Fall 2012

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BoxCo. founder Alex Onsager, left, and David Ma (WCAS12). Photo by Rachel Sachs (WCAS15).

Student Startups on Rise

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Businesses provide hands-on experience for entrepreneurs.

As students headed home in June for the summer, many of them traveled a little lighter thanks to BoxCo., a new student-run storage operation.

BoxCo. is the latest addition to a burgeoning student startup culture at Northwestern. In the past year the number of student startups has doubled, says Michael Marasco, director of the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Northwestern.

“It’s really a function of the fact that students have a greater interest in exploring entrepreneurship while they’re still students,” he said. “Entrepreneurship is becoming part of the DNA of campus, and it will only increase.”

Rising senior Alex Onsager, co-founder of BoxCo., is deeply involved in Northwestern’s entrepreneurial culture. He also serves as CEO of Northwestern Student Holdings, which manages and funds a portfolio of student-run businesses. NSH, which is supported by the Farley Center, currently oversees six student-run businesses, ranging from a transportation service to a food delivery initiative.

The NSH board of directors selected BoxCo. in its annual Business Idea Competition. BoxCo. received the largest amount of funding ever provided to an NSH business.

“Without a doubt there is a growing culture of entrepreneurship at Northwestern,” Onsager said. “Students have figured out that starting a business is one of the best ways to make an impact at the University and in the larger world outside of this campus.” 

Marasco says that both inside the classroom and out, students are encouraged to channel their innovation productively. The University offers entrepreneurship-related classes in a variety of undergraduate schools, and Northwestern also maintains incubator space both in Evanston and in Chicago, in addition to a variety of funding and mentoring opportunities for aspiring student entrepreneurs, he says.

He added that promoting entrepreneurship was included in Northwestern’s most recent strategic plan, highlighting the degree to which the administration values innovation. “Do we have as many teams competing at entrepreneurial conferences as Stanford?” Marasco asked. “No, but we’re not that far behind. I’d expect that in the next two to three years, we’ll be considered one of the top institutions in that space.”