First Virtual Catalyst Program Convenes Entrepreneurs Around the World

Felix Guelfucci MSEL ’20, founder of gourmet seafood product venture, BONAMI, pitches his business at the 20th annual Rocket Pitch.

What’s the best part about hosting a summer entrepreneurship program online? The geographical diversity, and the array of venture ideas that come with it.

This year’s first Summer Catalyst program—a virtual iteration of Babson’s signature Summer Venture Program—featured 16 teams of 43 students from the Philippines to Canada, and South Korea to Afghanistan, and they formed ideas such as a reverse ticket marketplace and a sustainable clothing business.

“Even though we’ve been separated, we’ve created a special community of peers and coaches,” Summer Catalyst director Bob Stringer said. “That’s the most powerful part of the Summer Catalyst experience … our entrepreneurs figured out how to not let the virus stand in their way.”

Originally broadcast on Facebook Live, almost 2,000 viewers have tuned in to virtually meet these entrepreneurs over the last several days.

“Babson is a special place for entrepreneurship,” Stringer added. “Each of our 16 Summer Catalyst teams applied to the program with a dream, and what they thought with a big idea.”

Innovative Ideas

Big ideas, indeed, including Exidio, which provides customized applications to interact with the Sentinel VPN, the first end-to-end, transparent, encrypted, decentralized virtual private network.

Led by Dan Edlebeck MBA’20, Exidio aims to offer a feeling of security, especially when you consider more than 4 billion digital records were exposed in 2019, according to Norton Life Lock.

“Don’t let your internet service sell your data,” Edlebeck said. “We have the right and responsibility to reclaim our online experience.”

“Even though we’ve been separated, we’ve created a special community of peers and coaches. Our entrepreneurs figured out how to not let the virus stand in their way.”

Bob Stringer, Summer Catalyst director

LIT Learning meanwhile aims to increase language proficiency through digital stories. The venture already has close to 500 teachers using its platform, and is on track to have close to 30,000 students by the end of the year.

“We believe, and research shows, language acquisition cannot happen without exposure to input that is both communicative, and comprehensible,” said Mati Amin MSF’20.

During the pandemic, we’ve all sought to keep our social relationships prosperous. What better way to do that than to communicate and stay healthy at the same time?

Led by MacBrennan L. Peet ’22, Cabana places users into teams to match health lifestyles, including fitness, mindfulness, and nutrition activity.

 “We are in a constant state of competition. Some of this is good, a lot of it isn’t,” Peet said. “Why don’t we do this with our health? We all want to be better versions of ourselves. … We all accomplish more together.”

Impactful, and Easy to Use

The Summer Catalyst is a 10-week virtual program that fosters entrepreneurial skills and provides resources, tools, and expert connections needed to accelerate a business. It incorporates elements such as the Hot Seat, officer hours, and dedicated advisors, but is delivered online.

One-third of this year’s ventures have social impact missions or goals, and three-quarters of ventures are technology or technology-enabled.

Students participated in sessions on sales training, profitable business models, raising seed capital, and building powerful consumer brands. They also had the opportunity to step up to the Hot Seat, pitching their ventures to receive feedback from peers.

“These past 10 weeks have been a personal and professional growth opportunity,” said Debi Kleiman, executive director of The Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship. “The fact that it was done all online was truly remarkable.”

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