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From hawking bootleg Northeastern gear to winning one of the highest recognitions in commerce

Ken Wengrod accepted the President’s “E” Award for Export Services from U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross at a ceremony in Washington, DC, earlier this summer. Photo courtesy of Ken Wengrod.

The company founded by Northeastern graduate Ken Wengrod recently won the the highest recognition any U.S. entity can receive for making a significant contribution to the expansion of American exports.

Not bad for a guy who got his start hawking unofficial Northeastern gear on Massachusetts Avenue.

Wengrod founded FTC Commercial Corp. nearly 20 years ago to help finance startup businesses, particularly those in the apparel industry. For example, one client is TOMS Shoes, which the company helped get off the ground.

Wengrod accepted the President’s “E” Award for Export Services from U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross at a ceremony in Washington, DC, earlier this summer.

“It was a major experience,” said Wengrod, who is also president of FTC Commercial Corp. “My wife and younger daughter came to the ceremony with me—it was just incredible.”

Before any of this, though, Wengrod made ends meet as an undergraduate student by selling jackets embossed with Northeastern University logos just outside its Boston campus. But his jackets kept getting stolen and the university quickly got wind of his hustle.  

“At the time, I didn’t know anything about trademark infringement,” Wengrod said. “Or inventory shrinkage.”

Asa S. Knowles, president of Northeastern at the time, connected Wengrod to the university’s bookstore to learn more about trademarks in particular and business practices in general.

“What I learned from the whole experience was how to run a business,” said Wengrod, who graduated from Northeastern in 1973 with a degree in economics. “The great thing about Northeastern is they make opportunities available to you, but you have to go out and take them.”

Wengrod has always taken the opportunities he’s found.

He began his professional career working on political campaigns, including a campaign for U.S. Sen. Edward Brooke. After a few years, he started working for the Bank of Boston, first in auditing and then in factoring—a type of debt recovery finance.

Wengrod excelled in that role, and soon found a new opportunity working with the multinational investment bank Barclays. Once he felt like he’d achieved everything he could at Barclays, he left to start his own business, which has since funded startups that have grown to do more than $40 million in sales.

“I believe in exporting; I believe it creates jobs in the United States,” Wengrod said. “I strongly believe that to help these startup companies, you have to look beyond just U.S. customers. Ninety-five percent of customers are outside our borders.”

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