Bright Young Things: Boston’s Student Startups
Quiyk is a sports apparel company that designs and distributes
Quidditch uniforms. Little Luxuries provides cosmetics to women in hospitals to give them confidence during their healing process. Jebbit is an online venture that pays individuals to interact with product websites and online advertisements. Covenu sells Android tablets to restaurants to improve communication between waiters and kitchen staff. While all these companies have vastly different products and goals, their common link is that their founders and CEOs are all under 24 years old.
We live in the age of the young entrepreneur—an age post-“Social Network,” where Mark Zuckerberg is not that much of a wunderkind. Instagram, Tumblr, Spotify, Dropbox, Pinterest, and HerCampus were all founded by individuals under 30. Today’s young adults know that a good idea and a lot of initiative are enough to render success within reach. Some would attribute the rising numbers of young entrepreneurs to the Internet—it is easier to market, communicate, and brand than ever before—but that would take too much credit away from the young innovators themselves.
Quiyk was created to offer Quidditch teams official apparel that they couldn’t get anywhere else. The company, founded by Emerson students Eric Wahl and Matt Lowe, was launched in 2012 at the Quidditch World Cup and is now the official apparel provider for the International Quidditch Association. Wahl was recently listed as one of Bostinno.com’s “12 Student Entrepreneurs to Keep Your Eye On” along with the founders of Little Luxuries and Jebbit. Wahl stated ,“I consider myself an entrepreneur because I am making an attempt to bring innovation and standardization to the world of Quidditch—a previously untapped market. To be honest, I have never really labeled myself an entrepreneur. Being an entrepreneur is more about doing something you care about and less about attempting to create labels for yourself.”
Wahl explained that the biggest difficulty he has faced thus far is time management, despite the fact that he’s working on something he cares about deeply. He is a full-time student at Emerson, a member of the varsity basketball team, and the production director of Quiyk. With all of that, “and attempting to have a social life,” he explains, “sometimes you wish there were a few more hours in the day.”
Ashley Macaulay has faced similar difficulties balancing her work as a Boston College student and her responsibilities as the CEO of her startup, Little Luxuries. Despite this challenge, she credits her success to her dedication and that of her team. Macaulay started Little Luxuries after spending a month in the hospital, recovering from a car accident. Her mother brought in nail polish and hand lotion one day to distract her from the recovery, and the resulting mood boost acted as inspiration. “It is a small concept that can make a significant difference in the lives of women in the hospital,” explains Macaulay. “While we recognize that beauty is not a proxy for healing, we certainly feel it can catalyze the process.”
When asked about being a member of Bostinno’s list of “young entrepreneurs,”, Macaulay remarked, “Many people have this misconception that only people with truly novel ideas can be called entrepreneurs, but I think the term extends to everyone with an intellectual curiosity and the dedication to develop ideas…the boundaries and conventional notions of what it means to have a startup are changing and making entrepreneurship so much more accessible.”
Another start-up working to change conventions is Jebbit, founded by three Boston College students in 2011. The company’s current COO, Jonathan Lacoste, is also on Bostinno.com’s student entrepreneur list. Lacoste is a sophomore at Boston College who started his first company in high school—an online app that synced students’ calendars with local events they were interested in. Today, as COO of Jebbit, Lacoste contends that his online advertising platform is one of those positive innovations that could make a real difference in the world. He and the Jebbit team hope that someday the online user experience with advertising can be a positive one, as opposed to the pop-up bombardment that is common practice today. Lacoste plans on taking a leave of absence from BC in May to focus more on his work with Jebbit.
Lacoste believes that any student with a passion can be an entrepreneur, but cautions that time commitment is not the only difficulty: “With young age, some members of the business community have a harder time taking some of the innovations you’re proposing seriously. I’ve seen it where the exact same business plan is proposed by a 19-year-old and a 40-year-old, and simply because of age, the 40-year-old was able to convince others of his business more [easily].You have to make sure that this doesn’t deter you and that you let your creativity, enthusiasm, and passion substitute for your lack of experience.”
That being said, lack of experience seems to be less and less of a real issue as more young people are starting successful businesses. There are many students across the country building businesses, including here at Tufts: Spencer Schoeben and Eric Peckham are two Tufts students with burgeoning businesses. Some start even younger, like Billy Ma and Naren Inukoti, two seniors at Acton-Boxborough Regional High School whose company Covenu—intended to increase efficiency in restaurants by increasing communication—has already started turning heads.
Ma and Inukoti recently participated in Boston Start Up Weekend and NECINA, a non-profit organization working to foster entrepreneurship. Ma explained that the importance of networking has been one of the most significant things he’s discovered in his work, “I think [networking] is one of the most valuable skills in life because you never know what kind of connections you will make. Look around local areas for business plan competitions or accelerator programs, and be passionate. One of the most important things as a new entrepreneur is having guidance and help as you enter the new world.”
All these student enterprisers expressed similar sentiments about the importance of networking, particularly among the growing population of young entrepreneurs. Eric Wahl explained, “I absolutely see more people our age jumping into business and becoming entrepreneurs. You see success stories of college students making it big (Zuckerberg is the obvious one, but there are hundreds more) and it motivates others to attempt to do the same.” Jonathan Lacoste concurred, “It’s fantastic to see so many young entrepreneurs getting experience early and trying to start a business of their own.”
These youthful innovators offered resounding encouragement to other hopeful young entrepreneurs. They enthusiastically advised students with good ideas to follow in their footsteps, and recommended hard work, passion, and perseverance in dealing with older adults who may eschew young ideas. They emphasized realizing the value of having a team, and being careful of where you spend your time. But all recommended the entrepreneurial route strongly: “I’m only in high school. If I can do it, you can do it” Ma, of Covenu, asserted.
These young entrepreneurs don’t yet know exactly what they will do with their futures. Ma plans to go to college and work his way from there. Macaulay and Wahl agree they will foster their companies and see what else the future holds. “Growing up, I always had a plan for exactly what I wanted to do, but over the past few years running companies, I’ve realized that taking one day at a time is the best strategy,” Lacoste reflected. “I have ultimately decided that it is still way too early for me to know what the next step is.”