Metro, Business, Top Story

Two BC Students Make Strides In City’s Startup Scene

Luke George And Andrew Bernstein, The Founders Of YouSit And ClassHack, Are Learning How To Make It In Boston’s Competitive Startup Ecosystem

Luke George, CSOM ’17, was frustrated he couldn’t get rid of the leftover pizza in his room. After throwing away the unclaimed pieces, George discovered an opportunity.

He was involved in the Compass Fellowship, an entrepreneurial circle for freshmen and sophomores at Boston College, and decided he wanted to create a social marketplace for students to get things out of their rooms they no longer wanted—whether it be something as small as leftover pizza or something as large as furniture.

An idea hit George that would catapult him into Boston’s startup scene. Dubbed “YouSit,” with the slogan “Use it or lose it,” George sought to create an app that lets users know if someone in the immediate area was trying to get rid of something in which they might be interested.

Andrew Bernstein, A&S ’17, was visiting California this past January when he received a phone call from George that would completely change his freshman year experience at Boston College.

Bernstein and George had met at orientation the previous summer. George was aware of Bernstein’s predilection for writing, and called to ask his advice on a potential venture proposal for YouSit.

“I never imagined we would end up working together and becoming such good friends,” Bernstein said.

I think we have the ability to make an big impact on campus.” — Andrew Bernstein, co-founder of YouSit and ClassHack

Following the proposal, YouSit was accepted into the semi-finals of the eighth annual Boston College Venture Competition (BCVC) last March, and Bernstein came on full-time to help George make YouSit a reality.

“I think the problem with the startup culture is that you have a cool idea and immediately just want to run with it—even though you may have no clue how to make to make it come to life,” Bernstein said. “That’s exactly what we were thrown into.”

With no previous startup experience, Bernstein and George met every night in the spring to prepare for BCVC. The two freshmen taught themselves how to perform an effective pitch and give a formal presentation.

Only freshmen, Bernstein said that they took any advice they could get, and they were pleased to find the judges supportive of their ideas.

YouSit tied for second place in the competition, and received a total of $6,250 of initial funding. Following the event, Bernstein and George were approached by Tom Coburn, the CEO and co-founder of Jebbit, an ad-tech firm that also won the BCVC in 2011. Coburn recruited YouSit to become a part of the new Soaring Startup Circle, a summer accelerator program designed to bring startups to the next level.

“Luke and Andrew totally reminded me of myself when I was a freshman at BC,” Coburn said. “They had the passion needed to start a company, and have shown exactly what you want to see at an early age in a startup—pivoting and making it happen as you move forward.”

After spending the summer in Boston in order to help YouSit transition from an idea to a reality, Bernstein and George determined that the online marketplace was too big of an idea to launch out of BC. The team decided to focus on one aspect of BC life that affects everyone—grades.

“Grades are something that students live and die by here,” Bernstein said. The pair created ClassHack as a product of YouSit—students could use it to post video lessons online on courses in which they had performed well.

On Tuesday night, ClassHack competed against other startups from top colleges and universities in the Boston area at the MIT Enterprise Forum (MITEF) of Cambridge’s event, the Beantown Throwdown. Coinciding with Global Entrepreneurship Week, the event brought together the highest number of the region’s colleges and universities at a single student business pitch competition. Last year, three teams from both Harvard and MIT competed against each other in the Crimson on Cardinal Startup Throwdown. After the event’s success, the MITEF of Cambridge opened up spaces to a total of nine schools—renaming the event the Beantown Throwdown.

“I think if students get out there and leverage these types of events going on in the city, they can make great connections and set up meetings that will help their ideas take off.” — Tom Coburn, CEO of Jebbit

“The Beantown Throwdown is going to the college-level students and giving them the opportunity to get this expertise in the Boston community,” said Katja Wald, the executive director at the MITEF of Cambridge. “We went to each of the nine schools and told them to give us your best startup idea.”

ClassHack represented BC and competed against startups from Babson, the Berklee College of Music, BU, Harvard, MIT, Northeastern, UMass Lowell, and the Wentworth Institute of Technology. The event began with a panel discussion led by Scott Kirsner, The Boston Globe’s Innovation Economy columnist, and featured a panel of entrepreneurs and investors, including Coburn, Katie Rae, the managing director of Project 11, and Dip Patel, co-founder and CEO of ecoVent—last year’s competition winner.

“I think if students get out there and leverage these types of events going on in the city, they can make great connections and set up meetings that will help their ideas take off,” Coburn said.

The nine startups delivered three-minute pitches in an effort to woo the crowd. Fake money circulated the arena, and audience members “funded” their favorite startups. “Downtyme”—a BU startup that encourages users to spend less time on their smartphones and more time connecting offline by bringing together people who are free at the time—won the grand prize and received an award made by Cambridge makerspace danger!awesome and guidance from the law firm Morse, Barnes-Brown & Pendleton, as well as CHEN PR.

“The prizes and visibility are great for these schools, but the ability to make excellent contacts and strengthen invaluable connections with people in the innovation ecosystem is truly incredible,” said Chris Carleton, a partner at CHEN PR and co-organizer of the Throwdown.

Bernstein and George hoped the Beantown Throwdown would give them a chance to find an app developer who could help develop their software.

“Sure, we didn’t win, but we talked to a ton of people and spread our idea,” Bernstein said. “Many professors and students at other universities liked the concept and could see it making a difference in their schools.”

Currently, ClassHack is still in its planning stages, and more exposure to events like the Beantown Throwdown might allow the idea to take off at BC in the future.

“Our hope is that in a year we will at least be able to launch a basic platform for students to watch video lessons,” Bernstein said. “We really want this to help BC students and reduce the number of class drops, and I think we have the ability to make an big impact on campus.”

Featured Image Courtesy of YouSit


November 19, 2014