Fashion designer Tory Burch addressed more than 200 members of the Northeastern community on Tuesday afternoon. Photo by Mary Knox Merrill.
As a fledgling fashionista, Tory Burch lacked both design experience and business acumen, but she made up for those shortfalls with hard work.
“Be tenacious, and believe in yourself and your concept,” Burch told more than 200 students, faculty and staff who packed the Raytheon Amphitheater on Tuesday afternoon for a retrospective of the fashion designer’s foray into creating bohemian chic clothes, shoes and handbags.
The event — sponsored by the Northeastern University Alumni Association — was hosted by Startup Massachusetts in celebration of the one-year anniversary of the Startup America Partnership, a private-sector alliance of entrepreneurs, corporations and university foundations launched by the Obama administration and dedicated to accelerating high-growth entrepreneurship at startups throughout the nation.
In his welcoming remarks, Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun praised the university’s student-run Entrepreneurs Club, which was recently ranked sixth out of 20 by FledgeWing, an online network that provides aspiring student-entrepreneurs with the tools to develop, build and launch innovative companies.
Aoun said practicing entrepreneurship in America is a particularly worthwhile pursuit. “We’re allowed to take risks here and fail,” he explained. “If we fail, we are not doomed. We can start again.”
For her part, Burch recounted her rise to fame. More than 10 years ago, she was raising three children and operating a brand-new business out of a one-room office in New York. But one day after talk show host Oprah Winfrey endorsed her clothing line in 2005, Burch’s website drew more than eight million visitors. Today, Burch employs more than 1,500 people, 1,200 of whom are women.
All along, Burch said she believed in her vision. “I wanted to design beautifully made clothes that weren’t a fortune and were what I wanted to wear,” she explained.
After her lecture, Burch fielded questions from the audience and Twitter. One student-entrepreneur asked Burch to name a company’s greatest indicator of success.
“Product is the most important part,” Burch explained. “If it doesn’t sell well, then where is your business?”
Cory Bolotsky, director of Startup Massachusetts and a sophomore business major with a dual concentration in marketing and entrepreneurship at Northeastern, helped organize the event, which he referred to as a “call to the community to realize that every stakeholder plays a role in developing the startup ecosystem in Boston.”
Bolotsky, who also serves as the executive director of Startup Summer, Inc., which places college students in internships at startups in Boston, said working for a young company offers a unique experience.
As he put it, “It gives students the opportunity to do meaningful work and get hands-on face time with the founders that can make an impact on the bottom line.”
At a pre-lecture luncheon for student entrepreneurs, Lindsay Burke, S’11, had the opportunity to ask Burch for advice on marketing Harper Lei, her eco-friendly clothing line of skirts, sundresses and yoga pants that she hopes to sell in boutiques and retail shops such as Anthropologie and Nordstrom.
Burke said, “I always knew I wanted to have my own business,” and encouraged other students to start their own companies. “It’s a great way to be creative and do exactly what you want to do,” said the young entrepreneur, who has received input on her business plan from IDEA: Northeastern’s Venture Accelerator.
The daylong event also featured a panel discussion on the role of the community in supporting entrepreneurs. Speakers included John Harthorne, the founder and CEO of MassChallenge, an annual $1 million global startup competition and accelerator program; Dave Balter, founder and CEO of BzzAgent, a leading word-of-mouth marketing company; and Daphne Zohar, founder and managing partner of PureTech Ventures, which specializes in early-stage investment in novel therapeutics, medical devices and research technologies.
Watch the full event below: