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Boston College joins with Forbes to appraise startups
On a late September evening in Cushing Hall, Joon Yoo ’17 was screening an application from a startup company as part of a national contest sponsored by Forbes. The magazine and media enterprise was gearing up for the annual Forbes Under 30 Summit, held this fall in Boston—with Boston College acting as the official academic partner for the four-day event. One highlight of the summit is the global Change the World competition, in which young entrepreneurs make pitches before a panel of celebrated judges and vie for prize money in the mid-six figures. It was Boston College’s task to recruit students, alumni, and others to help winnow hundreds of applications down to a cluster of pre-finalists.
Most of the screening was done remotely from computers in dorms, homes, and offices, but on that night in Cushing, a couple of dozen students came together in a second-floor meeting room for pizza and pitch evaluation. Yoo, a finance and marketing student at the Carroll School of Management (CSOM) and a Seattle native, had just finished watching the video segment of an application (“a 30-second elevator pitch,” she said) from a social media company. “I’m not sure how I feel about it as a business,” Yoo said. “I’m having a hard time understanding what problem they’re trying to solve. So that’s not a good sign.”
The Forbes Under 30 Summit began three years ago in Philadelphia, partly in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. After holding another summit there last year, Forbes decided to bring the October 16–19 gathering to Boston. Randall Lane, editor in chief of Forbes magazine and creator of the summit, said he made his choice of academic partner while attending a luncheon hosted last March by Boston College’s Chief Executives Club, at which 350 top executives had turned out to hear General Electric chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt. “It really underscored BC’s clout in Boston,” Lane said.
Afterward, Forbes reached out to the Shea Center for Entrepreneurship, launched in CSOM in November 2015. In turn, the Shea Center invited the Center for Social Innovation, housed in the University’s School of Social Work, to join the project. This year, the pitch competition included two tracks, one for social entrepreneurs in the nonprofit sector and a traditional, for-profit contest.
“Entrepreneurism is all about resolving pain points, and screening the applications was a great way for our students to see how the entrepreneurial mind works,” said Jere Doyle ’87, the center’s director. “They saw how people from all over the world are resolving all kinds of pain points, from travel planning to safe drinking water in Africa.”
About 300 members of the Boston College community screened the applications, each entry receiving the attention of at least two evaluators, on such measures as how much startup funding they’d attracted and whether they’d clearly identified a problem that needs to be solved. To be eligible, aspirants had to have executive teams and operations in place.
“I’m involved in a startup, so I’m going through this process myself,” Daniel Marino ’19 said during the pizza-and-pitches night. The finance and information systems student, together with undergraduate partners, is seeking to launch a social media platform that better connects athletes, musicians, and actors with their most devoted fans.
In early October, the Shea Center relayed a list of the 20 top scorers for each category to Forbes, which selected two finalists apiece. Forbes‘s panel judging the for-profits awarded first place to both finalists in that competition: Pillar Technologies, a data analytics firm in Somerville, Massachusetts, that specializes in monitoring construction hazards, and Opus 12, a California startup that converts carbon dioxide emissions into chemical products and fuels. They, and honorCode, an Atlanta nonprofit that instructs grade school students and teachers in digital technology skills, each garnered $425,000 in prize money.