College launches new opportunity for students to pursue startups

by Christina Bartson / Beacon Staff • March 20, 2014

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An information session was held in the Beard Room on the Accelerator program on March 14.
An information session was held in the Beard Room on the Accelerator program on March 14.

Emerson’s new Accelerator program will teach aspiring business starters to be a new kind of triple threat — entrepreneurs who are impactful, chase their passions, and make money, said one of the program’s designers, Tripp Clemens, a 2013 graduate. 

Launched March 10, the two-year extracurricular track was devised by Clemens and Jake Bailey, who also graduated in 2013, to complement the Emerson Experience in Entrepreneurship program, or E3, the college’s entrepreneurial studies minor. By providing additional opportunities and resources, including $6,000 each semester, according to its website, the program will allow undergraduate and graduate students to pursue startups, said Bailey.

“We believe Accelerator will foster entrepreneurialism on campus in a way that hasn’t been done before,” said Bailey. “If you look at the disciplines across Emerson — all majors and programs — what we do at the college is connect with people. If you look at the heart of entrepreneurship, it’s about connecting with people to solve problems, and Emerson students have the communication skills to do this well.”

Bailey and Clemens both currently run startups. Clemens said he started Windy Films, a film production company that tells stories of social impact. Bailey founded Recommenu, an app that aims to help customers order the best meals based on menu reviews.

A year ago, Bailey and Clemens pitched the idea for Accelerator to the late Karl Baehr, who founded and led E3, and he urged them to submit a proposal to President M. Lee Pelton, said Clemens. In August, Clemens said, Pelton read their six-page plan, and the following day they began scheduling a formal presentation in October to the Board of Trustees, the Board of Overseers, and the Board of Alumni.

“We had the blessing from the top and the support from the bottom,” said Clemens. 

Accelerator will be financed through a fund established by Emerson trustees and overseers, and receive budgetary support from the college, said Stanley Miller, an adjunct professor in business studies and E3 guest lecturer. Miller said Pelton asked him to be the faculty administrator of Accelerator.

Junior marketing communication major Melanie Katz, who started a writing help service called Will Edit for Coffee her freshman year, said some Emerson students have found a creative outlet in startups, and that this opportunity to explore entrepreneurialism could be beneficial for them. 

“In many ways, business is an artistic endeavor, and Accelerator will provide a platform for that,” said Katz.

The program is part of Pelton’s commitment to advance innovation at the school and cultivate what he called Emerson’s students’ “entrepreneurial energy,” according to an email he sent to the college community announcing Accelerator’s launch. Pelton wrote he envisioned a “creative laboratory” to foster fresh products and services.

Accelerator is that laboratory — which Clemens said will provide space, which has yet to be fixed, pizza nights with guest lecturers, and mentorship from local entrepreneurs whom organizers plan to have meet with participants bi-weekly on campus. He said they have secured most of the mentors, and they plan to announce them throughout the spring semester. The funds will be divided up by merit determined by investors, and four industry leaders who will be announced this summer, said Clemens. 

In the first year of the program, students will organize their teams, define their missions, and design business plans to prepare to pitch their product or service to investors, and in year two, students will test their start-up on the market, said Clemens. 

“First year, you pour the concrete, and the second year, you let people walk on it,” he said.

Getting experience before graduation can be equally important to the lessons students learn while sitting at desks, Bailey said.

“A key part in being a successful entrepreneur is learning to engage with the market to improve your product or service,” said Bailey. “Which is why the real life experience year two provides is essential.”

Applications to the program will be accepted through May 1 and are available on the program’s website. Clemens said they will take three teams of one to four people.

“We don’t want to limit ourselves — there’s nothing off the table, and everyone is welcome to apply,” said Clemens, who encouraged students to attend the April 4 workshop from 1:30 - 4 p.m. in the Bill Bordy Theater.

“You can build your own career to be personally fulfilling, financially stable, and impactful,” said Clemens.