High-Tech Leaders Bolster Northeastern's Entrepreneurs Portal - InformationWeek

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High-Tech Leaders Bolster Northeastern's Entrepreneurs Portal

Project supporters include alumni Richard Egan and Roger Marino of EMC; John Cullinane, founder of Cullinane Software; and Bob Davis, founder of Lycos.

The economy may be melting, but the high-tech entrepreneurial drive to start a company remains steady, and Boston's Northeastern University is preparing to relaunch a Web site to offer advice to entrepreneurs.

Called the Entrepreneurs Portal at Northeastern's School of Technical Leadership, the effort draws heavily on Northeastern graduates who have forged successful careers as high-tech entrepreneurs.

The portal also has relied on assistance from the Kaufmann Foundation, which has mounted an international program to promote entrepreneurs. While nearby MIT and Harvard universities have long contributed to the ranks of successful computer and high-tech entrepreneurs, Northeastern is still relatively new to the high-tech entrepreneurial scene but has come on strong in recent years.

The most successful graduates are Richard Egan and Roger Marino, the "E" and "M" in storage colossus EMC. Others include John Cullinane, founder of Cullinane Software, and Bob Davis, founder of Lycos.

The portal is overseen by professor Anthony DeRitis, chairman of Northeastern's music department. DeRitis was recently asked what a music professor is doing running an entrepreneurial program.

"We have 450 music majors and they are absolutely entrepreneurs," DeRitis said in an interview. "There's a spirit of economic entrepreneurship" among the students. DeRitis noted that the students move back and forth from large entertainment firms and small startups, dropping out of school for a while only to return later to their classes.

One major contributor to the portal is John Cullinane, whose Cullinane Software was the first independent software firm to issue an IPO. The company eventually was acquired by Computer Associates. Cullinane later developed entrepreneurial materials while a fellow at the Kennedy School, and his "Entrepreneurs Survival Guide" is featured on the Northeastern portal.

Although Cullinane built his software company from scratch in the early 1970s, his experience with today's young aspiring entrepreneurs tells him that the challenges facing software startups are the same today as they were when he was a young entrepreneur.

"It's all about confidence," Cullinane said in an interview Friday. "I started without any confidence, but when I went to top management meetings at the company where I worked, I realized they didn't know so much. In fact, they didn't have a clue. And this gave me confidence that I could learn on my own."

Cullinane advises aspiring entrepreneurs to be prepared to force themselves to learn how to do a startup and learn by doing.

"The most important tip of all for a would-be entrepreneur is about the importance of a main message," he said, adding that entrepreneurs often get so overwhelmed with multiple messages and thoughts that they can't get to the heart of the matter. Cullinane has broadened his "main message" effort beyond the entrepreneurial portal and has applied it to political campaigns and business challenges.

After the initial success of Northeastern's Entrepreneurs Portal last year, DeRitis is beefing up the portal and plans to relaunch it later this year. "We have all his good content that we've collected," he said, adding that it's being posted on the portal.

Each year, InformationWeek honors the nation's 500 most innovative users of business technology. Companies with $250 million or more in revenue are invited to apply for the 2009 InformationWeek 500.

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