When Faith D’Isa first heard that the annual Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit would be in Boston this October, she knew she had to go.
“If I don’t get this scholarship,” D’Isa said of the financial support Forbes offered Emerson juniors, seniors, and graduate students, “I’m going to pay the $600 it costs to go.”
The Individually-Designed Interdisciplinary Program senior was elated some weeks later to find out she had been awarded a proverbial golden ticket to the international summit for young entrepreneurs. But instead of chocolate rivers and everlasting gobstoppers, she’d soon indulge in the words of noteworthy professionals and the company of her driven peers.
D’Isa was ultimately one of 147 Emerson students who were given a free pass to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Summit, according to Sharon Duffy, interim senior associate dean of campus life.
D’Isa said she started a Facebook chat for everyone from the college who would be attending, but the chat quickly became unwieldy and evolved into a private group of more than 100 students.
“This whole thing is about networking, so I figured why not network together,” she said.
Thousands of college students and young professionals from across the world poured into the city from Oct. 16 to 19 to hear from some of the most iconic names in business, entertainment, and athletics, including founder of Virgin Group Sir Richard Branson, actress and entrepreneur Jessica Alba, and Olympian Michael Phelps.
“[Forbes 30 Under 30] is great for students to connect, but it’s also great for our city and for sharing ideas,” Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said as he roamed between the tents of the buzzing Under 30 Village in City Hall Plaza, a meeting point for all summit participants.
While the Under 30 Village served as a hub for networking and entertainment, attendees flocked to the content stages around the city to hear from industry professionals.
These stages—Capital at Faneuil Hall, Impact at Northeastern University, Tech at Emerson, and Create at the Harvard Business School—featured panels and presentations from entrepreneurs, celebrities, and venture capitalists.
The Cutler Majestic Theatre hosted an unfamiliar bunch when its doors opened Monday afternoon to hundreds interested in technology and development. The Cutler Majestic stage, typically home to Emerson productions, presented some of the biggest players in the tech industry, including Ashton Kutcher and Guy Oseary, co-founders of Sound Ventures.
Scott Wallace, senior production manager for the Office of the Arts, said preparing for Forbes wasn’t much different from the hundreds of other productions his office coordinates each semester.
“It’s another event that we dedicate all of our professional skills and attention to detail to make the college look the best it can look for the people who are there,” Wallace said.
But Amanda Kochey, senior performing arts major and senior usher for the Office of the Arts, said the summit posed a unique challenge: more people showed up than could be packed into the venue, which seats 1,100 at capacity.
Kochey said she volunteered to help corral the unwieldy crowd on her day off and ended up missing class because of it.
“I don’t know how it could have been managed better,” Kochey said. “They just shouldn’t have booked as many people as they did.”
One reason for the backup, Kochey said, may have been that Emerson invited students, staff, and faculty to an event that had so many registered already.
Duffy said she brokered this deal with Forbes to give opportunities to members of the Emerson community who weren’t eligible for or didn’t receive the scholarship.
Senior marketing communications major Alex Ilyadis took advantage of this opportunity. He said he went to the Tech stage because he’s anticipating a career in the industry.
Ilyadis said he felt mixed emotions about his experience. He said he enjoyed Ashton Kutcher’s panel and the enthusiastic speech given by the 25-year-old Canadian entrepreneur Brian Wong, co-founder of the advertizing company Kiip. But he didn’t connect with the product pitches from young entrepreneurs, he said, and felt uncomfortable about moderators’ tendency to cater to male panelists more than females.
“I know that Forbes is male-centric,” he said. “A lot of females are doing kick-ass work, but it seemed like they weren’t given the chance to talk about it.”
Senior communications studies major Lea LeBlanc said both days of panels on Northeastern’s Impact stage, located in Blackwell Auditorium at Ell Hall, were helpful to her as a member of Emerson’s E3 entrepreneurial program.
“It was really valuable to hear where the passion was,” she said.
The aspiring social entrepreneur said her favorite panel was “Changing the Conversation, ” which addressed ways to achieve success as an industry outsider.
LeBlanc said only one panel disappointed her: “Reforming the World’s Workplace.” The panel aimed to take on issues of gender in the workplace, but LeBlanc said only one of the five panelists was a woman of color, and that the moderator failed to address issues of intersectionality, the crossover of social identities that can sprout new forms of discrimination.
Leblanc said she still took the summit as an opportunity to network and learn. She gave out business cards and pitched ideas to other attendees, she added.
“I’m asking myself, ‘If they did it why can’t I do it?’ And I will,” she said. “I guess I learned that you’ve just got to go for it.”
Of the opportunities available to the nearly 150 students who received the scholarship from Forbes, the Create stage in Burden Hall at the Harvard Business School was clearly the most popular, according to a poll D’Isa posted in the Facebook group she created.
Of the various entrepreneurs, artists, and athletes that spoke at the event—including co-founder of theSkimm Carly Zakin, recording artist Halsey, and USA Olympic gymnastic captain Aly Raisman—the person that stood out to her most was Broadway star Okieriete Onaodowan, known for his role in the award-winning production Hamilton.
“They did a smart thing by getting people with very different backgrounds,” she said.
D’Isa said Onaodowan’s speech about his professional life, particularly his pursuit of documentary filmmaking, showed that sometimes people have hidden and unexpected passions.
Her only complaint was that she didn’t have time to do as much as she would have liked to, she said. She said the combination of the music festival, the bar crawl, and the food festival, in addition to the content stages, was a bit overwhelming.
Although she spent most of her time with Emerson students there, she said the U30 Create stage offered her opportunities to meet and connect with people whose passions may not match hers, but are encouraging nonetheless.
“I got a lot of great advice from the speakers, I was able to interact with people who taught me things about my industry and other industries and how they work together,” D’Isa said. “It allowed me to become a more capable professional.”