Wellesley Women in Business (WWiB) and WeStart are hosting Wellesley’s first startup competition for students to pitch ideas on Nov. 12. The competition is part of an effort to expand resources for business-minded students on campus.
The first of its kind, the event will provide an opportunity for students of all years and backgrounds to receive intensive mentorship for developing their own business plans. In addition, the competition will establish the first Wellesley startup funding award, totalling over $5,000.
Members of WWiB and WeStart began organizing the competition with the help of an alumna and entrepreneur, Alessandra Farach ’14, because they were frustrated with the lack of entrepreneurship and startup opportunities on campus.
Initiatives at other schools were also part of the inspiration. WeStart co-founder Tina Zhang ’19, recounts going to another competition in the Boston area and helping a student take their idea from a possibility to a company. Meanwhile, Rhea Advani ’17, another WeStart co-founder, became interested in the idea after taking 15.399 Entrepreneurship Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her experience at MIT, along with a summer opportunity at a Harvard University startup, inspired her to work towards bringing more business-oriented resources to Wellesley’s campus.
“I constantly heard of other schools having these contests and, given our proximity to Boston’s startup scene, thought it would be a great way to display entrepreneurship on campus,” Advani said.
Students do not need to have experience with startups or come from a certain academic field in order to participate in the event. Advani notes that the competition’s goal is to “show people that they can come from any background and excel in this field.”
“I just think some people need to be exposed to this avenue so that they know it’s a potential option [that is] available to them,” she said. The competition intends to provide resources for both new and experienced entrepreneurial students.
Zhang notes that the competition will prepare students to pitch ideas and provide mentoring from judges who will help implement the student’s concepts. The competition will also provide a space for Wellesley students to learn from one another while fostering teamwork and collaboration.
For those who do not want to participate in the competition, there are other resources on campus. WeStart, which Zhang and Advani co-founded with other students, including Yuanzhen Pan ’18, Mojia Shen ’18 and Navisha Gupta ’17, is inviting entrepreneurs to tell their stories on campus.
Earlier this semester, Sarah Case ’12, spoke about her experience working on TechGen, an initiative by the New England Venture Capital Association to place students in startup internships. Sharon Zhang ’18 is Wellesley’s brand manager for TechGen and is responsible for connecting students with the platform. She hopes that more students and entrepreneurs will continue in Case’s footsteps and share their lessons at Wellesley.
Other initiatives are being spearheaded by the WeStart team as well. Tina Zhang said that the organization’s main objective is to build a broader community of entrepreneurs on campus.
The organization has a Facebook group open to the Wellesley community, which aims to be a place to share events and ideas.
“Entrepreneurship is a very collaborative field and we want our members to have a chance to exchange ideas and opportunities,” Tina Zhang noted.
Meanwhile, the organization collaborating with WeStart on the Wellesley StartUp Competition, WWiB, has other resources for students. Simone Liano ’17, the Co-President of WWiB, states that her organization “hosts a diverse range of events aimed at helping students gain an understanding of the vast array of opportunities available to them in the business world post-graduation.”
Liano said that an organization like WWiB allows students to meet “other students interested in business, hear their advice, and learn about companies and opportunities that you wouldn’t know about otherwise.” The group often hosts panel discussions and field trips for students to develop their interests in business.
Opportunities on Wellesley’s campus, however, are not limited to student organizations. The new Career Education center has a Career Community Advisor, Stephanie Hessler ’84, dedicated to the fields of consulting, finance, business and entrepreneurship. While the Career Education center does not provide startup funding to students, it can help identify potential scholarships and internship opportunities.
Liano also hopes to see improved resources for those interested in interview preparation. One idea she has: connecting business alumnae with students to help them prepare for interviews. Another idea is from Tina Zhang, who notes that Wellesley could create an innovation lab space where students can “come in anytime to do their own projects and receive mentorship.”
Despite the fact that many resources on Wellesley’s campus are relatively new, and there are many more options to explore, these student leaders find excitement in the growth of entrepreneurship on campus.