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Business Students Get Entrepreneurial with Experts

Event Brings New Approach to Sharing Expertise to Campus

David Constantine shares his expertise in business with UMass Lowell College of Management students and Ashwin Mehta of the Accounting Department.

By Christine Gillette

When it comes to being entrepreneurial, UMass Lowell business students aren’t limiting themselves to coming up with new business ideas, they’re also applying it to networking.

The Entrepreneurial Ventures Association and the Operations and Information Systems Club collaborated with MassChallenge to bring nationally recognized entrepreneurs to campus on March 24. The event, held in Alumni Hall, was co-hosted by the student groups with the College of Management and Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center (M2D2), a joint venture of UMass Lowell and UMass Worcester.

“We wanted to bring different people here who have been successful in entrepreneurship and see how they did it,” says Brian Ross, a finance major from Reading and vice president of the Entrepreneurial Ventures Association.

Instead of using a traditional panel discussion format to allow successful entrepreneurs to share their stories, the MassChallenge UnPanel used a more personal approach. Experts - who represented hot startups in the technology and real estate sectors and investors ߝ instead were stationed at individual tables with small groups of students and members of the public. Every 20 minutes, the groups rotated to the next panelist.

The result was a rare opportunity for young entrepreneurs to share their ideas with people who know what it takes to start successful businesses.

“The students can have candid conversations with the entrepreneurs,” says Asst. Prof. Steven Tello, who teaches entrepreneurship in the College of Management and is the associate director of M2D2.

The "unpanelists" included:

  • Jon Goscha, cofounder of IdeaPaint who was selected last year as one of BusinessWeek’s “America’s Best Entrepreneurs”;
  • Shawn Henry, vice president of engineering of CloudSwitch and the former senior director of engineering and chief architect of RSA Security;
  • Ted Loofbourrow, cofounder and president of iRobot Healthcare;
  • Jesse Gossett, founder of Emergent Energy, another of BusinessWeek’s “America’s Best Enterpreneurs”;
  • Greg Hoffmeister, principal and founding partner, and Jon Frisch, associate, of commercial real estate firm T3 Advisers;
  • Michael Gaiss, senior vice president of Highland Capital Partners.

The unpanel concept comes from MassChallenge, a new nonprofit business organization based in Cambridge that recently launched what it bills as the “largest-ever global startup competition” for “high-growth and high-impact new businesses.”

MassChallenge is soliciting entrants for the contest, which will award approximately a dozen businesses this fall with $50,000 to $100,000 toward startup. About 100 fledgling businesses will receive mentorship and free resources in Massachusetts that are to include free office and lab space, expert advice and introductions to potential customers and funding sources. The group also pledges to provide all entrants with training, feedback and other support through a corps of volunteer experts.

“It’s really, really critical for emerging entrepreneurs to get feedback about their business ideas,” says David Constantine, chief operating officer of MassChallenge, who emceed the event and served as an upanelist.

Following opening remarks by Constantine and Tello, the unpanel program quickly moved into discussion mode. Entrepreneurs and students gathered at round tables across Alumni Hall, with the experts sharing experiences from their paths to success and students asking questions as well as discussing their business ideas.

Some students at the event have already started their own ventures, including John Noble, a senior from Winchester majoring in finance and entrepreneurship, who has had his real estate license since he was a freshman.

“I am hoping that my finance background and unique entrepreneurship education here at UMass Lowell will give me the necessary skills and innovative edge needed to succeed in the business world as a young real estate developer and construction entrepreneur,” says Noble, president and the founder of the Entrepreneurial Ventures Association.

Shawn Henry of CloudSwitch talks about entrepreneurship with UMass Lowell students.