Isenberg students are partnering with local entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into businesses. During the fall semester, a course in project management taught by Radu Vlas, an operations and information management lecturer, married student teams with local venture founders vetted through UMass Amherst's Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship.
The value of those partnerships was evident in class presentations by six student teams near the semester’s end. A case in point offered insights and advice for a startup called OpenThink. The brainchild of founder Nathan Kessel, a UMass University Without Walls student studying social change through entrepreneurship, OpenThink is a platform for innovation that aims to facilitate open-source sharing of ideas and projects among change makers. Kessel found his way into the Berthiaume entrepreneurial ecosystem by participating in the 2019 Collegiate Summer Venture Program, hosted by Berthiaume and its partner Valley Venture Mentors, a Springfield nonprofit that promotes entrepreneurship. The ten-week program offers programming, mentoring, networking, and other resources. Kessel is also an active member of Berthiaume’s Entrepreneurship Club and participates in programming in the Center’s incubator space.
The student teams analyzing OpenThink and the other startups followed an analytical checklist in planning and assessing their ventures. The list included a project charter, communications management plan, analysis of stakeholders, a risk management plan, and a “dictionary” that defined a project’s work breakdown structure. The OpenThink team designated its cofounders, project consultants, and pilot user groups as stakeholders. It considered cybersecurity, online propaganda, harmful publicity, and other factors as negative risks. And it viewed platform growth, onboarding of employees, and the company’s expansion as positive risks. “Throughout the project, we frequently went back and forth with Nathan, who helped us get a good handle on the more technical stuff,” recalled one of the students.
Vlas’s OIM student teams also applied their project management skills to five other Berthiaume-affiliated ventures: Learn to Wrench, Digital Mapping Consultants, Let’s Talk About It, iPrioritize, and Sinclaire.