Molly Beck, a Northeastern graduate and mother of two, has been acting on her entrepreneurial dream of building internal podcast networks for companies via her startup, Messy.fm. She found a familiar partner by applying for and winning an inaugural Innovator Award offered by the university’s Women Who Empower inclusion and entrepreneurship initiative.
The awards, announced Thursday, recognize 19 women who are graduates or current students at Northeastern. They are receiving a total of $100,000 in grants to help fuel 17 business ventures.
In a span of 10 days, Women Who Empower received more than 150 award applications representing more than a dozen countries and all of Northeastern’s colleges, inspiring Diane MacGillivray, Northeastern’s senior vice president for university advancement, to raise additional funds to recognize the worthy recipients.
“I’m completely overwhelmed by the number and the quality of the submissions we received,” says MacGillivray, who created Women Who Empower with trustee and chair emeritus Henry Nasella to invest in women with entrepreneurial aspirations. “It is so reflective of the talent in Northeastern’s student and alumni community in terms of innovation and entrepreneurship. It was really, really hard to delineate between those who won the top prizes, and the others who ultimately were selected as finalists.”
The judges included Jill Bornstein, founder of UpNext Leadership and Executive Coaching; Julietta Dexter, Co-founder and Chief Growth & Purpose Officer of ScienceMagic; Cathy Papoulias-Sakellaris, who has led global companies including Proctor & Gamble, Nielsen Marketing Research, ITT, and Dun & Bradstreet; Cristina Csimma, board chair of Caraway Therapeutics; Cheryl Kaplan, president of M.Gemi; and Nasella, partner and co-founder of LNK Partners, and the first president of Staples, the office supply retailer.
“We were not just looking on the merits of the business or the idea,” says Nasella, a Northeastern graduate in accounting. “What really stood out to me was the outstanding leadership and contributions and skills that these women all demonstrated pretty significantly—and that’s what I think should be celebrated the most. I’ve been an investor for a long time, you get excited when you meet people like this.”
Five awards of $10,000 each went to first-place winners in five categories:
- Emily Man (who holds undergraduate and master’s degrees in bioengineering and biomedical engineering) and Valeria Martinuzzi (master’s in bioengineering) for their work on Venova Technologies, which is developing a novel contraceptive device for women.
- Natasha Ibori (international affairs) for Uwana Energy, a clean energy company in Lagos, Nigeria, that sells solar systems with affordable financing options.
- Emily White (music business) for Collective Entertainment, a collective of progressive artist and athlete managers working together for their clients’ and entrepreneurial projects’ benefit.
- Gabrielle Whittle (mechanical engineering) for Phoenix Footwear, which is developing a transformable high heel.
- Molly Beck (who graduated in business and is pursuing a master’s in computer science) for Messy.fm.
Runner-up awards of $5,000 each went to eight businesses run by women. Another four women received honorable mention awards of $2,500 each.
The winners covered a wide range of disciplines, notes Betsy Ludwig, executive director of women’s entrepreneurship at Northeastern.
“We don’t really know what the problems of tomorrow are going to be, but we do know that they’re going to be more complex, more global, more interdisciplinary,” Ludwig says. “We have to teach the next generation of leaders all of these thinking skills of how to innovate and work with interdisciplinary teams.”
The winners were grateful to be part of this newly formed community of women entrepreneurs, says MacGillivray. She plans to grow the annual Innovator Awards to become a signature event that aligns with relevant programs such as IDEA (a student-led program that fosters the development of entrepreneurs), the Women’s Interdisciplinary Society of Entrepreneurship (WISE), and WeBuild, a community-based incubator that encourages women from diverse backgrounds to develop an entrepreneurial mindset.
“It is really a humbling experience to be part of the awards and hear the other honorees all make speeches about their entrepreneurial ventures and how Northeastern really intersected with them,” said Beck, whose goals include serving as Northeastern’s Commencement speaker someday. “Being part of the Northeastern community has just been life-changing for me, and I’m excited to see how I can use this platform to help other people that are coming along beside me and after me.”
Beck’s startup has been live for three years and has seven employees. As a student at Northeastern, she says, she started a blog that “changed my professional life.” She moved into podcasting, where she recognized the need for messy.fm to democratize access to the medium. She has remained in contact with her mentors at Northeastern.
“The entire reason that I exist as a person is because my parents met in Snell library many years ago, and had just a wonderful experience in undergrad at Northeastern,” says Beck, who graduated in entrepreneurship. “The lessons that I learned back when I was in school are applicable to what I was doing four hours ago, when I was thinking through, ‘What’s our business strategy? What’s our vision? How do we compare to competitors?’ These are all things that I learned at Northeastern.”
Bornstein told Beck that she was “an amazing model for women” as she informed Beck of her award.
“One of the things we talked about was that the recipients will be setting the foundation for the future and leading the way,” Bornstein told Beck. “It was really important as part of our process to make sure that those selected can be the voice of women innovators. You are the future.”