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Students Dream Big at Entrepreneurship Expo

When Victoria Iskiyaeva ’19 came to the United States from Russia as an international high school student, she encountered a byzantine system of immigration paperwork and an endless checklist of logistics.

There were consultants who would help students and families navigate those systems, but they were “very overpriced,” she said, so she and her family went it alone. Later, as an Emerson College student working in the Office of International Student Affairs, she realized that she had something to offer her classmates.

“There are intricacies [for international students] that no one will really tell you about unless they’ve been through the same thing,” said Iskiyaeva, a Marketing Communications major and a student in this year’s Emerson Experience in Entrepreneurship (E3) program. “I started thinking about reaching out to students [who were] all getting the same problems…the same imperfections [in the system] that were easily fixed.”

Iskiyaeva combined her know-how as an international student eager to help others and her entrepreneurial drive to create Legalien, a peer-to-peer news and information platform for US-bound international students, and this year’s first-place winner of the E3 Expo.  

Twenty students in the E3 program work all year to develop a business plan for their ventures, which they then pitch to a panel of judges from industry and academia at the Expo. Winners receive cash prizes and a vote of confidence in their hard work and ideas. This year's Expo was held Friday, April 27, in the Bordy Theater. 

As first-place winner, Iskiyaeva won $5,000. Reed Pake ’19, a Visual and Media Arts major, took home second place and $3,000 for his venture, FoodLabelBuddy, a mobile app to help millions of people with food allergies avoid harmful ingredients. In third place, winning $2,000, was Marketing Communications major Katerina Salgado ’18 whose Panama hat company, Morada, promises 50+ SPF coverage and social impact for Dominican children.   

Wes Jackson, founder of a music promotions company and director of Emerson’s Business of Creative Enterprises program, was on the panel of judges, which included alumnus Tripp Clemens '13, co-founder of social impact film studio Windy Films and Emerson Launch; entrepreneur and E3 mentor Leslie Medalie; and Trish Cotter from the Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship.

It was difficult to translate the ventures’ pros and cons into numbers, Jackson said, but the overall quality of the pitches was impressive and if he were an investor, there were some ideas he would absolutely invest in.

“My impression of the students was they were very well composed [and] really well prepared,” Jackson said.

The day’s other winners included Marketing Communications majors Jade Hebling ’18, creator of WalkSafe, a mobile navigation app that identifies the safest walking routes through a city, who won the $1,500 Karl Baehr Scholarship Award; and Alex Levin ’18, founder of EducateZone, a subscription-based platform for K–5 teachers to share resources and ideas, with a percentage of the profit donated to help educate children in low-income communities. Levin won the $1,000 Clemens Social Enterprise Award.

Samir Rayani, co-founder and chief technology officer of Next Big Sound, an analytics company for the music industry, gave the keynote speech.

E3 Director and Senior Executive-in-Residence Lu Ann Reeb said each year the entrepreneurship in her program gets more competitive. She thinks one big motivator is that more and more students want to be their own boss.

“The competition is stiff, very stiff, and that’s a tribute to our students here in the E3 program and across the College,” Reeb said.

First-place winner Iskiyaeva said this summer she’ll be interning at MassChallenge, where she plans to make as many connections as possible and try to get even more people excited about her dream of making studying abroad easier for countless young people.

“Once you’ve been exposed to different countries, you realize that ultimately, we’re all the same,” she said, “and if this idea gets to as many people as possible, this will change the world.”

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