Come to College! Get Funded! Northeastern Offers The Nation's Only Student-Run Venture Accelerator, IDEA

Northeastern University has a student-run venture accelerator with $250K in cash. Is this what it takes to keep kids on campus?

College is crazy expensive—and it's getting more expensive all the time. Entrepreneurs like Peter Thiel are fond of saying it's not worth it. But 23-year-old Chris Wolfel, who is getting his bachelor's from Northeastern University this spring, found college to be not only a good investment, but the perfect launching pad for his entrepreneurial dreams.

For the last two years, Wolfel has been the CEO of IDEA, the only student-run venture accelerator in the country. Founded in 2009, IDEA offers workshops, meetups, coaching, mentoring, and most importantly, funding, all from alumni donors, for student startups. Wolfel and his team were able to raise $250,000 to help launch almost 300 businesses by students from every school across the university.

The eclectic group has spawned Uturn Audio, which created a retro turntable that raised over $245K on Kickstarter; Njabini, a sustainable apparel company based in Kenya; Tuatara, an e-textbook platform; Pure Pest Management, an organic pest control company now operating in six states; and Mini Pops, a snack food featured in Oprah's "Favorite Things."

"Northeastern right now is one of the biggest hotbeds of entrepreneurship I’ve seen," says Wolfel. He points to the longstanding co-op model to explain why—Northeastern's five-year bachelor's degree program includes three six-month-long full-time internships, so "people come here knowing they're going to work no matter what." For the last few years there's even been a self-co-op model for student entrepreneurs to take time off to work on their own projects.

It could be said that IDEA is challenging the very idea of university education. Is the major purpose of convening a university and charging tuition to allow students to ponder the good life or expand the boundaries of human knowledge—or to turn collegians into entrepreneurs? Maybe it can be both. From art studios to biology labs to law seminars, ideas at Northeastern are actively being converted into cash, and the university is staking a piece of its reputation on the dream of hitting it big. But what happens when the current bubble bursts?

For now, no one is asking. The student entrepreneurs are happy—they find less risk starting up while still on an academic track, and that their student status and alumni network open doors. The administration is happy, too. "Chris Wolfel is the most extraordinary student leader I have had the privilege to work with in my entire academic career," Hugh Courtney, dean of the D'Amore-McKim School of Business, said in a farewell letter. Alumni are happy to be able to support up-and-comers, and sometimes become early-stage investors.

And Wolfel, who is joining a Boston software startup called Yesware and advising other colleges that trying to start venture accelerators, is happy. "I learned as much if not more from IDEA than in my classrooms," he says. "It’s real life."

[Image: Flickr user Steve Jurvetson]

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9 Comments

  • Shelly Brenckman

    Texas A&M University's Startup Aggieland is a student-designed, student-operated business accelerator for student entrepreneurs. We have 24 student startups currently launching and some having successful Kickstarter campaigns. A few of our student startups are self-funded, including one that has a retail storefront operation in the local historical district. Her business makes payroll and employs other students. Another student startup is producing product at Startup Aggieland and shipping worldwide. 
    We have 5,000 sq ft of furnished office space, located in Texas A&M's Research Park. Students have 24/7/365 card ID access to the student-run business accelerator's coworking spaces and kitchen. We provide mentors, resources, workshops, meeting spaces and seed funding, as well as social programs. We don't take equity in student startups. IP developed in the accelerator belongs to the students.  Startup Aggieland is a member of the National Business Incubator Association (NBIA) and a partner with Startup America. We also are a member of the Bryan-College Station Chamber of Commerce. Our university's president, Dr. R. Bowen Loftin, has spoken about Startup Aggieland in Washington DC at the invitation of the U.S. Dept. of Commerce last fall. To learn more about Startup Aggieland, visit: startupaggieland.tamu.edu

  • Shelly Brenckman

    Texas A&M University's Startup Aggieland is a student-designed, student-operated business accelerator for student entrepreneurs. We have 24 student startups currently launching and some having successful Kickstarter campaigns. A few of our student startups are self-funded, including one that has a retail storefront operation in the local historical district. Her business makes payroll and employs other students. Another student startup is producing product at Startup Aggieland and shipping worldwide. 
    We have 5,000 sq ft of furnished office space, located in Texas A&M's Research Park. Students have 24/7/365 card ID access to the student-run business accelerator's coworking spaces and kitchen. We provide mentors, resources, workshops, meeting spaces and seed funding, as well as social programs. We don't take equity in student startups. IP developed in the accelerator belongs to the students.  Startup Aggieland is a member of the National Business Incubator Association (NBIA) and a partner with Startup America. We also are a member of the Bryan-College Station Chamber of Commerce. Our university's president, Dr. R. Bowen Loftin, has spoken about Startup Aggieland in Washington DC at the invitation of the U.S. Dept. of Commerce last fall. To learn more about Startup Aggieland, visit: startupaggieland.tamu.edu

  • Shelly Brenckman

    Howdy Fast Company,
    Please don't delete my comment. It is written very respectfully, as have the last six comments that I've tried to post in the past 24 hours. We are really disappointed that Fast Company posted an article which claims there is only one student-run business accelerator in the nation. This isn't true but your highly regarded editorial staff can choose to leave our information up so people who live in the South might be able to find us too. Northeastern can't serve all of the US and they aren't the only student-run accelerator in the nation. UT is following our lead this summer by experimenting with a student-run business accelerator while the faculty management is on vacation. We learned from UT when we first started our business accelerator two years ago (design phase) by visiting their faculty-run business accelerator for students: Longhorn Startup Camp. There is at least one other student-run business accelerator in the mid-west that we are familiar with and there is no doubt that more of these exist. All of our past comments have been polite and appreciative of the opportunity to include our information too. We rely strictly on surplus and donated supplies. We have no operating budget and our space is free. We take no equity. Any student can use our facility. So your support in making this known is helpful. I've just posted another comment prior to this request. It includes a link to our website. Please allow it to be posted.

    Thanks & Gig `em! 
    Shelly Brenckman
    Marketing Wrangler
    Startup Aggieland
    startupaggieland.tamu.edu
    @aggiestartup

  • Shelly Brenckman

    Startup Aggieland is the "other" student-run business accelerator, located on the west campus of Texas A&M University in College Station, TX. Startup Aggieland was designed by students in 2010-2012 and opened last summer, run entirely by students for student entrepreneurs at Texas A&M. Located in the University's Research Park, students have free use of 5,000 sq ft of Class A furnished office space and 24/7/365 card ID access. The building overlooks a scenic lake where student entrepreneurs meet and hold cookouts, BBQs, ice cream socials and other parties throughout the school year. 

    There are 24 student startups currently launching from Startup Aggieland, some making payroll and two having completed successful Kickstarter programs that were oversubscribed (exceeded their fundraising goal). Student startups at the student-run business accelerator are making payroll and shipping product worldwide. Belgium, Mexico and China have sent delegations in 2012 to tour Startup Aggieland and meet with our student entrepreneurs o learn more about student-run business acceleration. Texas A&M's President, Dr. R. Bowen Loftin, spoke in Washington DC about Startup Aggieland last fall at the invitation of the US Dept. of Commerce. Startup Aggieland is a member of the National Business Incubator Association and a partner in the Startup America program. To learn more, please visit our website: startupaggieland.tamu.edu

  • Shelly Brenckman

    Howdy from the "other" student-run business accelerator, designed by students and operated by students for student entrepreneurs at Texas A&M University. Opened last summer with four student startups, the campus facility now has 24 student startups launching from 5,000 sq ft of Class A office space. One student-owned startup has a retail storefront that makes payroll and employs students, while another student startup is producing and shipping products worldwide from Startup Aggieland after a successful Kickstarter campaign. Last fall, Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin spoke about Startup Aggieland in Washington DC at the invitation of the US Dept of Commerce. Startup Aggieland is a member of the National Business Incubator Association and the Startup America program. Offering free, furnished office space and 24/7/365 card access for students, Startup Aggieland provides free training, mentorship and resources. Learn more: startupaggieland.tamu.edu Follow: @aggiestartup:twitter 

  • Shelly Brenckman

    Texas A&M University has had a student-designed, student-operated business accelerator since last summer-- called Startup Aggieland. Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin spoke in Washington DC last fall about Startup Aggieland at the invitation of the US Dept of Commerce. Startup Aggieland is a partner of Startup America and a member of the National Business Incubator Association. Follow: @aggiestartup or learn more: startupaggieland.tamu.edu

  • Shelly Brenckman

    Learn more about the "other" student-run business accelerator, located in 5,000 sq ft of Class A office space at Texas A&M University's Research Park on campus. Designed by students for students, the new business accelerator is a member of the National Business Incubator Association, Startup America and the Bryan-College Station Chamber of Commerce. There are 24 student startups launching in 2013 from free, furnished offices at Startup Aggieland, many of them making payroll and shipping product. Texas A&M's President, Dr. R. Bowen Loftin, was invited last fall by the U.S. Dept. of Commerce to speak about Startup Aggieland in Washington DC. Ya'll come visit us in the Lone Star State and we'll treat you to a chicken-fried steak, sweet iced tea and fried okra, plus a student-led tour of the Startup! Whoop!!! 

    Website: startupaggieland.tamu.eduFacebook: https://www.facebook.com/Start...

    Twitter:  

    AngelList: https://angel.co/startup-aggie...

  • Shelly Brenckman

    Howdy from Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas-- home of Startup Aggieland, the "other" student-operated business accelerator besides Northeastern's IDEA and among the best student-operated business accelerators in the USA! Whoop!!! Texas A&M's new student-operated business accelerator was designed by students for students who are launching from 5,000 sq ft of Class A furnished office space located in the university's Research Park, overlooking a scenic water feature. The new student-operated business accelerator was developed year-round by students before officially opening on January 24, 2013. 

    Texas A&M's President, Dr. R. Bowen Loftin, spoke about Startup Aggieland last fall in Washington DC at the invitation of the U.S. Dept. of Commerce. The World Future Society has also invited a student worker from Startup Aggieland to speak about the new student business accelerator during the WFS' annual global conference in Chicago this summer. Startup Aggieland is a member of the National Business Incubator Association (NBIA) and the Startup America program, as well as the Bryan-College Station Chamber of Commerce. 

    Student entrepreneurs and members of the accelerator's Student Leadership Council, as well as student Wranglers who serve as evangelists for student-founded startups, all receive free 24/7/365 access to Startup Aggieland. There are 24 student startups currently launching -- all founded and staffed by Texas A&M students, many of whom are making payroll and employing other students at Texas A&M and Blinn College in Bryan, TX.

    Startup Aggieland student entrepreneurs have competed in the EO Global Student Entrepreneur Round-up in San Antonio and the Dell Social Innovation Challenge in Austin. Our student entrepreneurs also are involved as a member of the Collegiate Entrepreneurship Organization (CEO) and with 20-under-20, among other national and regional entrepreneurship programs. 

    We would love to give a tour of our facility to Fast Company, introduce you to our strategic marketing partners-- Rackspace Startup Program and Red Bull-- and have some of our student entrepreneurs demo their new technologies and early stage ventures for your company! Thanks & Gig `em!!!

    Learn more about Startup Aggieland:

    Website: startupaggieland.tamu.edu

    Twitter: @aggiestartup

    Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Start...

    AngelList: https://angel.co/startup-aggie...

    Email: marketing@startupaggieland.tamu.edu

    Visit: Startup Aggieland HQ
    1700 Research Parkway, Ste 150
    Caldwell / Schlumberger Building - Research Park II
    Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas 77845