Start-up incubator helps transform students' ideas into businesses
Bryant Ventures, the University’s start-up incubator, “is basically an innovation lab,” says Nick Cianfaglione ’20, the organization’s president who is also CEO and founder of Northeastern Entertainment Solutions, which specializes in niche services for the music industry and beyond. A branch of Bryant’s chapter of the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization, Ventures helps student entrepreneurs and aspiring student entrepreneurs turn great ideas into viable businesses.
Ventures is a think tank that gets results, says Cianfaglione. “This is a unique opportunity for an entrepreneur to take an idea and bring it to a go-to-market strategy and, most importantly, to market.”
A forum for mentoring
When Cianfaglione first joined Ventures he met the group’s then-President, Ryan Buonaugurio ’18, who founded the RPB Marine company as a student and was named the 2017 CEO Entrepreneur of the Year. The two worked closely to help Cianfaglione develop an idea for his business. That emphasis on mentoring and collaboration defines the group, says Cianfaglione: The entire organization works together to hone each other’s ideas. An Executive Board helps determine how the club can best help its members, and “accelerators” – more established student entrepreneurs – offer guidance to those who are just starting out.
“One of the most important things students need is support for their idea,” notes Melissa Hernandez ’21, who, as the founder of M E L Designs & Prototypes and a Ventures accelerator, offers guidance to other student entrepreneurs. “A lot of students, when they first have their idea, will pitch it to someone and be told ‘Oh no, that will never work.’ It’s much more helpful to say ‘Well, that could work, but I think you’ll need to work on X, Y, and Z.”
“It’s very rewarding to meet with someone who’s facing an obstacle and help them get past it,” says accelerator Garret Moloney ’22, the founder of Signature Decals. “It’s a great experience and it gives you experience as well, because sometimes you’re trying to figure out how to do things that will come up in your own business.”
“I’m President of the club, and I’m still getting good advice from other members,” Cianfaglione agrees.
Weekly Ventures meetings provide a forum for the entrepreneurs, working in a range of markets and fields, to share their progress, brainstorm, and work through roadblocks. Established start-up founders, including Adam Alpert, a Rhode Island entrepreneur who launched the student-based job app Pangea, offer the group world-tested advice and use Ventures students as a resource to assist with issues they face in their own businesses.
"We have students come in who don’t have their own businesses and when they hear everyone talking about what they’re doing, it creates that spark inside of them."
"It’s a really great hangout,” says Matt Hird ’22, who founded the SimpleConnect marketing company and is working on starting a photo booth company. “You get to come and brainstorm, and it’s crazy to see how much people’s businesses grow and change just over the course of a week.”
“You walk into a meeting and you see all these ideas being exchanged and how hard everyone is working,” adds Nick Oliveri ’22, the COO of GeoProtein, a nutritional supplement company that has acquired a national distributor and was recently invited to the PAC 12 student health conference. “Great ideas have been incubated here, and huge ventures have started from here.”
The atmosphere at the weekly meetings is often electric as the entrepreneurs build off one another’s expertise and experience. At a recent meeting, for example, Oliveri and GeoProtein co-founder and CEO Corey Nobille ’22 enlisted Hird in helping them create a new website for their company, while Cianfaglione debated business models with other students and reviewed investor decks.
“I was excited because I hadn’t heard about any other schools having an opportunity like Ventures.”
“We have students come in who don’t have their own businesses and when they hear everyone talking about what they’re doing, it creates that spark inside of them,” says Moloney. “They realize ‘I want to do this, too.’”
All involved agree that Ventures is unique. ”I’ve never been to a school organization, at either the high school or college level, like Ventures where there are 20 kids at a meeting and all of them own a business and they’re all giving you feedback on how to accelerate yours,” says Nobille.
“I was excited because I hadn’t heard about any other schools having an opportunity like Ventures,” says Moloney. “I made sure one of the first things I did at Bryant was join.”
In addition to its weekly meetings, Ventures hosts student entrepreneurship fairs and presentations on topics such as business opportunities students can initiate while still in college. This year it co-sponsored Bryant's annual App-A-Thon, in which students propose a mobile application that addresses a campus need. Submissions covered everything from scheduling group projects to easing the course registration process.
Finding solutions that bring ideas to life, says Cianfaglione, is the entire point of the club. He sees Venture’s work as a natural complement to the rest of his Bryant education. “In class, we learn how to innovate, we learn how to work out problems. And then we come here and make that real.”