrepreneurship requires. Besides providing administrative support, Mosaic funds will cover expenses for which IDEA or one of Northeastern’s colleges might have picked up the tab—from member services to events, pizza-fueled workshops, and meeting space. To obtain Mosaic funding, member organizations must apply to the Mosaic Council, whose faculty and administrators set priorities.
To understand how Mosaic works, consider its impact on one venture: Wizio. This online platform, a matchmaking service for Boston realtors and renters, got its start at the Husky Startup Challenge, an Entrepreneurs Club contest that helps students turn ideas into companies. After taking first place and the Audience Choice award in April 2015, Wizio won funding from IDEA to build a prototype.
From there, IDEA linked Wizio’s founders to more Mosaic service providers. A Scout team came up with a logo and designed a website. At the School of Law, students with the IP CO-LAB assessed copyright issues, while others at the Community Law Clinic drew up an employee contract. Meanwhile, accounting students who founded D’Amore-McKim’s Accounting Resource Center, known as ARC, outlined the tax advantages of incorporation.
If Mosaic has a theme, Gregory says, it’s cross-college collaboration: “Students across disciplines are helping students, alumni, and faculty launch their ventures.”
Dominos in motion
As soon as Gregory kick-started Mosaic, others came forward. They include law and business professor Susan Montgomery, the IP CO-LAB’s faculty advisor; the Northeastern University Young Global Leaders, an alumni group convened by President Joseph E. Aoun; Greg Skloot, DMSB’12, former Entrepreneurs Club president and now, vice president for Growth at Netpulse; and Lea Anne Dunton, PNT, and her husband, Gary, DMSB’78, a Northeastern corporator.
In addition to supporting member groups that are up and running, Mosaic helps new ones get started. Last fall, for example, at the College of Engineering, students formed a hardware-prototyping group they call Generate, housed within the Michael J. and Ann Sherman Center for Engineering Entrepreneurship Education.
Another newcomer, NU.io, spun out of the Entrepreneurs Club, recently found a home at the College of Computer and Information Science. NU.io students both run and teach semester-long courses on Web development, coding, and rapid prototyping and design.
Beyond his role at IDEA, Gregory co-directs the Northeastern University Center for Entrepreneurship Education, Mosaic’s administrative home, helping every college foster entrepreneurship. From this vantage, he calls Mosaic’s peer-to-peer, experiential learning model the “secret sauce” behind Northeastern’s thriving entrepreneurial culture, one that “sets us apart from every other university.”
“There’s great satisfaction in teaching others and paying it forward,” attests NU.io co-founder Arjun Balaji, CIS’17. Adds co-founder Luke Van Seters, CIS’18: “I’m becoming a better developer by teaching other students the basics.”
What’s more, Mosaic gives students a chance to become leaders. Justin Pounds, L’16, who has served on the IP CO-LAB and as IDEA’s legal officer, says, “Letting students lead the entire innovation process—from the generation of the idea to the execution and launch—that’s what Mosaic is all about.”
Wizio CEO Chris Canal, E’17, agrees. The Northeastern model of student-driven entrepreneurship works, he says, and deserves donors’ support. Calling IDEA the backbone of Wizio’s journey, he also raves about Scout’s “high, industry-level” talent and professionalism.
“Every single organization we’ve used at Northeastern has been beneficial,” he adds. “Even when what we learned wasn’t what we’d hoped to hear, we always learned a lot.”