Entrepreneurship panelists, left to right, Parker Hughes ’20 of BRUZD Foods, Bhargavi Chevva of Breakthrough Energy, Taelon Ratliff ’20 of Eeggs, and Amanda Curtis of Nineteenth Amendment at the Emerson Launch Open House on Wednesday, October 17. Photo/Alex Kuelling ’22
Sergio Cana and Florian Okwu, both first-year Business of Creative Enterprises majors, were on a reconnaissance mission of sorts Wednesday evening.
Cana said he is interested in the Entrepreneurship Studies minor, and both students are kicking around a startup idea for an apparel company focused on “not just making plain clothes,” but clothes that can be displayed as art.
So the budding business partners stopped by the Emerson Launch Open House to see what resources might be available.
“As a student, at least, you’re more on the side of producing and not holding back [creatively],” Okwu said. “I feel like if you come to meetings and stuff, you would hopefully be able to find a grounding foundation to work with.”
Emerson Launch is looking to grow too. Last year, the four-year old entrepreneurship and innovation hub moved into its own digs at 160 Boylston Street, and this year is offering two tracks to students based on their interests and goals. The entrepreneur track helps students develop ideas and make them marketable, and the innovation track allows students to explore design innovation and technology.
Also this year, Emerson Launch is partnering with Amazon, the world’s second most valuable company, to integrate voice-enabled technology throughout the College. Beginning in the spring semester, “Em,” the College’s custom voice app, will tell you where to find offices and venues, and what events are happening on campus.
Emerson Launch Director Sanjay Pothen wants students to know that there’s a place they can go to get mentoring, attend programs, and experiment with their wildest dreams.
“I definitely believe our students are creative and entrepreneurial,” Pothen said. “It’s there, I just think people may not know they have it in them.”
Parker Hughes ’20 and Taelon Ratliff ’20 absolutely know they have it in them.
Hughes is the co-founder of BRÜZD Foods, a produce delivery service that buys “ugly” but perfectly edible fruits and vegetables from farmers and delivers them to Boston-area homes, saving the produce from the landfill and giving a little extra money to local farms. Ratliff is the founder of Eeggs, a website that aggregates “Easter eggs” – little tricks or features hidden inside video games.
Both students were panelists at the Open House, where they joined Amanda Curtis, co-founder of Nineteenth Amendment, a Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) platform for the fashion industry, and Bhargavi Chevva, manager at venture capital fund Breakthrough Energy.
The panelists shared their stories of exhilarating success and breathtaking failure, along with a little of what they learned on their way to starting (or funding) a company.
Emerson students who want to start a business or nonprofit have it pretty good, according to Hughes. Not only do you have a wealth of resources and mentorship opportunities on campus, such as Emerson Launch and E3, the College’s entrepreneurship minor, but you’re surrounded by other world-class institutions with their innovation programs and ambitious students, with whom you can network. And Boston in general is a startup hot spot.
“If you’re at Emerson, you’re pretty much perfectly located [to start a venture],” Hughes said.
An entrepreneur’s first or second idea may not take off, but the third might, as long as they understand the market, and that’s what’s important, Chevva said.
“When I’m looking at a company [to invest in], I’m looking at the team,” she said. “What we really care about is do they understand the market, do they understand their customers?”
Curtis said founders should be aggressive and fearless about putting out minimum viable products, which are like marketing test balloons.
“You should be so embarrassed by the first things you put out there,” she said.
Pothen said Emerson is the right place at the right time for students who want to innovate and put something new into the world.
The trend in marketing these days is “conversational marketing,” Pothen said, with voice technology increasingly the way companies and organizations will communicate with customers. Emerson is a school built around conversation and communication.
The late Apple CEO Steve Jobs would include in his presentations an image of a street sign, with the street names labeled “liberal arts” and “technology,” Pothen said.
“That’s where we want to play, at that intersection,” he said, “and if you look at the two most valuable companies in the world [Apple and Amazon], that’s what they’re doing.”