University’s “Shark Tank” Empowers Students

October 29, 2015

11:00 am

As an undergraduate with a business idea, founding a company can be very difficult. Accumulating the right press, gaining funding and traction, and growing an audience (while battling a sea of existing competition) is almost impossible – especially when you’re drafting your business plan between geology and spanish class.  For undergraduates trying to start their own businesses, the college life can pose additional hurdles on top of the existing obstacles that entrepreneurs face while building a brand. Some universities have been working to make it easier for the collegiate entrepreneur to jumpstart a company, but it often requires too much time, resources, and capital to be worthwhile.

UMass Amherst – the flagship school of the Massachusetts public university system – aims to work with staff and students to solve this problem.  This week UMass hosted their annual UMass Innovation Challenge – a pitch competition open to students and young alumni from all five of the UMass campuses. The competition provides students an opportunity to pitch their business in front of a panel of judges, with a chance to win cash prizes totaling $65,000.

For UMass, the Innovation Challenge is just one milestone in their entrepreneurial roadmap.  The university boasts one of the top 30 undergraduate business programs in the nation –  the Isenberg School of Management.  It is an institution rooted in business, entrepreneurship, and innovation.

Out of the top 4 finalists in the pitch competition, one company stood out to us in particular.  Meet Flashback, UMass’ newest messaging app, which enables users to send pictures and messages to recipients at a pre-determined future time.  “It’s a great way for friends to share their memories, and to reconnect with family,” says Flashback CEO, Michael Newfield.

Newfield, a sophomore in the Honors College at UMass’ Isenberg School of Management, has been an entrepreneur long before founding Flasback.  This past summer the rising sophomore spent half his time working for a 500 Startups-backed company in Silicon Valley, and the other half in Israel leading the digital marketing initiatives for FindTech, a Haifa-based tech company.  Not bad for a student who had yet to turn 20.  Newfield credits his experience in marketing, sales, and brand development at these tech companies as inspirations for his newest project.

The CEO shed light on the vision of the app, telling us “At first, we built [Flasback] as a way for friends to share thoughts and memories with friends.  As it grew and evolved, we incorporated messages and reminders as well.  Now, Flashback has become the go-to for sending current experiences and thoughts to a future recipient.”

Despite his initial success, there is a long road ahead for Newfield, who plans to compete at UMass’ next round of pitch competitions, which take place in December and April.


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Jake is an Account Executive at HubSpot. He's formerly the VP of Business Development at Alumnify. In addition to Tech.Co, Jake has contributed to Inc., The Huffington Post, and Elite Daily.

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