Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Connecting Students with Cool Companies: Your Ideas?

One project I'd like to get rolling this coming academic year is a way to enable students from Boston-area schools to visit interesting companies in the area.

The basic idea is that a visit would consist of a tour of the company, a sit-down with the CEO or founder to explain what the company does, some snacks/lunch, and a Q&A session. The objective would be simply to expose students to local entrepreneurs and executives and the companies they run, not necessarily to get students jobs or internships (though if the company was hiring or looking for interns, they could certainly let the students know that.) A visit might last 90 minutes in total.

I'd want to start with some of the area's cooler companies -- those that wouldn't put the typical sleep-deprived undergrad to sleep (no offense if your company makes some really awesome expense account software.) I'd also want to start with companies that are accessible by public transportation, to make sure we have a really strong showing at the first few.

My list would include companies like Zipcar, Harmonix Music Systems, Genzyme, Biogen Idec, Heartland Robotics, Vecna Robotics, Conduit Labs, Brightcove, Ambient Devices, E Ink, HubSpot, Brickyard VFX, IDEO Cambridge, Vlingo, Akamai, Google Cambridge, A123 Systems, Microsoft NERD, EnerNOC, Cape Wind, and Viximo.

Who ought to be added to the list? And what should this be called? "Innovation Field Trips"? "Innovation Open Houses"? "The Innovation Lunch Series"?

It's the sort of thing that might require an underwriter or sugar daddy to make it happen (lining up companies to participate...ensuring that students find out about the events and actually show up...and that companies make the visits valuable), so I'm open to ideas on that, too.

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Blogger Mav said...

Great concept! I think this is a great idea. Each year we have one outstanding college (or even High School student) who really makes an impact in our organization. Inspiring students through this kind of organized event is a great idea!

How about calling them Power Lunches? Meeting with the biggest and the brightest in the hub - over lunch? Seems like it might work.

I'd be proud to see Tippingpoint Labs on the list. We're small (10 People) but we work with cool clients creating great content in a mill space in Newton.

I'd be proud to be involved in any way! Thanks Scott for championing this!

June 30, 2009 10:27 AM  
Anonymous Ben said...

Hi Scott,

IST Energy has built an on-site waste-to-energy system that turns 3 tons of trash into clean energy every day. It’s a very cool set-up they have for the demo unit, as the system has video cameras placed inside the unit so people can watch each step on a TV monitor. As college students tend to be interested in green topics, this seems like it would be a great fit. The only challenge is that the company is in Waltham, so it’s not along the subway line.


June 30, 2009 10:31 AM  
Blogger Eric said...

Is it fair to say when you say "cool", you really mean "cool", and "oh, cool - I didn't know they were in Boston" (i.e. recognizable)... and Series-A or later - here are some at top of mind:
* Skyhook Wireless (South Station)
* Carbonite (Back Bay)
* Compete.com (Back Bay)
* TripAdvisor / FlipKey
* Big Belly - Seahorse
* Going.com
* Eons / Tributes.com
* Maven/Yahoo - oh wait, scratch that :)

I still think there's an opportunity to do similar tours of smaller companies; the RunKeeper's, YouCastr's, and Pongr's of the world... for such an engagement, maybe a centralized locations like CIC makes sense... Or the forthcoming "Kendall Cafe"

I'm all done with school, but happy to connect you to the incoming BU Entrepreneurs and/or the MBA career center at BU.

Best of luck!

June 30, 2009 10:45 AM  
Blogger Rob Go said...

I'd add gazelle to that list as well as Sermo.

June 30, 2009 10:56 AM  
Anonymous Karen Lilla said...

Nice idea, Scott. Was unclear from your post whether you are envisioning targeting high school or college students?

IBM has a 20 year partnership with Boston Latin and we've had a long standing relationship with Citizen Schools, but we'd certainly welcome hosting a "Power Lunch" at our Cambridge site.

IBMers in Massachusetts develop chips that power all three major games machines, chips for the world most powerful supercomputers, software for social computing, and some of the most advanced green computing software and hardware. Additionally, one of our leading IBM Research labs is here in Cambridge.

Let us know how we can help!

June 30, 2009 11:26 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

If up for class trips outside the footprint of the city, perhaps 38 Studios and Boston-Power? The former would provide a snapshot of an interactive entertainment company on its way to market; the latter a ringside seat to taking innovation in batteries/energy storage from concept to product and building a company to monetizing the opportunity. Great idea and good luck making this program happen!

June 30, 2009 12:15 PM  
Blogger Galen Moore said...

BBN Technologies
8D World

BBN because they just have too much cool stuff. 8D is in Burlington - not transit-accessible. But both do very interesting things in serious games - an area I think students should learn more about as it is growing, rather than always hearing that video games are a waste of time.

Good luck!


June 30, 2009 4:17 PM  
Blogger Kerry said...

Hey Scott --

Great idea. One to consider would be Blue Fang Games (www.bluefang.com). They’re the game developers of the very popular Zoo Tycoon franchise, and they’ve also developed the new game World of Zoo which THQ is officially launching this Fall.

They're in Waltham so keep us posted if that's feasible for the students. Timing for Blue Fang would probably work best for September.

June 30, 2009 4:54 PM  
Blogger Bill Clerico said...

Hi Scott,

Hope all is well. Something to check out is a class offered at Boston College called Undergraduate Tech Trek West, where professor John Gallaugher takes 20 students to silicon valley every year over spring break (they spend the rest of the semester doing case studies on the companies in preparation). It's a class I took in undergrad that took us to Apple, Google, CyberSource, NetApp, etc.

His site is http://www.gallaugher.com/ - I'd be happy to connect you. He's got a lot on his plate, but he may be interested in replicating something similiar on the east coast.


June 30, 2009 8:21 PM  
Anonymous Doug Lane said...

As an ex-BBN'er, I second Galen's suggestion of BBN. You are not going to get the startup sizzle there, but rather old school R&D innovation over a long period of time that students would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. You could even have them read "Where Wizards Stay Up Late" for extra credit.

I also submit my employer, Virtual Computer, Inc. for your consideration. We are an emerging player in the red-hot PC virtualization space, recently recognized by organizations like MITX and MassNetComms as a key company to watch on the Boston startup scene. We'd love to get involved.

June 30, 2009 10:32 PM  
Blogger Don said...

MITX is interested in organizing these lunches with its 250 Internet and marketing companies. We are moving on it, look for plans forthcoming. Two additional ideas:
1) Have a couple of recent grad-employees participate for their perspective
2) Finish with a tour - perhaps led by the recent grad-employees. See what the place/people look like, maybe say hello to a few.

July 1, 2009 6:42 AM  
Blogger Scott Kirsner said...

Great ideas... In terms of target audience, I think it'd be mainly undergrads and grad students, though not exclusive of high schoolers motivated enough to sign up (and show up.) In terms of geography, I think it couldn't hurt to try a company out on 128 or beyond, as students who attend schools like UMass Lowell or Clark or WPI may be more car-enabled than those at BU, BC, MIT, etc. But open to your responses...

July 1, 2009 7:44 AM  
Blogger Samazz said...

Hi Scott, some ideas for you!

Spreadshirt (you know Jana - CEO): 186 South St. - public transport accessible.

Viewpoint CRM (you'll also remember Brad Gordon - CEO) - though the company is based on Howard St. in Lowell.

Let me know if you're interested - we'll coordinate for you.



July 1, 2009 11:02 AM  
Blogger spyrex said...

As another ev-BBner - I will third that!

I wanted to offer up Zeo (Personal Sleep Coaching company www.myzeo.com) as an interesting company for this. We just launched Zeo and we are growing quickly (located in Newton now). It would be valuable for us to start having some smart students flow through the building.
Ben - CTO and Co-Founder of Zeo

July 1, 2009 1:24 PM  
Blogger jeff lockwood said...

Hi Scott -- Great idea. We (Novartis) would be happy to be added to the list. We have several ongoing programs that reach out to students K-post-doc. One program is the Novartis International BioCamp which we will be hosting in late October. BioCamp brings 75 postdocs from around the world together for a 4 day biotech bootcamp focused on giving them the nuts and bolts they will need to be succesful biotech entrepreuers. Maybe we could do something around that.


July 1, 2009 5:17 PM  
Anonymous Michael Raybman said...


An addition to this idea could be having colleges host events where a couple of execs/developers from a particular company and all interested students from the area would be invited.

Brandeis, for example, is starting a new master's in CS with entrepreneurship program next year, so they're looking for opportunities like that.

There have been such events happening at various colleges but usually within business club/dept of a single school.

July 1, 2009 10:22 PM  
Blogger nabeel said...

Thanks for the include Scott. We've had high school kids come by Conduit before and would certainly welcome it at any time.

July 2, 2009 8:52 AM  
Blogger JC said...

All the Boston-area business schools have industry-specific clubs that sponsor annual entrepreneurship treks in the Greater Boston area. HBS and MIT Sloan definitely do them. It sounds like from the comments that you won't have problems finding the cool companies. If you want to get the word out to the students, I can help out with that at MIT and Harvard. Often, it's the student-run clubs that spearhead these initiatives. Please let me know if I can do anything to help publicize to local schools.

July 2, 2009 8:59 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

Hi Scott -

My name is Kate Brodock. By day, I'm the Founder and Principal at Other Side Group, a marketing strategy and social media firm in Boston. On the side, however, I'm the Managing Director of the Boston Chapter of Girls in Tech, a professional organization for women in technology. We have an active and enthusiastic membership of 250+ women after our sixth month in existence here in Boston.

One of our yearly initiatives focuses on community outreach. I would love to chat with you more about helping you with this initiative, as I think we have a lot of the same goals in the community.


July 2, 2009 9:14 PM  
Anonymous Fan Bi said...

It would appear that you are hardly having a problem finding the companies volunteering to connect with students. Its seems to becoming rare that successful start-up/entrepreneurs unwilling to give back to the student community, as long as there is someone reaching out to them.

On the student side, as many have mentioned already, centralized faculty/ organizations definitely have the best access to the interested students to distribute knowledge of such a program. It's a really noble cause to run initiatives to support this increasing supply of idea-rich, experience-poor generation of student entrepreneurs.

Best of luck,
Fan Bi
Co-founder of Blank Label
Writer for CollegeMogul.com

July 3, 2009 3:03 AM  
Blogger Aaron said...

Hey Scott,

A great idea = many great responses...

As a student and an enthusiastic entrepreneur in the making, I believe you will have no issues finding a student population looking to partake. My only suggestion is to emphasize a casual, chit-chat feel about it, as it should NOT feel like an interview. Wish you the best of luck, and if you need any help getting it started, you know where to find me!


- Aaron Gerry

Asistant Organizer for Ultra Light Startups Boston
Writer for CollegeMogul

July 5, 2009 7:41 PM  
Anonymous Ishan said...


Great idea. My firm (Bain Capital Ventures) has been spending quite a bit of time recently on connecting local students with our portfolio companies, and we'd love to be involved in this effort. Two of our companies that I think would be exciting for students are Skyhook Wireless (Wi-Fi based location technology, on all iPhones) and Kiva Systems (automated robotic solutions for warehouse pick and pack).

You might also want to check out WiTricity - we're not an investor but it's an exciting MIT spin-out working on wireless electricity.


July 6, 2009 11:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


When I was a freshman at Northeastern, I attended a weekly seminar that was a series of about 10 different CEOs coming in and doing what you describe. It was that seminar that made me know I really wanted to be an entrepreneur...it was the coolest thing in the world at the time.

Sadly, that seminar only lasted that one year, but it's great to hear people have ideas for ways to similarly inspire students.

July 9, 2009 1:10 AM  
Blogger J said...


When I was a freshman at Northeastern, I attended a weekly seminar that was a series of about 10 different CEOs coming in and doing what you describe. It was that seminar that made me know I really wanted to be an entrepreneur...it was the coolest thing in the world at the time.

Sadly, that seminar only lasted that one year, but it's great to hear people have ideas for ways to similarly inspire students.

July 9, 2009 1:11 AM  
Blogger iamashmartin said...

Scott -

Consider the MIT Innovation Club on board with whatever this ends up being, we're always looking to connect with local people pushing the Innovation Quotient!

Ash Martin
President, MIT Innovation Club

July 10, 2009 1:00 PM  

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