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“It’s Like Legal Rebellion”: Student Entrepreneurship at Northeastern University

Yi Zheng (second from right), COE ‘15, talks to Natalie Rhone (left), DMSB ‘16, of Basics, an essentials clothing store, as students, faculty and staff checked out over 20 Husky Startup Challenge student ventures at the Demo Day, which was organized by the Entrepreneurs Club, the IDEA Venture Accelerator and the Northeastern Center for Entrepreneurship Education.
Yi Zheng (second from right) talks to Natalie Rhone (left), of Basics, an essentials clothing store, as students, faculty and staff checked out over 20 Husky Startup Challenge student ventures at the Demo Day, which was organized by the Entrepreneurs Club, the IDEA Venture Accelerator and the Northeastern Center for Entrepreneurship Education.Brooks Canaday/Northeastern University

When senior Dan Wendt attended his first Northeastern Entrepreneurs Club meeting in 2009 as a freshman, fifteen people showed up. A few years later though, the Entrepreneurship Club, which was founded in 2006, has grown into one of the largest and most active student business clubs in the country.

Its board of directors is now 25 strong and it has over 200 active members, many of whom have made the E-Club a top priority in their collegiate lives.

“Kids have a hard time showing up for their classes,” said Wendt, now Head of Operations at campus marketing start-up influencers@. “And yet we have kids that’ll throw everything else aside and come to our meetings every week.”

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That sort of dedication was palpable recently when 22 student-founded startups gathered in Northeastern’s Curry Student Center to take part in the E-Club’s annual Husky Startup Challenge. Shouting over music piped in through speakers at near-party volume, the student entrepreneurs at their table displays pitched their fledgling businesses tirelessly to anyone who cared to listen.

At the end of the night, four of the startups were to walk away with $5,500 in cash prizes between them. During the finale, Northeastern Business School Dean Hugh Courtney admitted that the E-Club was a major factor in his decision to join Northeastern in July.

Courtney isn’t alone.

According to former E-Club president and current influencers@ COO Greg Skloot, a major factor in the E-Club’s sudden rise to prominence has been “the fact that entrepreneurship has become cooler.”

Influencers@ founder Spencer Bramson added that the “alternative lifestyle” of the entrepreneur has “become part of pop culture.” Many E-Club members, he said, are initially drawn in by the entrepreneurship’s newfound “celebritized” mystique. He readily admitted that pop culture portrayals like The Social Network, and the way it glamorizes start-up life, accounted for a spike of interest in the E-Club.

If the glamour is what hooks them, though, what keeps E-Club members coming back week after week is a genuine love for the entrepreneurial life. “You don’t have to climb the ladder,” said Spencer, “It’s a new way of pioneering. It’s like legal rebellion.”

Current and former board members were all emphatic that the E-Club is 100% student-run. Its half-dozen programs, which include the Husky Startup Challenge and Engineers for the Greater Good were conceived and founded by students, as was IDEA, Northeastern’s Venture Accelerator “Students just start them,” said Nina Stepanov, IDEA’s social media manager, “You get on the board, you get an idea, you start a program out of it.”

For student businesses, the E-Club offers the potential for tremendous advancement. Its various programs help them at every stage on the path from a bare idea to a profit-making business.

Anyone, idea or no, can apply to the Husky Startup Challenge, which fits them with a team and gives them money for a domain name, business cards, and other ground-floor necessities. Startups that show promise then graduate to IDEA, which pays for lawyers and other service providers, and ultimately gives the best businesses up to $10,000 apiece in gap funding. Influencers@, which went through this process along with many other Northeastern businesses, already has an ad—for LoopedIn, their first major client—placed on the Harvard T Station floor, seen by thousands of people daily.

And nearly everyone in the influencers@ managerial team remains active in the Northeastern E-Club, eager to regale rising businesses with lessons they themselves learned during their college years about the joys and perils of the entrepreneurial life.

Editor’s Note: This post was updated to clarify that E-Club and IDEA are separate student-run organizations.

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