IDEA CEO Chris Wolfel is amazed when he thinks back to his first Northeastern Entrepreneurship Expo (NEXPO) in spring 2011. The event was held in the University’s Curry Student Center Ballroom and featured 10 ventures, visited only by Northeastern students.
On Wednesday night, however, more than 500 people packed into one of the school’s larger athletic facilities, coming in from schools around Greater Boston. Thirty-eight ventures demoed, ranging in scope from a health-conscious cocktail company to a mobile farmers market.
“Most universities do business plan competitions, we do businesses,” said Frank Spital, Northeastern’s entrepreneurship and innovation group coordinator. “We start stuff.”
Spital acknowledged the University’s attempts to create a more symbiotic relationship between what’s being taught in the classroom to what’s being offered outside of the classroom.
He breaks Northeastern’s work down into three words: educate, incubate and launch. Students are educated through their courses, co-ops, alumni bootcamps and seminars, incubated through IDEA and then launched through the help of Northeastern’s investor network.
IDEA has designed their own Business Planning Guide to help ventures outline their business plan and segment it into various milestones, whether they be prototyping, marketing or tackling the issue of funding. To alleviate the pressure on teams with the latter problem, IDEA also created “Gap Funding,” which commits up to $10,000 in capital to qualified ventures, as well as “Prototype Funding,” awarding up to five $1,000 grants to promising prototype concepts seven times per year.
Northeastern alum Ryan Johnson, co-founder of VentureCrowd, made the move from Silicon Valley to Boston years ago, and said the first place he came to when he landed was this buzzed-about IDEA.
Not Northeastern, IDEA.
“IDEA is the coolest program for student entrepreneurs on any campus in the U.S.,” Johnson said, and he gave a lot of credit to the fact it’s student-run. Those involved in the incubator either approached the program with an idea and received help or, as a student themselves, better understand the needs of their peers.
IDEA Faculty Advisor Dan Gregory commended Wolfel’s ability to build such a great team of students. With Wolfel set to graduate in May, yesterday’s NEXPO was his last as CEO.
“I’m looking forward to seeing IDEA continue to grow,” Wolfel said. “More and more, new students are coming in and continuing to change the program. And it continues to improve.”
Gregory recognized Wolfel for a lot of those improvements, though, describing the senior as one who carries himself with “extreme comfort and confidence” — one who is equally as skilled talking with a prospective student as he is with Northeastern President Joseph Aoun.
“Chris Wolfel is an exceptional young leader,” Gregory said. “His peers, and a not inconsiderable number of adults, would go through the wall for him; I have the bruises to prove it.”
For a look at some of IDEA’s ventures, as well as those who attend NEXPO last night, check out the photos below.