Even the best startup business ideas need to be nurtured. The Venture Development Center (VDC) at the University of Massachusetts Boston is a startup incubator fueled by international students and local entrepreneurs interested in making their mark in technology, life sciences, and beyond. When combined with advanced research facilities, access to one of the most innovative cities in the US, and a minority-majority educational environment, international students at UMass Boston have the tools and support they need to bring their startup business ideas to life.
What Is a Business Incubator?
Incubators are entities that provide the support and resources an entrepreneur needs to turn a business idea into a reality. Many colleges and universities have business incubators on campus for students and faculty to validate business ideas and launch new ventures. Students considering an entrepreneurial career can network and receive mentorship from established professionals. Incubators also offer labs and workspaces and host networking events and workshops. When the time is right, entrepreneurs can make pitches to venture capitalists looking to fund the next big idea.
Since 2009, the UMass Boston VDC has helped more than 100 new companies secure more than $1 billion in investments. More than 100 investors, including five of the top 10 venture capital firms, invested in startup companies incubated at the VDC, in areas of health care, biopharmaceuticals, medical devices, finance, software, electronics, and nanotech.
“The Venture Development Center is really leading innovation and entrepreneurship within the UMass Boston community,” said Serena Yan Wang, senior program manager at the VDC and UMass Boston graduate. “Many international students have benefitted from the opportunities to intern with our global entrepreneurs. Some even receive job offers from Boston-based life science and biotech companies.”
Unlike many other programs, the VDC welcomes members from outside the UMass educational system, maximizing networking opportunities and funding exposure. For international students who have come to the United States to realize their dream of entrepreneurship, the VDC offers visa support year-round through their competitive Global Entrepreneurs-in-Residence (GEIR) program.
“The majority of our members are international founders [who] came to pursue graduate degrees at US universities and, following their graduation, decided to launch a company,” said Wang. “That’s where we step in. We help support them for 18 to 24 months until their companies can grow and support their visa or work authorization.”
Since the program’s launch in 2014, 74% of the accepted Global Entrepreneurs-in-Residence are still operating in the United States. Their companies and projects employ close to 1,000 people and have raised a remarkable $523 million in venture capital.
UMass Boston Research Core Facilities Support Innovation
You do not need a fully developed business plan to be part of the innovation community at the Venture Development Center. You may not even have your idea yet. The VDC also provides opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students passionate about life science innovation and entrepreneurship to build relationships with mentors and gain experience in a thriving city for startups.
“For students who want to know more about the innovation economy — we’re the place to go. If they want to learn more about internship opportunities, we can help,” said Aijan Isakova, program director at the VDC. “Our main goal is to educate students about Boston’s startup ecosystem and inform them of opportunities that exist for them in that space.”
UMass Boston’s top-tier research core facilities also provide an entry to Boston’s innovation community. In 2020, UMass Boston received $56 million in research funds and worked with prominent globally leading hospitals and biotech firms, including Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, PlateletBio, Tufts University, and many more.
“Research core facilities are a part of the university’s research initiative that offer cutting-edge instrumentation, methodologies, and expertise to UMass Boston’s research community, as well as industry partners,” said Wang. “There is overlap between the research core facilities and the VDC as startup companies in the VDC sometimes need to collaborate with the core facilities on research analysis [and more].”
As a business incubator supported by extensive, well-funded research resources, the VDC intersects with several important opportunities for international students interested in pursuing a career in either life science or technology.
Here are just a few resources available to VDC students and program members:
Support for the development of entrepreneurial projects extending to visa support for qualified international entrepreneurs.
Extensive reach across all sectors of the innovation economy in Boston, Massachusetts, and beyond, by accepting entrepreneurs from UMass and other universities.
Educational, internship, workshop, and mentorship programs for undergraduate and graduate students.
Access to the resources and support of an R2 public research facility, including extensive relationships and partnerships with leading life science firms and top international hospitals.
“We connect our students to Boston’s innovation economy and ecosystem because it’s one of the strongest and [most] diverse in the country,” said Isakova. “Like students at [other] major Boston universities — MIT, Harvard, Northeastern, or Boston University — our students are exposed to the same type of opportunities. In fact, many of these other students come to the VDC to launch their companies.”
International Students Welcomed and Supported
UMass Boston is the third-most diverse campus in the United States. Not only are international students welcomed at UMass, but they are also actively recruited and supported by programs and offerings at the VDC. Currently, more than half of the VDC participants are international.
“What drew me to UMass Boston was its diversity,” said Isakova, also a recent graduate. “It’s a minority-majority university — one of the best in the country — and in the Boston area. I wanted to be part of the diverse community, the immigrant community, where you can experience all the cultures in one place, but also have the same type of opportunities as students at MIT and Harvard.”
UMass Boston currently hosts 10 different core research facilities specializing in chromatography, spectroscopy, and microscopy; fabrication; genomics, flow cytometry, and imaging; and more. The GEIR program, which allows innovators to move to or remain in Boston to launch a company, accepts applications on a rolling basis. Student internship and entrepreneurial opportunities are available through UMass Boston and the VDC and open to all interested and qualified students.
“Boston is considered a biotech hub and with the research initiatives we have and the access to local companies, it’s an incredible opportunity,” said Wang.
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