Generate Helps Students with Start-Ups

Northeastern's student-led product development studio, Generate, helps with product development and the business integration required to get create a start-up.

Source: News @ Northeastern

North­eastern stu­dent Ian Carlson is the founder of Dash Elec­tric, which is devel­oping “the first elec­tric skate­board designed for the real world.” Dash, he says, serves as a means of engaging first- time long­board users as well as solving what is known as the “last mile problem”—that many homes and busi­nesses in urban envi­ron­ments aren’t sit­u­ated close to a transit station.

Last summer Carlson, AMD’17, turned to his peers to help take Dash to the next level—specifically, the senior applied to Gen­erate, Northeastern’s student- led product devel­op­ment studio. Through this part­ner­ship, a team of North­eastern engi­neering stu­dents spent the fall semester building a case for the longboard’s remote and devel­oping an elec­tronics system that would enable wire­less com­mu­ni­ca­tion between the remote and the longboard’s cir­cuit board.

This type of collaboration—Northeastern stu­dents building pro­to­types and other prod­ucts to help stu­dent, fac­ulty, staff, and alumni entre­pre­neurs advance their ventures—is the brain­child of Gen­erate exec­u­tive director Mina Iskarous and tech­nology director Bailey Kane. In 2015, the then second- year stu­dents saw Northeastern’s bustling entre­pre­neurial ecosystem growing by leaps and bounds and iden­ti­fied an oppor­tu­nity to build upon this momentum.

We knew there were a lot of ven­tures that needed help building their prod­ucts, and that there were engi­neers who wanted this expe­ri­ence,” says Iskarous, E’19.

Gen­erate brings them together.

Carlson and the Gen­erate team working with Dash described the expe­ri­ence as mutu­ally ben­e­fi­cial and raved about the oppor­tu­nity to col­lab­o­rate. “I really wanted this cross- disciplinary expe­ri­ence,” said fourth- year mechan­ical engi­neering major and Gen­erate team member Mary Mor­rison. She pointed to the expe­ri­ence gained from coding and using Arduino—an open- source elec­tronics plat­form based on easy- to- use hard­ware and software—this semester, adding that she learned more about the busi­ness side of going from pro­to­typing to larger- scale manufacturing.

Generate team members Andrew Mello and Mary Morrison both E'18, work on their product for Dash Electric in the Sherman Center on Dec. 14, 2016. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Gen­erate team mem­bers Andrew Mello and Mary Mor­rison, both E’18, work on their product for Dash Elec­tric in the Sherman Center on Dec. 14, 2016. Photo by Adam Glanzman/ Northeastern University

Andrew Mello, a fourth- year elec­trical engi­neering major, under­scored the hands- on tech­nical skills and knowl­edge acquired through hours of research and building and testing com­po­nents. As the project leader, Mello said he also grew his lead­er­ship skills from over­seeing the team and the project’s deliverables.

In addi­tion to Dash, Gen­erate had two other clients this past semester: Tro­poG­a­rden, which is devel­oping a semi- automated indoor garden; and LZ Inno­va­tions, which is designing a mag­netic rebar cap to keep such caps from slip­ping off in an effort to improve safety on con­struc­tion sites. Gen­erate will partner with three new clients during the spring semester—one of which is SizeU, which is devel­oping an internet of things tape mea­suring device to change the con­ver­sa­tion when picking clothing from what is your size to what is your style. Gen­erate will help develop a min­imum viable product and help con­duct user expe­ri­ence testing.

As Iskarous sees it, Generate’s mis­sion aligns with Northeastern’s emphasis on expe­ri­en­tial edu­ca­tion and stu­dent entre­pre­neur­ship. He and Kane launched Gen­erate in fall 2015, and the Build Studio—Generate’s flag­ship program—began taking clients in the spring 2016 semester. Gen­erate also holds office hours and runs a speaker series to engage and edu­cate the North­eastern com­mu­nity on topics such as product devel­op­ment and new technologies.

Our vision is to build, inspire, and edu­cate the next gen­er­a­tion of entre­pre­neurial product builders at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity,” Iskarous says.

Gen­erate is part of Mosaic, an alliance of student- led orga­ni­za­tions that sup­ports the incu­ba­tion of early- stage ven­tures at North­eastern. Together, these Mosaic organizations—including the ven­ture accel­er­ator IDEA—work together to help ven­tures meet the real- world chal­lenges facing star­tups. These orga­ni­za­tions col­lec­tively pro­vide many resources, including funding, con­nec­tions to men­tors, guid­ance around pro­tecting intel­lec­tual prop­erty, and design help.

Our vision is to build, inspire, and edu­cate the next gen­er­a­tion of entre­pre­neurial product builders at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity.
—Mina Iskarous, E’19, Generate’s exec­u­tive director

Gen­erate works out of the Michael and Ann Sherman Center for Engi­neering Entre­pre­neur­ship Edu­ca­tion, which pro­vides 3- D printing equip­ment, soft­ware, meeting space, and other resources for the Build Studio teams to design and build prod­ucts for their clients. Pro­fessor Shashi Murthy, the center’s director and Generate’s co- faculty advisor, says he was impressed with the Gen­erate lead­er­ship team’s ini­tial vision for cre­ating a peer- to- peer model, and he under­scored the group’s pro­fes­sion­alism in exe­cuting that vision and growing rapidly over the past year.

Both Murthy and Iskarous also pointed to the crit­ical role alumni men­tors have played in Generate’s suc­cess, noting the invalu­able industry expe­ri­ence they’ve brought to guiding these stu­dent teams toward achieving their clients’ needs.

Gen­erate is an inte­gral part of what defines the Sherman Center, and by exten­sion what defines the university’s entre­pre­neurial ecosystem,” Murthy says.

Mark Sivak, asso­ciate teaching pro­fessor and a co- faculty advisor to Gen­erate, says he’s been impressed with the organization’s lead­er­ship and its work with clients. “The ques­tions are the right ones, and the solu­tions are the right ones, too,” he says.

Gen­erate, he adds, offers stu­dents an oppor­tu­nity “to amplify what hap­pens on co- op and in the class­room in a cool way.” Stu­dents gain hands- on expe­ri­ence, get exposed to the var­ious engi­neering dis­ci­plines, make con­nec­tions throughout North­eastern and “see the whole playing field” in terms of the types of people they might interact with while working at a startup. As he put it, “Gen­erate allows them to see what the pieces of the puzzle are and how they fit together.”

Related Faculty: Mark Sivak