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Startups, meet your best untapped resource

A partnership between the Center for Research Innovation and the alumni-founded startup VentureCrowd is connecting Northeastern-based ventures with entrepreneurially minded talent to turn innovative technologies into thriving businesses.

Launched in November, VentureCrowd is an online innovation platform designed to help student- and alumni-run startups solve challenges in business and technology and create new companies around university-based technologies. Users can also tap into the expertise of  other entrepreneurial students, faculty, and alumni.

“At VentureCrowd, we enable a university’s entrepreneurial community to collaborate effectively around their startup opportunities,” said co-founder Ryan Johnson, a 2012 graduate with a master’s of science in technological entrepreneurship. “Startups can expand their access to problem solvers and collaborators through VentureCrowd faster than they would be able to on their own.”

Through VentureCrowd, startups can crowdsource the challenges they’re encountering, and the community of users can help deliver solutions. The first startups that launched challenges through the crowdsourcing platform were founded by Northeastern alumni, all of whom began working on their innovations as undergraduates. One challenge asked students to submit designs that can be printed using 3-D printing technology. Another asked for help to engineer a smart battery charge controller for a prototype of a new wind energy generator. A third needed assistance launching a business plan based on recently developed water disinfection technologies. While this round of challenges is over, VentureCrowd and CRI plan to launch another in the near future.

“VentureCrowd accelerates the formation of entrepreneurial thinking around Northeastern’s innovations,” explained Tracey Dodenhoff, director of the Center for Research Innovation. “Not only do we see this as helping our existing spin-outs, we also see this as an opportunity to highlight technologies with high potential and help entrepreneurial teams form a business around them.”

Founded in 2011, CRI’s mission is to accelerate the impact of university research through commercial vehicles, particularly startups. The CRI is also the host of the annual Research, Innovation & Scholarship Expo (RISE), an event that brings together university research, startups, industry, and investors every spring to celebrate Northeastern University’s innovation and entrepreneurship community.

Johnson and VentureCrowd co-founder Bret Siarkowski, a 1987 graduate with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, serve a key role in Northeastern’s entrepreneurial ecosystem as mentors to students and startups in the community.

“Although we only launched our first platform this past November, we’ve already grown exciting partnerships not only with the university, but with the different ventures that exist here,” Johnson said. He explained how VentureCrowd is currently working with the Northeastern Health Science Entrepreneurs to launch a new mentorship program this fall as part of a university-wide effort to expand industry-specific mentoring for new ventures.

“We developed this platform to tie together different resources for ventures,” Johnson said. “By connecting entrepreneurially minded talent, mentors, and resources with untapped university-based innovations, we can launch new high-tech startups that might have otherwise sat for years in file cabinets and labs.”