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Student Stars Pitch VIPs at BUILDFest

ALL CHARGED UP: Winning team Double Charge celebrates with its super-sized check at Tuesday night’s BUILDFest.


BOSTON—Student entrepreneurs and their benefactors got a double charge of innovation at Tuesday night’s BUILDFest.

BUILD, a nonprofit that teaches entrepreneurship skills to students in under-resourced communities, spent the evening at the Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel celebrating the accomplishments of this year’s young founders.

The top four teams pitched a VIP panel that included former Gov. Deval Patrick, Jerod Mayo, former New England Patriot and now VP of health tech firm Optum, Ernst & Young Managing Principal Jane Steinmetz and LogMeIn CEO William Wagner. Members of the entrepreneurship community gathered to sponsor and support the student-run businesses. Steve DiFillippo, chef and CEO of Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse, emceed the event.

The team from Double Charge walked away with $2,000 in prize money for their water bottle that also charges a smartphone, besting competitors Razzle Dazzle, Roll n’ Go and Orphan Socks. The winning founders, CEO Elvis Rodriguez and CMO D’Ahmen Holloman are ninth-graders at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School in Roxbury.

“The night was inspiring,” said Patrick, now managing director of Bain Capital’s Double Impact program. Looking back on his own childhood, Patrick said he did not possess the entrepreneurial skills of the BUILD students at their age—he had the interest but not the mentorship or encouragement, which makes a huge difference.

“It was wonderful to see young people doing positive and constructive, real-life things. And above all, being shown by so many positive adults how to look up rather than down,” he said.

The evening, according to BUILD Boston Manager Will Leitch, was a transition from the usual annual gala, switching the focus from swanky party to pitch competition, allowing students to stand in the spotlight for their hard work. It raised more than $70,000 in the process.

A standout for the night was Amy Choi, director at Silicon Valley Bank in Boston. She accepted the award for Mentor of the Year.

“It was an incredible evening and I could not be more proud of the students’ accomplishments,” Choi said. “It has been a life-changing experience to be a part of the BUILD community for the past two years, and I feel blessed to work at a company that so strongly supports BUILD.”

Boston’s BUILD program launched in 2011 and has incubated more than 300 young entrepreneurs. The nonprofit’s goal is to enhance entrepreneurship education as a way to decrease dropout rates and prepare the next generation for financial and professional success.

In the lead-up to the Pitch Challenge, BUILD students in ninth to 11th grade showcased their innovations for the crowd. Products included handmade clothes for dolls, soaps, lip balm, sunglasses, candles and more. Some entrepreneurs were as young as 14 years old, and already displaying the entrepreneurship skills learned through the BUILD program.

Nyah Jacobs, a ninth-grader at Another Course to College (ACC), showed off her team’s creation, My Doll. “The dolls are multicultural, representing every kid around the country to prove that there’s more than just a Barbie doll on the shelf,” she said. Jacobs, along with her team members, decided to create dolls that reflected their own cultures.

Malik Albert, a ninth-grader at Community Academy of Science and Health (CASH), is one of the creators of Chappies lip balm. “They’re organic, they make your lips softer, it’s cheaper and most importantly it gives you less cracks when it’s cold outside,” Albert said of his product.

Before the winning team was announced, Rebecca Fracassa, director of community investment for Comcast stepped up with a surprise: Each student in the final four teams was awarded a free laptop plus a free year of internet service.

Mayo, the linebacker turned tech exec-in-residence for Optum, a division of UnitedHealth, said he found the evening filled with innovative ideas. “These kids are far beyond where I was at when I was 14 and 15 years old,” he said. “They have a head start in life, so stay out front and keep doing the right thing.”

BUILD Boston accepts donations of time and funding. Get involved HERE.

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Sailors heed ocean’s call in Regatta for Entrepreneurship


BOSTON—Some pretty adventurous executives and their teams are getting ready to prove their mettle at the Regatta for Entrepreneurship, kicking off at the Boston Sailing Center at noon on Thursday.

The inaugural regatta, which has already raised more than $70,000 for the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, has called some old salts—like Nexxus Group CEO Mark Landgren—back to the water.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve done any competitive racing,” Landgren says. “I got started in sailing in my early 20s. My roommate bought an old Cal 25 and we refurbished it. We were in an old, slow boat but the social and networking aspects were so great. I just didn’t know that was out there.”

That connection—to both sailing and business—is what the regatta aims to bring to Boston growth companies. That’s what makes the regatta especially appealing, Landgren says. “It’s a really unique networking opportunity, being in close proximity to other racers and having some competitive gybes back and forth,” he says.

The start gun goes off at noon for the first fleet of J24s, with the second heat starting approximately two hours later. Teams may choose to deploy their spinnaker down wind, or stick to white sail, which could prove either genius or disastrous in the predicted 5- to 10-knot breeze.

But for those who don’t know their tacks from their clews, it’s all about the crews. “We have multiple opportunities to meet other people and companies, we get to spend a great afternoon out on Boston Harbor with friends and colleagues, and still do something for a great cause.”

NFTE, founded in 1987, provides programs that inspire young people from under-resourced communities to stay in school, to recognize business opportunities and to plan for successful futures.

The long-term benefit to society speaks to the event’s entrepreneur-sailors, who have experienced the advantages of entrepreneurship firsthand, and are making their donations and support for NFTE a team sport. “I used to do a fair bit of networking, but I was usually the only one who got to go,” Landgren says. “This time, I can bring my team, I think that’s the best part,” he says. “I was able to coax my executive team out there with me so we can have a great afternoon on the water.”

The teams of four, plus one skipper assigned by the Boston Sailing Center, have been strategizing for months, working through the maneuvers that will get them across the line in time to hoist the NFTE Cup, a work of art designed and crafted by Long’s Fine Jewelers. And some are just looking forward to competing against other in-market business colleagues.

“A couple of my Vistage friends are on another boat, so we’ll be competing for bragging rights—not for who wins but who doesn’t fall overboard,” Landgren says with a laugh. “It will be interesting because we have experienced skippers but everyone else has to work in tandem to make it work.”

The community has rallied to support this inaugural event, including founding sponsors The CFO Center, Gesmer Updegrove, Telamon Insurance and Bowen Advisors. (FoundersWire is also a founding sponsor.) The shore party, with food, cocktails and live music on the deck at the BSC, will be sponsored by Harbor One Bank, with in-kind sponsors Goslings Rum, HINT Water, Castle Island Brewing Company, Long’s Fine Jewelers, and SYB Events.

Sailing team sponsors include Baker Newman Noyes, Fanzcall, Nexxus Group, OpenView Venture Partners, WaterSuite (Corona) and Vistage.

Individual sailors from the following companies also will attend: 89 Degrees, Alipes, Apptient, AR Funding, Botkeeper, Cantina Consulting, Cogitacorp, CounterTack, East Coast Product, Excellent Writers Group, FE International, Filmmakers’ Collaborative, imac, Insequent, Intengenx, IR+M, M5consulting, Media Vue Systems, New England Finish Systems, Noi Strategies, Novis Capital Group, Origin3M, Pabian & Russell, Supporting Strategies, TPG, Trust Design, UPS, Vivantio, Wealth Impact Partners, Wine Riot and WinterWyman, among others.

Sponsors, donating more than $5,000 worth of raffle prizes, include 12 Meter Charters, Bose, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse, Boston Celtics tickets, New England Patriots tickets and Red Sox tickets, Grill 23 & Bar, Legal Oysteria, Prezza, Row 34, Yvonne’s, Nations Photography, Keurig, Soaring Adventures of America Hot Air Balloons, Vineyard Vines, and Wegman’s.

Besides mingling with Boston’s top growth companies, the Regatta for Entrepreneurship is connecting founders with a cause they can really get behind.

“I’m a lifelong entrepreneur, much to my parents’ chagrin … so I didn’t have a lot of mentoring,” Landgren says. “It’s so important to know people who have been there and done that. (NFTE) really fits in with what I’m passionate about, so this was a really easy yes.”

Landgren, who puts mentoring high on the list of activities he looks forward to, gave his best advice to the students of NFTE: “If you work hard, sure, you’ll make mistakes, but you will succeed.”

There won’t be occasion for many mistakes out on the racing course in the hunt for the NFTE Cup—but Landgren notes it’s still better to be out sailing (even with no experience required) than golfing, a far more typical and predictable networking activity.

“Besides the fact that I’m a miserable golfer,” he laughs, “I would much rather be on the water.”

For more information on the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, check it out here.