(The Soaring Startup Circle Teams. Image via Alex Krowiak)
“We just want more students to start companies at Boston College.”
To Tom Coburn, co-founder and CEO of advertising technology company Jebbit, the goal was that simple. And to achieve it, he helped launch the Soaring Startup Circle, a rotating summer accelerator program designed to bring student startups to the next level.
After Jebbit won the Boston College Venture Competition in 2011, the team was accepted into Highland Capital Partners’ Summer@Highland program. With that, the startup received $15,000, complimentary office space and mentorship from a pool of seasoned entrepreneurs. More importantly, the team was granted an opportunity to spend their summer throwing 100 percent of their energy into Jebbit.
Having the freedom to focus on Jebbit was the biggest perk of the program, according to Coburn. He recognized, however, “Not every startup coming out of BC has the opportunity to do that.”
Coburn wanted to recreate that experience, and started reaching out to Boston College alumni active in the city’s startup community, including: Harvey Simmons, dean of marketing affairs at EverTrue; Dave McLaughlin, founder of Vsnap; Miguel Galvez, co-founder of NBD Nanotechnologies; and Justin Dziama, vice president at Avison Young Commercial Real Estate. Alongside five other members of the accelerator’s executive committee, the group decided to launch the Soaring Startup Circle, confident their experience could inspire the next generation of student entrepreneurs.
The team started accepting applications in April, and welcomed four startups into the program, which were:
— Founded by Danielle Dalton, Class of 2016
— Molly Miller creates casual clothing and accessories for women inspired by the coastal lifestyle. For every item sold, a portion of profits are donated to organizations that promote a positive body image, such as the National Eating Disorder Association.
— Founded by Michael Bryant and Jackson Evans, Both Class of 2015
— Nxtfour is an online platform for high school students interested in creating a 3D resume consisting of grades, activities and anything from an art portfolio to highlight tapes. By creating a Nxtfour profile, students are able to showcase their talents and achievements to colleges and future employers. Students can connect with their friends and other students applying to their same colleges.
YouSit (The maker of ClassHack)
— Founded by Luke George and Andrew Bernstein, Class of 2017; and Anthony Cato, Class of 2015
— ClassHack.co aims to improve college students’ grades and reduce class drops. By collecting professor-specific video lessons from students who just aced those classes, ClassHack provides the targeted information students need to study smarter and get better grades.
Barnum Beverages — Founded by Rachel Hess, Caroline Suttlehan and Meghan Bailey, all Class of 2015 — We believe your alcohol run shouldn’t have to be a marathon, so we’ve made a cocktail that you can buy, pour and store all in one box. Every box holds a split bag that keeps the alcohol on one side and the mix on the other until you twist the single nozzle to pour yourself a glass. The box does all of the work of mixing your favorite cocktail so you have more time to enjoy your party and a better drink to enjoy it with.
(Image via Alex Krowiak)
Each startup received equity-free seed funding, as well as the ability to work in the offices of growing Boston-based companies with similar academic roots, whether in Jebbit’s Fenway spot or Drizly and Wymsee’s shared space on the waterfront. Every few weeks, students rotate throughout the offices, yet meet at a central place on Wednesday evenings to chat with an experienced CEO, investor or lawyer.
“The reason why we love the idea of doing this whole rolling accelerator,” Coburn said, “is [startups are] working five feet away from our team. Late-night strategy sessions will break out. They’re all at the stage we were three summers ago when we were at Summer@Highland.”
Within that beginning stage, however, each startup is tackling a unique problem. For Molly Miller’s Danielle Dalton, it’s been about execution, explains Simmons. For YouSit, the summer has been about discovering what works; the team has pivoted three times.
“[YouSit] literally went to campus and talked to incoming freshmen when they were at orientation,” Simmons said, noting, “One of the key goals here was to have students take their business plan idea and go out into the real world and hear if it makes sense.”
Although time-consuming, having the freedom of summer to work these issues out can be game-changing for a startup.
“One of the key goals here was to have students take their business plan idea and go out into the real world and hear if it makes sense.”
“A lot of them are trying to nail down, ‘What is step one?'” Coburn added. Each team has these big ideas, but it’s now determining, “What’s the first domino we need to knock down to make that happen?” For some, it’s been interviewing potential users. For others, it’s been launching a landing page and trying to attract alpha customers.
Although the Boston College Venture Competition is how Jebbit saw its start, Coburn pointed out that more than half the teams don’t end up pursuing their startup six months after the challenge is over. Given that Molly Miller, YouSit and Nxt4 were all winners in this year’s BCVC — the first two sharing second place and Nxt4 nabbing first — it’s clear the Soaring Startup Circle is focused on changing that.
“I hope these teams continue to grow,” said Simmons, speaking to what he hopes will happen when the summer ends. Beyond that, Simmons wants to see current participants become advocates for the program, so it can continue to expand.
“For the SSC, I think we want to learn from this first year and improve on it, just like any other startup does,” shared McLaughlin in an email to BostInno.
But the future, for both the program and the students, looks promising. “I want to see the students stay plugged in to the local startup community, and stay connected with other entrepreneurs to share ideas and energy,” McLaughlin said.
If they do that, Boston College’s growing powerhouse entrepreneurship program won’t be able to be ignored.