Five minutes to make an impact

For up-​​and-​​coming entre­pre­neurs, per­haps the most impor­tant make-​​or-​​break moment is the one when they have the oppor­tu­nity to pitch their busi­ness to investors capable of cat­a­pulting their promising ideas into entirely new territory.

More than a dozen entre­pre­neurs with North­eastern ties had that oppor­tu­nity on June 12, 2013, at the bian­nual Pitch-​​a-​​thon. The event was orga­nized by IDEA, the university’s student-​​run ven­ture accel­er­ator, and held at the Mass­Chal­lenge head­quar­ters in the Inno­va­tion Dis­trict of Boston’s water­front. But rather than speaking to just one poten­tial investor, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of each of 18 ven­tures were given five min­utes before an audi­ence of 150, many of them ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists or angel investors looking for the next busi­ness to fund or mentor.

“Why are we here?” asked North­eastern senior Phoebe Farber at the end of her pitch for CareerApp, a web plat­form that con­nects job can­di­dates with employers. “We’re here because we’re fundraising.”

CareerApp, like each of the fea­tured ven­tures, has already achieved some suc­cess. But in order to grow, it needs money.”We’ve proven our con­cept and we’re ready to grow,” Farber told investors.

IDEA offers a range of resources and ser­vices to star­tups, and it hosts Pitch-​​a-​​thon twice a year to show­case the stu­dent, alumni, and faculty-​​run ven­tures it sup­ports. Four ven­tures in IDEA—3-Spark, 88 Acres, Quad Tech­nolo­gies, and Plexx—are also final­ists in this summer’s Mass­Chal­lenge com­pe­ti­tion, which pro­vides men­toring and space to more than 100 ven­tures from around the globe.

“I’m amaz­ingly impressed with the pro­gram at North­eastern,” said Scott Bailey, the Mass­Chal­lenge director of part­ner­ships. “The power of the stu­dent body is some­thing no one should underestimate.”

The bur­geoning entre­pre­neurs prepped dili­gently for the Pitch-​​a-​​thon, working with IDEA coaches and men­tors to craft the per­fect pre­sen­ta­tion, one that intro­duced their busi­ness, high­lighted what made it unique, and explained how an investor could help it grow and develop.

Entrepreneurs with ties to Northeastern got the chance to pitch their business ideas to potential investors and mentors on Wednesday night at IDEA’s biannual Pitch-a-thon. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

While the ven­tures pre­senting at Pitch-​​a-​​thon rep­re­sented a range of categories—from high-​​tech biosen­sors and cutting-​​edge 3-​​D printers to mobile apps for the restau­rant industry and a web plat­form to plan group outings—each addressed a real-​​world problem and had a fully-​​established busi­ness plan.

Take Lean­Wagon, a fledg­ling ven­ture that this year has already grown from two employees to a staff of 10. The com­pany aims to help small and medium-​​sized com­pa­nies deploy incentive-​​based pro­grams to help their employees lose weight and become healthier, deliv­ering the kind of sav­ings in health­care and other costs that large cor­po­ra­tions like CVS and Safeway have been able to achieve through pro­grams of their own. But those incentive-​​based pro­grams, while very suc­cessful, are dif­fi­cult to imple­ment on a smaller scale since they require part­ner­ships with a range of com­pa­nies, from food providers to gyms.

Ben Maitland-Lewis, CEO of, a portfolio web application for the music and entertainment industry, presents at the Pitch-a-thon. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

“Most small and mid-​​sized com­pa­nies don’t have the resources to run those pro­grams on their own,” said co-​​founder Dustin Haines. “That’s where Lean­Wagon comes in.”

The formal event even­tu­ally turned into a net­working ses­sion, with poten­tial investors and men­tors meeting one-​​on-​​one with the young entre­pre­neurs. North­eastern entrepreneur-​​in-​​residence Bob Lentz and IDEA adviser Dan Gre­gory, along with other fac­ulty from the D’Amore-McKim School of Busi­ness, were on hand help the hopeful entre­pre­neurs make con­nec­tions and schedule meet­ings for more information.

“It was an impor­tant showing for our capital-​​seeking ven­tures because it max­i­mizes their expo­sure to angel and VC investors and offers the audi­ence an array of invest­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties across dif­ferent indus­tries,” said IDEA CEO Max Kaye. “I was impressed with the quality of the pitches, the level of sales­man­ship, show­man­ship and pro­fes­sion­alism all our ven­tures brought to the table.”