Faculty and Students Reap Rewards

Over the 11 years since its opening in 2009, the VDC has engaged 2,392 faculty and students from many majors in projects, competitions, workshops, courses, seminars, internships and jobs. These activities connect them to the business innovators in their fields so they can learn how to contribute to and benefit from the rapid transformations underway. 

Gabriela Veloz (’14 International Management): “I was promoted to a leadership role just months after joining the company.”

Gabriela Veloz was unsure what do with her passion for international management until she attended a workshop at the VDC for recent grads interested in business careers in fast growing venture-backed startup companies. After the event, she landed a business development representative job at SnapApp, and eventually joined CloudHealth Technologies. She said that she was promoted to a leadership role just months after joining the company. 

Today, Gaby is an account executive for Latin America, having pitched the company to create the position. She is one of 15 employees of CloudHealth who come every semester to the VDC to guide UMass Boston students interested in sales, marketing, data analytics and software development roles in venture-backed companies. 

Maria Vasco (’20 Environmental Science): “This scholarship takes a lot of weight off my shoulders.”

School for the Environment major Maria Vasco is the first-ever recipient of UMass Boston’s Entrepreneur Scholarship and Workforce Development Program award, run by the VDC. In addition to the scholarship, she is being mentored by the scholarship’s founder, Dan Phillips, for the next two years. Phillips, an advisor in the VDC, recently sold his 6-year-old company, CloudHealth Technologies, to VMware for $500 million. 

“That’s exactly what I needed – someone with experience to give me advice.” Vasco says the award is just as critical to her growth as a budding entrepreneur. She hopes to open a beauty store with compostable products in plastic-free packaging. 

Josephine Namayanja, Assistant Professor, Department of Management Science and Information Systems: “The students are now ready to make a difference, thanks to your support.”

The IT Capstone Class is a semester long project demonstrating a student’s mastery of skills. What better way to enhance the experience than having entrepreneurs at the cutting edge of their fields lead the projects?

Dr. Namayanja tapped four VDC company founders to mentor student projects. “We are truly humbled by all the opportunities you have presented to us. Our students are walking out of UMass Boston different and ready to make a difference, only because you gave them a chance.”

One student reported: “I think my team’s capstone submission for the dashboard helped me land the job I’m at now at Boston Children’s Hospital.”

Jill Macoska, Professor of Biology, Alton J. Brann Chair: “I learned how to commercialize the biomarkers the center is developing.”

Jill Macoska, a Boston Business Journal Women to Watch in Science and Technology, is the founding director of the Center for Personalized Cancer Therapy. It is an ambitious translational research venture with the Dana Farber Cancer Institute which has leveraged over $40,000,000 in NIH research funding.

According to Jill: “When I first got to the VDC, I was surrounded by startups, and I was really learning how startups are formed, how they become sustained, the kind of business models they have to develop to be competitive, how they get their funding, all of that stuff. I got a better understanding of how to commercialize the biomarkers the center is developing.”

Roland Price (’19, Information Technology): “Not a lot of opportunities existed like this before.”

When the New England Venture Capital Association (NEVCA) partnered with the VDC to launch Hack.Diversity, they did so with the goal of addressing the underrepresentation of high-skilled minority employees in Boston’s tech industry. UMass Boston junior Roland Price said he was “ecstatic” when he found out that he was chosen as one of the 2018 fellows. “Not a whole lot of opportunities existed like this before.”

Roland landed an internship at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He says: “The program gives those who otherwise would never have had a chance to learn, network and work with some of the greatest people in Boston, maybe the world.”

Ariana Gardner (Computer Science, ’18): “The program gave me the opportunity to prove myself and to reach my goals.”

To date, through Hack.Diversity, the New England Venture Capital Association has selected 29 UMass Boston students to participate in internships in Boston’s tech industry. After the program, 2018 Fellow Ariana Gardner became a full-time release engineer at American Well, a fast growing company that connects users instantly with doctors over video feed.

Marc Pomplun, Professor of Computer Science: “Help me make the course more relevant to the real-world.”

“My industrial experience in software engineering is rather thin, and so I’d be very grateful if you could help make the course (Introduction to Software Engineering) more current and more relevant to real-world software engineering,” Pomplun says modestly. Enter VDC entrepreneurs Itzu Chen (PillPack), Lere Williams (GitHub), Nam Chu Hoai (Wellframe), and Srinath Vaddepally (RistCall) who built a new syllabus and lectured in the course with Dr.Pomplun.

Pomplun recently made another request: “I will teach that course again in the spring, and it would be great if I could work with the VDC.” Himanshu Agrawal (Verbotics), Juan Morales (Tymwear), and Thrasyvoulos Karydis (Deepcure) are participating. “For many students, the VDC represents our first exposure to startup culture and solving real-world tech problems, and the insight and experience the entrepreneurs are lending is invaluable,” said computer science major Kristen Laird.”

Haydy George, Emal Lesha, Jurgen Poci and Rebeca Cortazio (’16, Biology): “I worked very closely with the CEO.”

Luhan Yang’s first request upon arriving at the VDC from the George Church’s lab at Harvard Medical School was for talented and highly skilled interns. UMass Boston biology students Emal Lesha, Haydy George, Jurgen Poci and Rebeca Cortazio helped her with a publication in Science. Her startup, eGenesis, has since raised $38 million from ARCH Venture Partners after successfully using the gene-editing tool CRISPR to knock out a key virus in piglets, a move that could lead to pig-organ transplants for humans.

According to Haydy, now Research Laboratory Manager at eGenesis: “I worked very closely with Dr. Yang. She quickly gave me responsibilities and I was up for the challenge.”

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