When Hanna Elzaridi started her freshman year in 2019 at Northeastern in London, the idea of starting a company was just a dream. Two years later, that dream has become a reality: Elzaridi co-founded SOAR Vending, a protein powder and sports supplement vending machine venture, with her best friend, fellow Northeastern student Chloe Welch.
Together, Elzaridi and Welch have taken SOAR from just a concept to a prototype that, on its first day in Marino Recreation Center, sold out within six hours. However, they were not alone––at every step they had a little help from Mosaic, Northeastern’s network of student-led entrepreneurship organizations. Only by working with other young entrepreneurs across the Mosaic network was SOAR Vending able to take flight, Elzaridi said.
“Honestly, without the support of the organizations we’ve worked with we couldn’t have done this, in terms of spacing, in terms of financial support, in terms of overall moral support,” Elzaridi said.
On Friday, Northeastern was honored with an Excellence in Student Engagement Award at the Deshpande Symposium’s Awards for Excellence in Innovation and Entrepreneurship for Mosaic. Chris Wolfel, head of entrepreneurship and venture creation at the Roux Institute at Northeastern and the managing director of NUCEE, the organization that houses Mosaic, said the award is a recognition of the hard work students have put into their various organizations.
“Mosaic was really born out of the university recognizing that empowering students to build their own entrepreneurial networks to support other entrepreneurs was a huge component not only to an experiential learning piece but also just an incredibly fun and impactful way for students to work with one another,” Wolfel said.
Mosaic includes 11 student-led organizations from Generate to Scout, a student-run design studio. Each organization is hosted within one of Northeastern’s colleges. For example, Scout sits in the College for Arts, Media and Design, while IDEA, a student-led venture accelerator, is hosted by the D’Amore McKim School of Business.
However, the real magic of Mosaic occurs when entrepreneurs like Elzaridi collaborate with several different organizations to boost their ventures. As a business management and entrepreneurship student, Elzaridi had no clue how to re-engineer a vending machine––but the students in Generate did. Now, Generate is developing a new dispensing mechanism for SOAR’s prototype.
“They’re super excited about building something, and we’re super excited to be getting someone to build it,” Elzaridi said. “It’s a good relationship.”
Elzaridi and Welch also received gap funding for SOAR by participating in WeLaunch, an accelerator for female and non-binary entrepreneurs put on by the Women’s Interdisciplinary Society of Entrepreneurship, another Mosaic organization.
But before there was a Mosaic, there were just a few scattered student groups like IDEA, the first of these organizations. In the beginning, Dan Gregory, the founding faculty advisor of IDEA, said the concept of an entirely student-run endeavor was a hard sell to early investors like Eric Young, a venture capitalist who would go on to serve as a founder of Mosaic. Young remained committed to Mosaic until his death on Oct. 23, 2021, at 65.
“These are not student clubs. These are formal university organizations that can go raise money, so they need bylaws, and they need things around hiring people and nondiscriminatory kinds of practices,” Gregory said.
Gregory, Young, and a select few other faculty or adult mentors provided guidance early on, but the success or failure of each student venture has always rested on the students who devote their time to Mosaic’s organizations.
“They get to make all the big decisions, and we’re here to help as much as possible and offer historical information as well as other big picture things,” Tyler Farley, an alum who now serves as the Mosaic Fellow, a one-year, donor-supported position that supports student leaders in the organizations, said. “But they’re the ones running the show.”
“They’re taking the skills that they learn and applying them to almost every industry … in so many different types of roles and exceling because they had experiences as student leaders in these organizations where they were able to test out their own styles and manage their peers and deal with tough conversations and celebrate the big wins,” added Gwen Corner, program manager for IDEA.
For Renee Pearce, Scout’s incoming executive director, the Mosaic experience has been an emotional one too. Pearce said working with other student designers in a real-client environment gave her the confidence to continue in her design major at a time when she was questioning her own talent and direction.
“Gradually, I started gaining more confidence, and I realized that I’m actually good at what I do, and I have a lot of potential,” Pearce said. “I think if I didn’t join Scout, I would know that and I wouldn’t have the courage to apply for co-ops, to apply for this position, and to help other people in terms of design.”
It’s these kinds of stories that, in addition to the accolades, have defined Mosaic’s success over the past seven years. From plant-based granola venture Rooted Living, to PowerHouse’s compact solar technology, to Elzaridi’s vending machines, there are countless stories of success and struggle in Mosaic, but they are all important milestones for Northeastern’s entrepreneurs.
“It’s a lot more difficult than we anticipated,” Elzaridi said of her work on SOAR, “but what really excites me is seeing SOAR in gyms. Chloe and I both talk about the day that we walk into a gym and see SOAR there and we didn’t know it was one of our customers.”
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