As I have written in previous blog posts, I interned at a startup called Jebbit this past summer, which was founded by several BC alum and a couple to BC dropouts. That being said, I decided not to do a blog post on my experience at Jebbit, but rather an organization that Jebbit connected me to called Soaring Startup Circle Venture Partners (SSC Venture Partners). I was first exposed to this fund by Tom Coburn, the CEO of Jebbit and Duncan Walker, the head of R&D at Jebbit. Tom is a general partner and co-founder of the fund and Duncan serves as venture partner. After explaining my passion for entrepreneurship and venture capital, both Tom and Duncan began to bring me into the vast entrepreneurship network that is SSC Venture Partners.
SSC Venture Partners functions as a venture fund that invests in startups affiliated with the Boston College community. The fund was founded by several BC alumni who have been successful as entrepreneurs, as venture capitalists, or even as a combination of both. Naturally, the fund’s goal is to make money by investing in BC affiliated startups, however, it does much more than that. SSC Venture Partners also runs an accelerator program for promising startups. This accelerator program gives BC entrepreneurs to a vast network of successful BC alumni entrepreneurs and investors who are passionate about helping and mentoring BC students. Along with the accelerator program, SSC Venture Partners oftentimes runs 1-on-1 workshops with aspiring entrepreneurs on campus, helps students find partnerships, and will meet with students whenever they need some sort of advice with their ventures. Overall, SSC Venture Partners acts as the glue to the BC entrepreneurship community by bringing together investors, mentors, and aspiring BC entrepreneurs.
This summer at Jebbit, Tom and Duncan occasionally invited me to different events SSC Venture Partners was running. The first SSC event that I attended was for the 2018 SSC accelerator companies to meet and hear Justin Bingham speak. Justin Bingham is a serial entrepreneur who is the current CTO of Janiero Digital, a company that specializes in providing extremely high technical solutions to extremely difficult problems. An example of Justin’s work would be building a decentralized internet (Yes, like in the show Silicon Valley) for Tim Berners-Lee, the founder of the world-wide web. Tim Berners-Lee was actually in the office, when we visited, but unfortunately he was unable to meet with us. Myself, along with the co-founders of the startups in the SSC accelerator were able to hear Justin speak about his founding journey and ask him valuable questions about his several successful ventures. Justin was brilliant and his insights were outstanding. Justin’s work has truly changed the world, and it was extremely inspiring to hear his encouragement to us listeners about how starting a company is a leap of faith, and even when nobody else thinks what you are doing will work, that is when you need to put the most effort in. Along with Justin’s inspiration, he also provided valuable insight to how to find the right price for your product, how to deal with setbacks, and how to best allocate the most important resource of all, cash. Upon ending this meeting with Justin, Duncan and the several BC accelerator startup teams invited me to SSC Venture Partners big event, Demo Day for the accelerator companies.
SSC Venture Partners Demo Day was a networking event for the BC entrepreneurship community to come together to listen to keynote speaker Dan Nova of Highland Capital as well as hear pitches from the several BC accelerator startups. The startups for the 2018 summer accelerator were Wunderite, Bruzd, and Fisherman, which I will get into more later. The event was fantastic to say the least. It was hosted in Avison Young’s State Street office, which was on the top floor of a tall building overlooking water surrounding the North End and had outstanding views from their 360 degree balcony. Upon arriving to the event, myself, along with several friends including fellow BC tech-trekker Frank Bell, spoke to many members of the BC entrepreneurship community.
Soon after, the keynote speaker Dan Nova began to address the crowd. Dan told his founding story as well as described his experiences as a venture capitalist. What stood out to me most was his answer to what he values most when analyzing a pitch. He said that he first looks at the people. Would they be able to take their product to the next level? Next, he looks at the problem the entrepreneurs are trying to solve and the market of that problem. He mentioned that it is important that the market is big enough for the venture to have potential to take off and that the market is not already filled with large powerful corporations. The last important factor to consider was the product. He explained that the product came last because it will always change and iterate. Some of the largest, most successful companies in the world initially pitched products or applications that were extremely different from what we see they are working on today.
Next, the student entrepreneurs were given the opportunity to pitch their companies. The first pitch came from Fisherman. What Fisherman does is provide website solutions in a new way. When a small business owner tries to design their website, they oftentimes give up because it is too confusing, takes to long, and just don’t have the specific design skills that will make the website successful. Fisherman proved this issue through several surveys, videos of small business owners who they filmed trying to build a website, and the feedback they gave after using a website building service. That being said, Fisherman is providing a solution to this problem by creating a service that builds aesthetically pleasing and functional websites for consumers so they do not need to struggle to build it themselves.
The next venture that pitched was Wunderite. Wunderite is a startup that changes the way people do insurance. People oftentimes have a very difficult time filing for insurance and renewing insurance payments or contracts. That being said, Wunderite provides a technical solution to this issue by making the acquisition and renewal of insurance much easier. The insurance data you input is saved digitally, can be accessed via app, and is intuitive. This removes the tedious time and effort people spend filling out paperwork for insurance. The founder, Peter MacDonald, mentioned in his pitch that Wunderite strives to be the “TurboTax” for insurance.
Last, but not least was the startup called Bruzd. Supermarkets throw away 60 million tons of unused produce every year because it is either too small, oddly shaped, or blemished. This produce taste the same as normal produce, however, supermarkets just simply don’t want ugly fruit on their shelves. Bruzd provides a solution by taking fruits from supermarkets and delivering them to consumers for a lower price than they normally would have paid. By doing so, Bruzd is providing consumers with less expensive produce, creating new revenue for supermarkets, and finally, eliminating food waste in landfills.
The pitches were all very impressive and inspirational for many people in the room (even some freshman) to go out and start their own companies. However, probably the most meaningful part of the night for me came after the pitches, when I was fortunate to speak with both Tom Coburn, CEO of Jebbit, and Justin Robinson, Co-Founder of Drizly. In a nutshell, Drizly is a company that came out of BC that helps make the delivery of alcohol possible. I told Justin and Tom my entrepreneurship aspirations and they gave me extremely valuable insight and inspiration to what it takes to be a co-founder and explained that once you get an idea with promise, what you need to do is work as hard as possible to find a solution. At the end of our conversation, Tom and Justin both offered to get lunch with me in the near future to help me analyze any company ideas I had or assist me in any way possible.
Upon reflecting from this experience I learned several valuable lessons. First, it is vital to grow your network (especially through BC), introduce yourself to people who you think you don’t even belong in the same room as, and to ask for help and guidance. I think that the BC entrepreneurship network I have formed through SSC Venture Partners has given me a valuable platform to ask for help, guidance, and mentorship. BC alumni want to help students, and when you take a leap of faith to ask for help or to sit down for coffee, they will say yes. This type of network will help you not only grow as an entrepreneur, but also as a person. Insight gained from human interaction is not something that can be learned by reading a textbook or watching a Ted Talk. Growing your network and asking for help is not hard, but its rewards can be endless.