BC students BranchOut into the start-up industry
Published: Monday, January 31, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
Whether it's a summer internship for underclassmen or a career for seniors, it's that time of year to begin the job search. While this incites a gnawing fear in many Boston College students (the weather isn't the only reason why this week reports the highest rates of depression out of the entire year), two seniors have gotten a head start, and are attempting to make the search easier for those filled with anxiety.
Kevin Hylant, CSOM '11, and Harvey Simmons, A&S '11, are interns in the marketing associate program at BranchOut, a San Francisco based start-up founded just eight months ago. BranchOut is a Facebook application that uses your social network to connect you to potential employers. It gives you a profile showing only your profile picture, education, and work history. Then, you can search for specific companies or job titles, and find matches from your friends' or friends of friends' information.
While often compared to LinkedIn, the popular professional networking site, Simmons insists BranchOut offers an essential difference for college students. "LinkedIn is to PC like BranchOut is to Mac," Simmons says. "It's more geared to our generation."
"A lot of people our age watch The Social Network and get excited about the start-up industry," Hylant says. "It's an exciting place to be."
Simmons notes that BranchOut's recent growth caused them to move to a new office building that happens to be owned by Justin Timberlake, who starred in The Social Network, further spawning comparisons to the Oscar-nominated movie.
Unlike the movie, which was filled with betrayal and selfishness, BranchOut seeks to create a positive environment for career-seeking students. "BranchOut has a great community that really fosters a lot of growth," Simmons says. He and Hylant both work under Mike DelPonte, a BC graduate who is currently BranchOut's marketing manager. Before that, he was an entrepreneur, founding Sparkseed, a non-profit organization funding social entrepreneurs.
Hylant says that with BranchOut, he saw a way to reach out and connect people who want jobs. "[BranchOut] really is philanthropic in a sense.
DelPonte believes that he receives the same fulfillment from his work at BranchOut as he did at Sparkseed, "BranchOut is already making a difference in people's lives and will revolutionize the way people network professionally," DelPonte says.
At BranchOut, DelPonte says his goal is to help others find a job that they can be enthusiastic about, as much as he is about his. "The two words that were drilled into me at BC were ‘vocation' and ‘discernment,'" DelPonte says. "Why would anyone settle for a job that isn't making the world a better place? That's the whole point of BranchOut, that no one should settle."
Aside from having ideas about social responsibility, DelPonte, Simmons, and Hylant were also driven to enter the start-up industry because of a growing entrepreneurial culture at Boston College. "A few of my roommates are starting a music production company, Simmons says. "And there's a ton of DJs in the sophomore class."
Increasing numbers of students are interested in the start-up industry, a trend that BC has been supporting wholeheartedly. "Our weekly CSOM update e-mails are featuring venture capitalism more and more," Hylant says, "and the Boston College Venture Capitalism Competition has been encouraging students to pursue their ideas, awarding a $10,000 prize to the most promising business proposal, giving students the momentum to make it into a reality.
Two such winners, recent BC alums, Bill Clerico and Rich Aberman, both BC '07, founded WePay. "It's a website that makes it easy to collect money online," Aberman says. "It's great for collecting dues or donations, collecting rent from your roommates, splitting the cost of a group trip with friends, or selling tickets to your events." The pair found monetary support through the competition, but desired to enter the contest in the first place because of what they learned at BC.
Aberman says that the TechTrek class had a profound impact on Clerico, serving as his first exposure to the entrepreneurial world. This unique resource is a course that culminates in a two-week visit to Silicon Valley, Calif., where students explore various firms , many of which are recent start-ups. For some, like Clerico, this provides the motivation to pursue a similar path.
Simmons says that once in the industry, there are even more rewards than anticipated. "Being a start-up, you get to have real responsibility real fast, Simmons says."They've given us all the tools we need. It's all about being personal and having a connection with someone, a mentor."
BranchOut is changing so rapidly that keep tracking of its current position sometimes proves to be a challenge. "The site looks different than it did just a few weeks ago," Hylant says. While being interviewed, Simmons began to describe a certain feature of the BranchOut application, and then paused. "Is that true?" he asked Hylant.
"No, it's not out yet," his coworker responded.
Both he and Simmons expressed interest in remaining at BranchOut after graduating as full-time employees. They are not the only ones finding jobs in this industry. "According to U.S. census data, businesses less than one- year-old create an average of three million jobs per year," Clerico says. "Contrast that with businesses older than one-year-old, that lose one million jobs per year. Start-ups are the jobs engine of the U.S. economy."
Two other BC students, Lesley Burr and Lucy McBride, both A&S '11, have also found success in start-up jobs. This year, they started the fashion blog, Rusted Revolution, and then began selling their own products online.