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Silicon Valley Alums Return To The Heights

E-Week Continues With Panel Discussion

For The Heights

Published: Sunday, September 23, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

On Thursday, Boston College hosted a panel of five Silicon Valley-affiliated entrepreneurs and venture capitalists as part of BC’s first annual Entrepreneurship Week. The event was made possible by the BC Technology Council, the BC Entrepreneur Society, the BC Venture Competition (BCVC), and John Gallaugher, associate professor of information systems.

The five panelists, all BC alumni, included Bill Clerico, cofounder of WePay and BC ’07, James Reinhardt, cofounder of ThredUp, Pat Grady from Sequoia Capital, and Dan Nova and Peter Bell from Highland Capital. Their presence filled the Fulton Honors Library with a crowd of students and recent graduates.

“We have a very simple goal here today, and that’s to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs,” Nova said. “You’re never too young, you’re never too inexperienced, and I think what you’ll see and hear from the panelists tonight is that they had different dreams and different aspirations as they were students but, for a variety of reasons, their paths led them to entrepreneurship.”
Bill Clerico graduated from BC with a degree in computer science. He took a number of internships while at BC before cofounding WePay, a fast-growing online-payment company based in Palo Alto, Calif. One of his more influential internships at BC was with a startup company called Healthbase that sent people to India and Indonesia to get surgeries that they couldn’t afford in the U.S.

“[Healthbase] was my first taste of raw entrepreneurship,” Clerico said. “It was only a couple of weeks, but there was this fire that was awakened in me. I actually loved that there were no boundaries, anything went, and I got to do all sorts of things that were super creative.”
After graduation, Clerico took a job at an investment bank. Although he learned a lot, he knew that he didn’t want to be in investment banking for the rest of his career.

“A year into investment banking, I quit.” Clerico said. “I called up my freshman year roommate from BC, Rich, and we started brainstorming about startup ideas. We came up with an idea about making payments really, really easy online.”
All of the panelists were eager to tell their personal stories and to give practical advice to rising entrepreneurs.

“One of the things we are big on is clarity of thought,” Grady said. “Clarity of thought means you should be able to articulate your business plan to your grandma in less than 10 seconds and have her understand what it means. Most people don’t fail because they can’t think deeply enough or because they can’t think hard enough. Most people fail because they don’t think simply enough.”
Nova and the other panelists were optimistic about the future of entrepreneurship at BC.

“You are existing in a really unique time and place,” Nova said. “Time in the sense that what you could do with one hundred, two hundred, three thousand dollars today used to cost five to $10 million 10 years ago. With regard to place, you’re at Boston College. I judge business plans at MIT, Harvard, and we’re also judging at Stanford. The quality of the business plans that are coming out of Boston College are equal if not better than those plans I see at Harvard, MIT, and Stanford.”
Nova, who moderated discussion, was also quick to laud the extensive networking opportunities that are available to BC graduates and students.

“You’ve got an alumni network through the Boston College Technology Council who is here for you,” Nova said. “We’re here for advice, we’re here for mentorship, we are available. There are over 900 alumni members, and these are members who have BC degrees and are existing in the technology world today. So take advantage of that.”

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