You don't have to go far to create a social impact, especially with a broad entrepreneurial ecosystem like the one that surrounds Northeastern University's Boston campus. For instance, students in one financial course recently lent a helping hand through a consulting project that brought their expertise to local businesses.
“I'm interested in making connections that enable students to be better neighbors,” says Mark Bernfeld, a finance professor who coordinated the project for his spring 2021 Entrepreneurial Finance Innovation Evaluation and Private Equity course.
Aside from one group assisting Peruvian brand Wawa Laptop, student groups paired with Boston-based businesses through an established collaboration with EforAll Roxbury, a startup accelerator focused on closing the opportunity gap and supporting underrepresented founders in business. Due to the consulting project's success over multiple semesters—and the reputation Northeastern students gained among the accelerator's cohorts for providing insightful results—eight EforAll businesses participated, more than ever before.
The local businesses ranged from The Survivor Stories Project, an app that offers resources to sexual assault survivors, to Vyasa Bros, which crafts a line of specialty desserts. Connecting with founders in the Boston community was a huge plus for students like Ariel Kaplan, DMSB'22.
“I think that to be able to create that meaningful change, it needs to start in your backyard,” Kaplan says. “And it allows you to be more committed to it and accountable.”
Thinking on their feet
While each project connected to the course's focus on finance, adding value where companies needed it most was key. For some teams, this meant drafting pitches and making crucial connections, while others offered software recommendations and conducted annual reports.
Consulting, like entrepreneurship, requires a suite of transferable skills beyond financial planning—marketing, creativity, critical thinking, communication—and above all, the ability to problem solve.
“I think it's beneficial both for entrepreneurs and for the students so that they can get a taste of what it might be like to be an entrepreneur, if they decide they want to go that way or just being able to think on their feet and be creative. That's really what it's going to take to be successful in any job; you're there to solve problems,” says Nieisha Deed, founder of PureSpark, Massachusetts' first wellness directory for People of Color.
At the end of the semester, the groups delivered proposals to their classmates, a special guest consultant: Willis Towers Watson Managing Director Jeff Arnold, and their respective entrepreneurs, all of whom valued the unique outside perspective.
Engaging with real world issues
Through their research and analysis, students acquired in-depth knowledge about their businesses' industries and the ways people around them are working to improve complex social issues.
Navin Mani, DMSB'21, found that working with EDEN, a holistic support system to empower people facing homelessness, was “an amazing exposure to the real world” alongside its inspiring founder, Jehu Leconte.
“We were definitely drawn towards him because we're ambitious, we connected with his ambition, and we want to solve some difficult issues,” Mani says.
Overall, the hands-on experience fueled the students' desire to do good and showed them other available avenues for change.
“This project expanded my understanding of what it means to have a high impact in the world,” Mani says. “You don't really need to work on the most technological problems; you can really just be focused on solving human problems in your backyard.”