By Molly Loughman
Since hosting high school radio shows, Katleen Francois ’13 knew she wanted to become a media mogul. Having recently launched her own business, she returned this year to Emerson College and the Launch Startup Bootcamp to hone her entrepreneurial chops.
Born in Haiti and raised in Boston, Francois first came to Emerson during a high school internship at 88.9 WERS, where she continued to produce shows throughout her college career as a broadcast journalism major and business minor. After college, she held several jobs, including traffic coordinator at WERS, before assuming her current role as co-founder and chief creative officer (CCO) for the Geaux Network. To gain entrepreneurial training, skill sets, feedback and expert mentorship, Francois turned to the College’s hub for entrepreneurship and innovation, Emerson Launch.
“All this knowledge, all this experience I was able to gain at Emerson College prepared me for my role as CCO. It’s been a difficult journey, learning the media side, and now learning the business side as well,” said Francois. The Geaux Network creates and curates multicultural content for and by people of color, including podcasts, radio shows, video streaming service, and soon, e-commerce. “[Oprah Winfrey] is someone who looks like me, who I can aspire to be like. We need to have more positive images of people of color in the media that people can aspire to be like.”
To refine her business plans and leadership, Francois participated in the 2020 Emerson Launch Startup Bootcamp, where students and alumni conceptualize, refine and initiate business ventures. The current Bootcamp group began their work in January, meeting twice each week to discuss material, learn from instructors and guest speakers, discuss plans with advisors, and develop their business plans.
Emerson Launch has hosted bootcamps for aspiring entrepreneurs for the last few years. In 2020, participants benefited from a new set of tools, thanks to the program’s new business partner, BonBillo. A social impact accelerator for startups solving social, health, and environmental problems, BonBillo provided their business development methodologies and a network of advisors, as well as a range of instructional videos, readings, and quizzes covering the application of entrepreneurship, design thinking and social impact.
“One of the things BonBillo stands for is doing good, and doing good is actually good for business,” said BonBillo co-founder and CEO Suraj Kripalani. “Historically, there was a perceived tradeoff between doing good and actually making money, but now we live in a fairly different world that realizes doing good in the world — in terms of people, planet and profit — [and profit] go hand-in-hand.”
Guest speakers came from BonBillo, as well as Emerson Launch advisors and alumni network. Participants met one-on-one with established and experienced entrepreneurs, who offered input but also welcomed it from students. The bootcamp cohort included 10 rising entrepreneurs and their eight companies, including: Francois, Alannys Milano ’22 (Across the Globe Media), Ashley Blanco ’22 (Anxiety Relief Kit), Amanda Carvalho da Silva ’20 (Autism Signs), Matt Herzfeld ’20 (Literary Humor); and Victoria Garcia ’21 and Valeria Ocando ’22 (Vival Garco).
“It’s been fantastic working with creative entrepreneurs,” said Kripalani. “To me, as a mentor, the most rewarding thing to see is when we work with a founder exploring an idea to get them to a place they’re launching a business.”
Taking Care of Business
This year’s Emerson Launch’s Entrepreneurial Bootcamp gave Francois the advice and guidance she needed to boost her business plans and leadership skills. Making a lasting impression was guest speaker Mark Donovan ’89, a serial entrepreneur who offered tips and tools for building customer acquisition. “And I’m able to bring that insight to my team and say, ‘This is what we need to do to keep our early subscribers,’” says Francois, who shared a beta version of a Geaux Network product with peers and mentors, after which she received constructive feedback. “I actually can make my dream come true being this media mogul. I feel a lot closer than I was two to three years ago, because I’m actually working on a media startup.”
Other ambitious bootcampers include friends and business partners Victoria Garcia ‘21 and Valeria Ocando ‘22 — Venezuelans who enrolled at Emerson to become creative entrepreneurs with plans to restore business and commerce in their struggling country. They discovered a sense of unity and shared heritage with other Venezuelans in Boston. Garcia, a Business of Creative Enterprises major and self-trained artist, also began to recognize a business opportunity when her paintings earned unexpected attention. “My friends kept asking me to do canvases for their apartment, so I started doing that. Valeria came in and wanted to help make it a business with an impact,” said Gracia.
In 2019, Garcia and Ocando conceived Vival Garco, to promote Latin American culture and artwork by fostering creative partnerships with Latin American artists. Through the entrepreneurial bootcamp this summer, Ocando and Garcia hashed out business plans, including marketing strategies to amass a following and customer base. This summer, the pair piloted Vival Garco products with their own designs on clothing, which they sold in scale. Not only did the bootcamp strengthen their business, but also their skills as entrepreneurs.
“Our business ideas have changed. Emerson Launch has opened so many doors and gave us networking opportunities. Our mentors are amazing,” said Garcia. “They made it clear to not be scared to mess up, and if you do, how to fix it. It’s about solving problems, and if you mess up, it’s about making it positive. They took our fear of messing up completely away.”
Students presented their final five-minute pitches in late July, marking the end of their planning phase and the start of the second launching phase. This fall, Launch and BonBillo are working with the same students in this year’s bootcamp to successfully launch their ventures. Founders plan to incorporate their companies, and also design and build prototypes, and access venture capital. Emerson Launch and BonBillo continue to welcome rising entrepreneurs into this fall’s bootcamp.
“Everything in this world is about connections,” said Ocando. “It’s about putting your ideas out there, and communicating. It’s cool to share insights you’ve had and see what other people think. Communication takes us everywhere.”
- David Breen ’78, Emerson Board of Advisors, founder of VDA
- Scott Clavenna, MA ’98, founder of Greentech Media
- Jonathan Goodman, finance, hedge funds, Bain Capital,
- Suraj Kripalani, founder & CEO of BonBillo
- Andreas Sattleberger, digital transformation, COO Teufelberger Corp.
- Joshua Wachs ‘87, Emerson Board of Advisors, entrepreneur
External Speakers & Topics
- Kunal Paymaster, managing director, SightLine Partners (COVID Impact Strategy)
- Rachel O’Neill, chief people connector at BonBillo (Team Building)
- Sarah Palmer, associate at Mintz Levin (Legal Advice)
- Tyler Orme, assistant professor, Marlboro Institute of Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies (Subscription Economy)
- Mark Donovan ’89, entrepreneur (Executive Leadership Through Organizational Transformation, Customer Acquisition)
- Julia Turnbull, assistant director, student programs at MIT’s Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship (Great Pitches)
- Katie Burkhart ’14, founder and lead brand strategist at Matter 7 (Branding)
- Craig Vachon ’86, senior partner/ head of US operations for NextStage (Fundraising)
For more info or to join the Launch bootcamp, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more on Emerson Launch and upcoming fall events, visit EmersonLaunch.org.