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For startup, the sky’s the limit

For alumnus Dan Belcher, Ray Kinnunen’s classroom is familiar turf. As a student, Belcher helped the associate professor of international business and strategy develop a course called “Sustaining Business in the New Economy,” a popular offering among students in the D’Amore-McKim School of Business.

Earlier this semester, Belcher, BA’03, returned to inspire and educate current business students by channeling his experience as an entrepreneur. This year, he and business partner Izzy Azeri founded the cloud-computing company Stackdriver, which is based in downtown Boston and employs a growing team.

“They looked at the opportunity and the competition and thought very hard about building a strong team — the same things I teach my students,” said Kinnunen, who plans to use Stackdriver as a test case in his course next semester. “Belcher is practicing everything he learned at Northeastern, and then some.”

Stackdriver — which recently received a $5 million investment from Bain Capital Ventures — will be used by businesses interested in building their applications on the cloud, which means they rely on third-party servers rather than their own, like Instagram, Pinterest and Heroku. The company’s main product will use cutting-edge data analytics to help companies improve the performance, availability, security and efficiency of their applications in the cloud.

“Our core value is to help companies that build cloud-powered software focus on innovating rather than deal with the day-to-day hassles of managing their infrastructure,” said Belcher, who described his company’s soon-to-be-released software platform as “a brain for the cloud.”

Belcher said that he relies on what he learned at  Northeastern to propel his venture forward. He praised his experience in Huntington Management Consulting, an undergraduate club advised by Kinnunen and focused on man­age­ment con­sulting and strategy.

“That group taught me to really think hard about what makes a business successful,” Belcher said. “And I’ve stayed in touch with professor Kinnunen over the years, who’s long been a person I’ve bounced ideas off of and has helped us meet potential hires and co-ops.”

Cloud computing enables businesses to reduce their start-up costs by eliminating the need for costly and complicated computer servers; true to its mission, Stackdriver’s “server closet” contains only a modem and wireless router.

Cloud-based ventures can scale up by simply buying more space; Stackdriver, Belcher said, makes it easier for a company to manage its transition from a small venture with fairly straightforward infrastructure requirements to a major online business with sophisticated operations and global infrastructure.

“People start off in the cloud typically because it’s easy to start small and have your environment grow with you,” Belcher said. “And over time, once you grow larger, the economic factors aren’t as important. A company like Netflix could pretty efficiently run its own data centers, but it choose to run in the cloud because it don’t want the distraction of having to manage physical infrastructure. It wants to remain nimble and focused on innovation.”

The company currently employs a staff of nine, with plans to hire two or three new employees a month for the foreseeable future. One of its first hires was Mike Bartucca, who graduated from Northeastern in the spring with a degree in electrical and computer engineering.

“This is a place that’s really breaking new ground, so it’s an exciting place to be,” Bartucca said. “At this point so early in my career, I feel so fortunate to be part of building something from the start.”