All photos by Cindy Loo.
After two semesters and countless painstaking hours of work, Bo Feekins ‘22, Sunjin Chang ’23, and a baker’s dozen of Emerson Experience in Entrepreneurship (E3) classmates finally pitched their business ideas at the program’s annual expo.
Feekins and Chang set up their exhibition tables at the Bordy Theater in the early morning of Friday, April 22. Before each student stood front and center in the theater to pitch their ideas to four judges, with an opportunity to win thousands of dollars, guests went from table to table to learn about the businesses.
Sitting side-by-side at the same table, Feekins and Chang shared the nervousness that seemed to permeate the entire cohort. Feekins estimated he had practiced his pitch between 50 to 100 times. Chang said she had easily practiced it more than 30 times in the last week.
Always diplomatic, Feekins said he didn’t think he’d win.
“I’ve seen so many of my classmates’ pitches. It’s hard to pick a winner. It could be anyone. It’s a flip of a coin. Mostly it’s a testament to everyone’s pitches and the work they’ve done,” said the Sports Communication major.
Chang thought Feekins would win.
“She’s being nice,” replied Feekins. His idea, the Northstar Project, would help United Kingdom academy soccer players rebound from released status with support and resources to reach their athletic goals and go to college in the U.S.
Chang said she felt mixed emotions leading up to the expo – excited one day, nervous and anxious another. Chang’s business, SEED, would be a new networking platform designed to bring transparency, inclusiveness, and professional development to young jobseekers in the today’s shifting work environment.
“Overall, I’m excited about showcasing our class and what we’ve been working on,” the Journalism major said before the expo. “I think I’m here to share my idea, but also to celebrate the victories of my other classmates.”
Throughout the theater, students explained their ideas to whomever stopped by their table.
Conceptual businesses included Amber Garcia’s (‘23) Bendy, a bendable multi-flavored straw made with an eco-friendly cane sugar that dissolves in your drink; Cory Mack’s (’22) Tinkle, a mobile app using crowdsourcing to help find clean public bathrooms at local businesses; and La Buena Docena, the brainchild of Cami Maduro Atala ’22, a bakery in Honduras that will serve up fresh-baked, locally sourced cookies that you can’t resist sharing. Atala had to attend the expo virtually, but had a friend at her table, handing out the delicious cookies.
Sitting nearby was Jessie Coan, MA ’10 of Jessie Coan Marketing, who served as a mentor to the cohort throughout the school year, and saw their ideas from inception to their culmination. Just the night before, Coan spoke with Chang to iron out details of her pitch.
“I said, ‘Here are a couple of spots I see,’ and she said, ‘This is where I’m struggling’, so we practiced it,” said Coan. “We did it a few times and I said, ‘We need to make sure you feel comfortable with it coming out of your mouth.’”
On To The Expo
Lu Ann Reeb, assistant dean of the School of Arts and director of Entrepreneurial Studies and Business Studies, explained the rules of the expo. Each student would be evaluated in 10 categories, earning up to five points for each category.
The four judges were all entrepreneurs with long resumes: Elaine Chen, director of Tufts University Derby Entrepreneurship Center; Joshua Wachs ‘87, chair of Emerson’s Board of Advisors; Sharon Tolpin Topper, Marketing Communication faculty; and serial entrepreneur and investor Hakan Satiroglu.
“Heads up, guys! Investor! Ding, ding, ding!” said Reeb, referring to Satiroglu.
Interim President Bill Gilligan, who earlier went table to table learning about every student’s project, spoke to the audience.
“You’re the epitome of Emerson as a creative force,” said Gilligan.
The first pitch ended up being the first-place winner. Elena Plousadis ’22, a Communication Sciences & Disorders major, pitched Table Teamates, an interactive placemat for children with cognitive disabilities that will make mealtime simpler and fun.
When it was Chang’s turn she presented confidently with a little bit of nervousness, similar to many of her classmates.
“What do you think are the biggest issues in the recruiting industry today?” began Chang, “Well, I had the chance to speak 10 recruiters and 50 young professionals. And these are some of the key words. Today we’ll be focusing on a few of these.”
Ghosting, slow, equal opportunity, accessibility, unqualified, education, bias, pay, transparency, connections and engagement.
Chang explained how her business, SEED, would work, provided hypothetical customer personas, a marketing plan, and proposed a monetary ask of $300,000. She said the official launch of SEED would be May 2023, and stated why her business would be successful.
“Unless we run out of people who are tired of learning new skills – SEED is sustainable.”
Once Chang got back to her table, Feekins reached out to congratulate Chang, and the two embraced hands with smiles.
When it was Feekins’ turn to present, he introduced us to James. At the age of 2, James was kicking a soccer ball in his yard with his parents. At the age of 8, James was one of a select few to be part of Manchester City’s academy, and trained for years and years in the system. At 16, he signed his first contract with the club.
“Two years later, however, he was called into the office by his coach and was told, ‘We’re letting you go,’” said Feekins. “My name is Bo Feekins, I’m a student, soccer player, who has a passion for making the game accessible to all.”
He explained the three main phases of the Northstar Project’s work: research, decision, and transition. The business would help prospective student athletes connect to camps, visit schools, schedule calls with coaches, provide help with standardized tests and applications, narrow their choices, and provide assistance transitioning across the Atlantic.
Feekins described two UK-based competitors providing similar services. While those businesses charge student athletes thousands of dollars, Feekins’ model doesn’t charge athletes any money. Instead his business would operate as a B2B and charge club teams. He believes that club teams would hopefully want to partner with the Northstar Project to continue their promises to help former players achieve success.
Feekins made a monetary ask for $49,000 to get the company rolling. He concluded his pitch by talking about his personal journey, growing up abroad with a very supportive family who helped him navigate his way to Emerson. He added that many athletes do not have a strong support system, and that’s why his business is needed.
Will They Continue to Make Their Dreams a Reality?
Both Feekins and Chang said they wanted to continue to push their respective businesses forward.
Chang said she challenged her boundaries and learned to be more flexible while taking calculated risks to further her personal and professional development.
“My priority is finishing school,” said Chang, who has one more year to graduate. “I do plan to work on SEED as I finish my college journey. I think for the next year I’ll check the trends in the recruiting industry and see where the future lies.”
Feekins said his goal is to launch the Northstar Project. He has had informational discussions with officials from different soccer clubs to learn about what they do to support released athletes.
He’s already received a financial investment to get the ball rolling. After the judges’ scores were tallied, Feekins was awarded third place and $2,000.
“The E3 program has been one of the best experiences I’ve had at Emerson and that all comes from Lu Ann’s commitment to her students and the program,” said Feekins. “I would highly encourage all students who are interested in business and entrepreneurship to partake in the program and I hope in the future I can return to E3 to help future Emerson entrepreneurs.”