How to Start a Startup at Northeastern

Ever since its founding in 1898, Northeastern has been an unorthodox, experimental university highlighted by its acclaimed and hugely popular cooperative education model. In the world of entrepreneurship, Northeastern has continued this flare for the unorthodox and the unique and has built a complex, rich and high-paced entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Today, there are over 270 active student startups on campus. That’s one startup for every 50 undergraduate students. Entrepreneurship has become part of the university’s lifeblood and as a member of that ecosystem, I can tell you that it is thriving.

This article is divided into six parts, each of which sheds light on Northeastern’s startup assembly line and how you can get involved.

Part One: Learn

Northeastern has made an institutional commitment to entrepreneurship and there are many ways to learn about its different facets at an academic or practical level. Academically, Northeastern offers several notable courses including:

Aside from academics, you can learn some of the foundations of entrepreneurship via several experiential offerings. First and foremost, you can join one of the leading campus entrepreneurship organizations such as Entrepreneurs Club, Scout or Generate. Each of these directly involve students working with ventures, meeting entrepreneurs and operationally running a club. Some notable resources to check out:

  • TechTreks: Run by the Entrepreneurs Club, the TechTreks program organizes visits to the offices of leading tech companies in the New England area.
  • InNUvate: Run by the Entrepreneurs Club, the InNUvate program pulls together a team of about 5 Northeastern students and tasks them with using design thinking and rapid prototyping to develop an MVP that solves a problem in the Northeastern community.
  • Entrepreneur DinnersRun by the Entrepreneurs Club these dinners bring together experienced and successful entrepreneurs for small private dinners with students.
  • Scout Labs: Scout Labs is a design thinking team run by Scout that aims to use the best of design thinking and prototyping to solve a problem in the Northeastern/Boston community.
  • Club Scout: If you just want to hang, Scout runs Club Scout every Tuesday where you can meet those involved with Scout and get feedback on your portfolio and design work.

The richest learning opportunity of all, however, lies in Northeastern’s Cooperative Education Program. The required program is a six-month full-time job placement at a company in your field. By being positioned in Boston and having a well-curated international network, Northeastern has co-ops in a rich cross-section of entrepreneurial companies that include venture firms, early-stage startups, late-stage startups and established tech giants.

Part Two: Take the Leap

When you’ve had that lightbulb moment and are ready to take the leap, there are several potential routes you can direct that energy towards.

  • The Husky Startup Challenge: Run by the Entrepreneurs Club, it’s an intensive 5-week bootcamp every Saturday that helps you flesh out your idea, business model and go-to-market strategy. It culminates with a demo day where you pitch in front of venture investors and entrepreneurs from across the Boston ecosystem.
  • Biotech SeedcampRun by the Biotech Entrepreneurs Club, the seedcamp focuses on helping early-stage biotech ventures make the key strides necessary to be succesful.
  • Health Science EntrepreneursHealth Sciences Entrepreneurs (HSE) promotes health sciences innovation within the Northeastern community by equipping Northeastern health-tech startups with specialized education and hands-on mentoring.

Part Three: Build

The beating heart of Northeastern’s startup ecosystem is IDEA, our student-led venture accelerator. IDEA provides entrepreneurs and the Northeastern community with the support, in-kind resources and educational experience of developing a business from core concept to launch. It’s now 7 years into its operations with over 270 active ventures, 35 venture coaches and an extensive operations and advisory team. Suffice to say, it’s a rich ecosystem that is perfectly designed to help you build your company. An additional 45 ventures have launched from the program, raising $76M in external funding.

IDEA also has several resources that you can take advantage of throughout its StageGate Process:

  • Gap Fund: The IDEA Gap fund is a $10,000 non-equity grant available on a bimonthly basis to ventures in IDEA
  • Prototype Fund: The Prototype fund is a $1,000 non-equity grant available to anyone in the Northeastern community — not just IDEA ventures — to help in prototype development.
  • Alpha Fund: The Alpha Fund is a $10,000 non-equity grant for early stage deep tech prototyping — not just IDEA ventures
  • Annual Pitch-a-thon: IDEA’s annual pitch-a-thon brings together leading investors in the Boston community to hear pitches by a curated list of IDEA’s most investment ready ventures.
  • Services Providers: IDEA has partnered with over 20 services providers that help ventures with the tech, marketing, sales and legal work involved in starting a company.
  • Tech Services (AWS/Azure/Watson/Alexa): IDEA provides credits to its ventures to use such platforms
  • Entrepreneurs in Residence: Bob Lentz (Tech/Software), Kevin Scanlon(Biotech/Life Sciences)

Part Four: Pre-Launch

Once a venture has done a tour of duty in IDEA and is on the verge of entering or already in the “Go” stage, there are several key campus organizations that can help put the final touches to your product and business.

Scout (of which I’m a proud alum) is Northeastern’s student-led design studio and does branding, UX/UI design, web design and development and application design for early-stage startups (as well as other clients). Scout has a rich portfolio of work and deep experience working with early-stage startups across verticals such as BlurrMeeting HabitsZealery and many more. Scout can help a startup create a compelling, professional and engaging brand identity, help unify a company’s messaging and create fantastic web and mobile experiences. Each of these are essential to enable successful growth.

Generate is Northeastern’s student-led product development studio and focuses on hardware product development including mechanical, electrical, firmware and manufacturing design for early-stage startups in the Northeastern University community. Generate has a diverse portfolio of work to-date and is the go to resource for hardware product development on campus.

IP Co-Lab is Northeastern’s law clinic run by students in the Law School. The IP Co-lab provides many different resources and advice for ventures, including help with incorporation and patent filing for early-stage startups on campus.

Together, these organizations put you in a position to successfully launch your venture by helping you refine your product, build a meaningful brand, and navigate the legal complexities of starting a company.

Part 5: Launch & Scale

Taking a venture through the Husky Startup Challenge to IDEA and then to Scout or Generate (or both) brings a company to a state of readiness to launch at scale. These organizations help a company nail down a business plan and target markets, prototyping/MVP, a strong brand and design aesthetic and excellent hardware.

To kickoff a first scaling cycle, ventures have access to the following resources:

  • Pitch — A — Thon: IDEA’s annual pitch-a-thon brings together leading investors in the Boston community to hear pitches by a curated list of IDEA’s most investment ready ventures.
  • VMN: The Northeastern’s Venture Mentor Network pairs startups high-quality, experienced mentors to help navigate the complexities of building a business.
  • Review sessions with angel investors
  • Dorm Room Fund: A student-run VC firm that invests $20,000 via a convertible note in exciting early-stage student entrepreneurs
  • Rough Draft Ventures: A student-run VC firm that invests up to $25,000 via a convertible note in exciting early-stage student entrepreneurs

Part 6: Postscript


  • IDEA: Northeastern’s student-led venture accelerator and the perfect place to build your company
  • Scout: Northeastern’s student-led design studio specializing in branding, UX/UI design, web design and development and mobile app design
  • Generate: Northeastern’s student led hardware product development lab specializing in mechanical, electrical and firmware and manufacturing design.
  • Entrepreneurs Club: Your one stop shop to learn about entrepreneurship and connect with entrepreneurs
  • Biotech Entrepreneurs Club: A specialized organization catered to the needs of biotech entrepreneurs
  • IP Co-Lab: Northeastern’s student-run law clinic offering ventures advice in navigating the legal complexities of starting a company

Campus Initiatives

New Kids on the Block

Resource Superlist

  • IDEA Gap Fund
  • IDEA Prototype Fund
  • Alpha Fund
  • IDEA Service Providers
  • Dorm Room Fund
  • Rough Draft Ventures

Dorm Room Fund is dedicated to supporting student founders across the country and helping them reach new heights. Working on a startup? Get in touch ontwitter or here.






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