Berthiaume Connects Campus Entrepreneurs with Isenberg MBAs
February 19, 2020
“Explaining the technical details of my startup was never a problem, but pitching why future customers and investors should buy into it was challenging,” recalls first-year chemical engineering student, Connor MacFarlane. In October, MacFarlane’s venture, Improved Insulin Delivery, captured first prize (and took home $1,250) in the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship’s Minute Pitch competition, the first contest in the center’s annual four-part Innovation Challenge. A month later, his venture won $5,000 in the competition’s second phase—the Seed Pitch.
“I couldn’t have done it without advice and encouragement from Katy Moonan, an Isenberg MBA student,” observes MacFarlane. Moonan is one of two on-campus MBA students assigned to the Berthiaume Center’s new venture counseling initiative, Office Hours. Through that program, UMass students from across campus discuss venture ideas and evolving business plans with entrepreneurial MBA students. To date, the MBAs have lent advice to 30-plus students, mostly from the sciences, computer science, and engineering. (Berthiaume Office Hours is part of the MBA Fellows Program, which requires on-campus MBA students to apply their business skills to organizational challenges at Isenberg.)
Connecting and Catalyzing
“There’s considerable evidence from universities like Michigan, Cornell, and Syracuse that advice from MBA students can help students from STEM and other nonbusiness disciplines to launch ventures,” notes Berthiaume Center Executive Director Gregory Thomas. “What could be more win-win than giving our own MBA students that opportunity?” he asks. To make that happen, Thomas connected last summer with Full-Time MBA Program Director Michael Famighette, who fielded MBA students with entrepreneurial experience and the ability to energize campus-wide entrepreneurs.
Katy Moonan, a self-identified social entrepreneur, fit that bill nicely. Moonan is founder and director of ArteSana, a nonprofit social enterprise in Holyoke that empowers financially challenged women who create handwoven products from discarded t-shirts and other garments. Besides benefitting its workers, the company’s sales help fund fiber arts and financial literacy programs in the community.
“Last semester, I advised many students, including Connor, who is amazingly bright and energetic,” Moonan recalls. “Most of them, I think, responded positively to my principal message: Define your big-picture strategic vision and balance it with the tactical moves and resources to make it happen.” Crafting a message that conveys a vision is critical, she emphasizes. “If you don’t, your business will never take off.”
Connor MacFarlane’s venture will make life easier for diabetics who must carry their treatment supplies with them. His proprietary system streamlines portability while reducing pain, plastic waste, and time spent managing one’s ailment. “For the Innovation Challenge, Katy helped me to frame and sharpen my pitch,” notes MacFarlane. “She also helped me to formulate a financially accountable plan. And Berthiaume connected me with a medical device manufacturer to help build my prototype.”
Gregory Thomas emphasizes the impact business-smart mentors can have for entrepreneurial projects. “Isenberg MBA Students like Katy make a huge difference in the lives of student entrepreneurs across campus. They help Berthiaume to extend its impact and reach. It’s a smart investment in our campus-wide mission.”