A first foray into entrepreneurship

Physics major Nick DePorzio thinks he can improve on the blackboards and whiteboards that have long been commonplace in classrooms and offices—and to do so he’s reflecting upon his childhood. The first-year student is designing a prototype writing surface that is based on the Magna Doodle toy and would not require cleaning or the need for replacement chalk and markers.

DePorzio hopes to turn his idea into KrystalBoard, a product that could one day take the marketplace by storm. For help kick-starting his idea, he turned to the Husky Startup Challenge, a business development competition run by the Northeastern Entrepreneurs Club. HSC has already had an impact on the project by broadening DePorzio’s business perspective.

“I came in with a really technical idea, but I needed the business skills to make it happen,” he said. “That’s where Husky Startup Challenge came in.”

DePorzio’s idea will be one of many new ventures on display Monday evening at Demo Day, which serves as the conclusion of the Husky Startup Challenge. The event will take place at 6 p.m. in the Curry Student Center Ballroom.

Other featured business plans include a bus service that safely transports students between campus and popular city destinations on weekends and a caffeinated breakfast bar that’s been developed and fine-tuned in the common kitchen of White Hall. Yet another is a website that lists local events that would appeal to college students in search of fun, inexpensive things to do with their free time.

The semester-long competition challenges entrepreneurs-in-training to come up with a product or business model that solves a problem. To that end, HSC offers mentoring, networking, support, and a series of boot camps for entrepreneurs.

Many businesses fail because they don’t embrace this problem-solving perspective, according to HSC co-director David Oates. “So many entrepreneurs start a company based on what seems like a good idea, but they fall apart because it wasn’t based around solving a problem,” said Oates, a first-year student pursuing a combined major in business and computer science. “If a company isn’t solving a problem, customers just aren’t going to go for it.”

At Demo Day, budding entrepreneurs finally get the opportunity to showcase what HSC co-director Matt Voska calls a “minimum viable product”—a proof-of-concept that demonstrates whether a fledgling company would likely be able to move forward. If students’ prototypes and business plans show enough promise, they move to IDEA, the university’s student-run venture accelerator.

“Demo Day is an opportunity for Husky Startup Challenge participants to go out and see if people are interested and what they’re doing,” said Voska, a first-year student pursuing a combined major in computer engineering and business with a concentration in entrepreneurship. “If they are, we’ll help them move forward. If they’re not, we’ll show them how to pivot and find a way to do something that people respond to.”

The E-Club will award $4,500 in prize money to Demo Day participants. A team of 25 judges comprising local entrepreneurs and investors will select the top three ideas. The entrepreneur behind the audience’s favorite idea will also receive an award.

“The whole process really shows you how to get a handle on all the initial steps of building a business,” said Rohit Malrani, a third-year business major with a concentration in finance who began testing his proposal for the after-hours bus service during the last weekend of March. “At the end of the day, Husky Startup Challenge really makes it easy to turn your idea into a real product.”