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Northeastern Entrepreneurs Club engages future leaders

Meetings of new student groups often draw huge crowds. The challenge is maintaining that enthusiasm and participation.

That’s never been a problem for the Northeastern Entrepreneurs Club, the popular student group that was recognized last year as the world’s sixth best college group of its kind. Its weekly meetings draw an average of 120 attendees representing a broad cross-section of the student body.

Members of the group use these meetings to discuss entrepreneurship and innovation, inviting CEOs and business leaders from successful—and often relatively new—companies such as RunKeeper, LevelUp, Boundless, and Kigo Kitchen, a new concept restaurant in the Curry Student Center. Guest speakers serve to inspire members to take innovation and entrepreneurship into their own hands, sharing key lessons they learned while developing their own businesses.

“We’re completely student-led, and as leaders of the club we realize that the students are giving up an hour of their day on a Tuesday or a few hours on a Saturday. So we want to make sure it’s really fun while we’re teaching real stuff,” said club president Matt Bilotti. “We’re adding value by connecting them to successful people in the community, and we’re teaching skills that translate to what our members are interested in doing.”

Those efforts, Bilotti noted, motivate and encourage student-entrepreneurs who are eager to start their own companies or develop the next generation of cutting-edge products.

“The motto of our club is ‘live your passion,’ and I really think that’s the foundation of what we do,” he said. “We’re all about helping students find what they want to do and making that happen.”

Business school dean Hugh Courtney meets with student entrepreneurs at Demo Day. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

That next generation of entrepreneurial leaders was on display recently at the club’s Demo Day, one of its biggest events of the year and the culminating event of the Husky Startup Challenge, a series of boot camps, networking events, and workshops designed to help students turn business ideas into marketable products. This year’s event, held Dec. 5 in the Curry Student Center Ballroom, gave new businesses the opportunity to showcase their work and a chance to split $5,500 in prize money.

“The quality we saw this year was higher than ever before,” said Husky Startup Challenge director Maroun Najjar. “In past years, it has always been clear who the winners would be, but this year there were just so many it was hard to make a final decision.”

This year four ventures won prizes: Coherent Clothes, FindU, Little Luxuries, and audience favorite Hey WTF Records.

More than any year before, Najjar said, companies finished the Husky Startup Challenge with not just business plans and prototypes in hand, but with fully formed products, website, and mobile applications. This year was also the first in which Demo Day showcased innovations from Engineers for the Greater Good, a 54-hour hack-a-thon for the development of physical products and innovations designed to help people living in the developing world.

The club’s growth has encouraged members to look for ways to involve students who aren’t on Northeastern’s physical campus, said director of strategy Cory Bolotsky.

“Starting with our last speaker of the semester, Kayak CTO Paul English, whose company was just purchased by Priceline for $1.8 billion, we’ve begun live-streaming our events online,” Bolotsky said. “We have students who are on co-op or around the globe, or alumni who just could not be here, who still want to be involved.

The club plays a key role in Northeastern’s Center for Entrepreneurship Education, helping students develop key business skills that they can turn into full-fledged businesses through IDEA, the university’s student-run venture accelerator.

Bilotti is eager to see the club continue to grow and evolve. “I see what we’re doing as building those next real leaders who will step away from Northeastern and really make an impact,” Bilotti said. “Who knows what we’re going to be able to do when we have a full alumni network of crazy successful people.”