Getting Off Campus: Opportunities for Student Entrepreneurs and Cross-Campus Collaboration

January 21, 2020

It should come as no surprise that Massachusetts is a leader in higher education; and when it comes to entrepreneurship, we clearly shine. According to US News & World Report, Babson has consistently ranked as the #1 entrepreneurship school in the nation, followed by MIT and Harvard all in the top five. With over 100 colleges and universities in the state 29 of which are in Boston, you can imagine the potential output of startup ideas that could be generated from 20% of the city’s population. (Yes, that’s correct - students make up 20% of Boston’s population.) 

Now imagine if two entrepreneurial-minded students from different schools collided and co-founded a company, selling it for $1 billion dollars in less than five years. Sounds unbelievable, right? It’s a true story and it happened right here in MA.

The students: TJ Parker and Eliot Cohen. The schools: MA College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MSPCH) and MIT. The company: Pillpack

While studying pharmacy at MSPCH, TJ Parker ventured to MIT to help organize the $100K Entrepreneurship competition, now in its 31st year. There he would meet his co-founder Eliot Cohen, an MBA student at MIT. By 2013, they’d founded PillPack, a full-service online pharmacy delivering personalized medication to patients’ homes. It would take less than five years for Pillpack to be acquired by Amazon in 2018.

Of course this is a rare example of skyrocketing startup success. But it demonstrates the potential for just one serendipitous meeting, especially in a startup community like Boston, to disrupt an entire industry.

Opportunities range from startup showcases to pitch competitions (just like TJ Parker had done.) Whether attending as a volunteer, organizer, participant, or audience member, the potential to meet talented, entrepreneurial-minded people is abound. 

Babson, MIT, and Harvard, all host pitch competitions:

Babson’s Rocket Pitch is an annual rapid-fire pitch event where students and alumni from Babson, Olin, and Wellesley are given three minutes and three powerpoint slides to deliver their pitch. 

MIT $100K Pitch Competition consists of three independent contests - Pitch, Accelerate, and Launch - throughout the year and each focus on developing specific founder skills. Each team must have at least one MIT student.

Harvard’s New Venture Competition is an annual student competition with two tracks: business and social enterprise. Each team must have at least one Harvard Business School MBA student.

But it doesn’t end there. Numerous pitch events happen regularly across colleges and universities in MA. 

MITEF-Cambridge is a non-profit organization that supports early-stage entrepreneurs. Their annual Beantown Throwdown, the region’s top multi-university startup pitch competition, is in its seventh year and the number of participating colleges climbs every year. In 2019, they hosted student teams from 14 schools.

“What we’re really trying to do here is to promote some cross-collaboration between the schools and open the students’ eyes to what a great community of support we have here in Boston for early stage startups. Hopefully that will keep them here and innovating long after they graduate.” says Katja Wald, Executive Director of MITEF-Cambridge.

The opportunities for cross-campus collaboration is here, your literal next step could be off your campus, and onto another. 

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