Berthiaume Center recognized with top entrepreneurship award

By Shelby Ashline

(Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian)
(Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian)

The Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship, located within the University of Massachusetts Isenberg School of Management, was recognized last month as a recipient of the 2016 Outstanding Emerging Entrepreneurship Program Award.

The national award, which is given annually by the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship, recognizes an entrepreneurship program that has been in existence for under three years and that “reflects innovation, quality, potential viability, comprehensiveness, depth of support, sustainability and impact,” according to USASBE’s website.

“USASBE is well-known across entrepreneurship schools in higher education,” said Bill Wooldridge, managing director of the Berthiaume Center. “So [this award] really validates what we’re doing.”

Specifically, what the Berthiaume Center is doing is creating “a culture and a climate where students can feel comfortable exploring ideas,” Wooldridge said.

“From there, our role is to, once students or faculty start a new venture or venture team, is to connect them with services and resources that they need to help them bring their venture into realization,” he continued. “Our ultimate goal is to help ventures created on this campus to get to a point of launch, to get to a point where they’re ready to go for funding, to get in front of investors and to really create their business.”

Although the center is housed in the Isenberg School of Management, Wooldridge emphasized that its services are available for students in all majors, as well as to faculty and staff.

“Most of the students and faculty that we serve are not from the business school,” he said.

Since the Berthiaume Center’s founding during the summer of 2014 following a $10 million gift from Douglas and Diana Berthiaume, Associate Director Birton Cowden says he has seen a wide range of venture plans come through the center’s doors, “from a sock company to wearable technology to pet technology to a social enterprise around recycling in third world countries.”

In addition, Wooldridge said that “at the graduate and faculty level, we also work with scientists and engineers that have innovations (and) inventions they’ve done in research labs,” adding that these inventors want to introduce their products and ideas to the rest of the world.

Even students who don’t intend to become entrepreneurs can receive assistance from the Berthiaume Center. Wooldridge provided an example of an artist who had a bright idea, but needed help with web development.

Cowden cited the Berthiaume Center’s wide-reaching services and uniqueness as being a key factor that set it apart from the seven other applicants for 2016’s Outstanding Emerging Entrepreneurship Program Award.

“We’re not trying to copy another model. We’re not Babson (College), we’re not MIT,” Cowden said. “We’re building what needs to be here at UMass.”

Of the seven universities that submitted written applications in September, UMass Amherst, the University of Mississippi and St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia were announced as the three finalists in November. The winner was announced at the USASBE conference, which was held Jan. 8 to12 in San Diego, California, according to an UMass press release.

“The feedback from the judges, which were the previous winners of the award, their comments were, ‘We’ve never seen a program be built so fast,’” said Cowden, who accepted the award in San Diego.

Through the Berthiaume Center, two student-run organizations with common goals have developed: the Berthiaume Student Innovators and the Entrepreneurship Club. In addition, the center supports the BuzzBuilders marketing internships, arranges for guest speakers such as DraftKings CEO Jason Robins who visited campus in November, and organizes numerous other events, including regular idea jams.

Currently, Wooldridge describes the Berthiaume Center as “kind of a virtual center” because although there are offices, the center has no designated space to hold events, often utilizing the Integrative Learning Center. In the future, he hopes to gain a designated space.

Wooldridge also intends to implement a 10-week summer accelerator program, at the end of which students would be ready to speak in front of investors about their innovative ideas.

Shelby Ashline can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Shelby_Ashline.