Within the last year alone, Northeastern’s student-run venture accelerator IDEA has grown from 56 to 107 companies. Last night, 40 of those companies tabled at Northeastern’s Entrepreneurship Expo (NEXPO), reflecting what faculty advisor Dan Gregory describes as “the most advanced and energetic of our ventures.”
Over 500 people came out to see the dozens of startups demo. “This is, by far, the biggest NEXPO we’ve done,” said IDEA CEO Chris Wolfel, a Northeastern senior. “I was very excited because it brought in more than just Northeastern, and that’s what we want. We want everyone to be collaborating.”
The goal of NEXPO—held twice a year—has always been to showcase these up-and-coming ventures and give teams the opportunity to network with the Greater Boston entrepreneurial community. “Ventures don’t know who’s going to rap on their door,” admits Gregory, claiming everyone from students to investors are walking through that door. As students are talking, Gregory says he can see them learning, “trying to figure out how to pitch their story.”
Seventeen students currently run IDEA’s management team, alongside 25 coaches, who are typically Northeastern MBA candidates. The strength of the program relies heavily on the students, which helps stand IDEA out from other college entrepreneurship groups.
“There’s more excitement going on here than other universities,” said Bob Lentz, chairman of IDEA’s advisory board and entrepreneur in residence. “Students reach out to students. Peers reach out to peers.”
Lentz, a 1973 Northeastern alum, joined IDEA full-time in July, but still recalls when he first learned about the program. “When I got approached three years ago by Dan Gregory, I bought right into it,” Lentz admitted. Outside of being student-run, Lentz acknowledged IDEA’s education program, which they’ve married with mentorship, service providers and outside resources.
IDEA has created their own Business Planning Guide, a tool that helps ventures outline their business plan and segment it into various milestones, whether they be prototyping, marketing or tackling the issue of funding. To help teams with the last problem, IDEA created “Gap Funding,” which commits up to $10,000 in capital to qualified ventures, as well as “Prototype Funding,” which they announced last semester, and awards up to five $1,000 grants to promising prototype concepts seven times per year.
The program’s played a crucial role in their startups’ development. Marketing agency influencers@ joined IDEA in January 2012. “IDEA has been great about connecting us with resources,” said influencers@ Founder and Chief Imagination Officer Spencer Bramson. “[Gregory] has been an awesome mentor for me. … It’s great to have these resources at our disposal anytime.”
influencers@—who was promoting their new platform ChatterMob last night—was one of the first companies to graduate from IDEA earlier this year. Since, they’ve become a service provider for other IDEA portfolio ventures and have offered up free marketing credit to help them grow their businesses.
IDEA’s quick growth has been astounding. “Every year, the students take on more and more responsibility,” Gregory said, reminiscing on his first NEXPO nearly three years ago. Then, he was hanging all the banners by himself and couldn’t even sleep the night before. “Today, I showed up when the event started.”
To see photos of some of the ventures, along with other NEXPO-goers, check out the photos below.