First Week Working with the MassChallenge Finalists - A Recap of the Wheaton Innovates (WiN) Team Experience

First Week Working with the MassChallenge Finalists - A Recap of the Wheaton Innovates (WiN) Team Experience

You can never know someone's work ethic before you dive into the trenches with them.

This past week, my team of Wheaton College Students went from the safety of our campus to the reality of the Boston start-up scene at MassChallenge.

As I sat in the creeping traffic, I wondered how they would all do. Some people need their own space. Others crave stability in their schedules. Not everyone can handle last-minute meetings, shuffling schedules and demanding clients. I had faith in my team, but now it was time to go to work.

Before the students arrived, I went up to check out the space and make sure things were ready for our arrival. On the elevator ride, I said good morning to the woman riding to the same floor as I was. As soon as I finished telling her about the team she said, “We have to work together.” and in a moment we had our first client.

It is a good lesson for everyone. Say hi to people. Introduce yourself. You never know who is waiting in line for coffee with you, riding an elevator with or sitting next to on a plane. A simple “good morning” can lead to amazing things, but you’ll never know if you don’t say it.

Once everyone arrived, we were given a tour of the MassChallenge office. It is a sweeping, open floor environment. Long community tables, brightly colored conference rooms, a maker space, kitchen full of goodies and an event space complete with a garage door to close it off when needed.

I had fun watching the students react to everything and later as I talked to them about their first day I heard everything from “wow, this is huge” to “I thought there would be more suits.” For some of them, this was their first day ever at work.

Once we got settled in, the team broke up into pairs and began going around and introducing themselves, the team and our services. We had created a flyer that explained in detail what we were about and how long we would be available to work on projects. The founders were told that to request our services all they had to do was fill out an online form we had set up.

Selling yourself is never an easy task. I’m horrible at it. Some of the students were naturals at sales, and I made a point to mention that to them. It is a skill that not everyone possesses, and it is a critical tool towards being successful in whatever career you choose.

By lunchtime, I broke the news to the team that we already had five companies requesting our services. By the end of the day, it would be up to eleven. As I type this, it is up to twenty-three in total.

We divided up the projects based on who was interested and assigned a project lead to each of them. This student’s role would include being the point of contact for the client and to run the requirements gathering meeting.

Our plan was to have meetings with all potential clients and then at the end of the week to sit down and go through all of them to determine which ones we had the time, skills and desire to work with.

I’m personally excited to share that one of the companies I hoped we would get a chance to work with, Collettey’s Cookies, filled out our form.

A few weeks back, I had seen a news story about Collette Divitto, who after years of not being hired because of her Down Syndrome decided to start her own company. Now, she is taking meetings around the world and making not just tasty cookies, but job opportunities.

She is an inspiring young woman CEO, and I’m proud that we will be working with her and her company this summer. Oh, and if you are curious about her cookies, they live up to their name. The whole team agreed they are amazing cookies.  

Remember that woman on the elevator? Her name is Pat, and she is the Co-Founder of Candorful, who are working to teach interview skills to veterans.

They were the first client meeting we had and the work they hoped to have done had a very tight timeline. They were a perfect teaching example for the team and we talked a lot about how the meeting went, how hard it can be to say no and how to proceed.

I’m proud to say the students have already filmed, edited and delivered a rough cut of their needed overview video. That is exciting!

To celebrate the work kickoff, I took the team out to dinner. We laughed, shared stories and enjoyed some great seafood. It was nice to spend time outside of the office and classroom with these students and see them more relaxed.

As a team, they’ve come together nicely. At the end of the week, the project leads briefed the team on their meetings. As a group, we decided which projects we were going to move forward with and which ones we would have to pass on.

The students are going to be working on a variety of projects including branding and marketing strategies, creating video and photography marketing elements, creative brainstorming, web site development and content creation. If this isn’t experiential learning, I don’t know what is.

This week we are off for the 4th of July holiday, but I know several students are still working on setting up meetings and learning new skills on their own to prepare for the client work.

When we all return, the month of hard work begins. Hope the team is as excited as I am.