Neel Desai, SSH’17, will graduate this May with a degree in economics and a true understanding of entrepreneurship as well. As CEO of IDEA, Desai has worked within the student-venture accelerator, as well as with outside groups, such as Mosaic, an alliance of student-led organizations that support venture incubation, to foster Northeastern’s entrepreneurship ecosystem.
IDEA currently counsels over 200 active ventures and launched 45 startups. In total, IDEA has helped raise $68 million in external funding since it was founded in 2009.
Desai was named the CEO of IDEA in the summer of 2016. He is the first CEO to come from outside the D’Amore-McKim School of Business.
“Northeastern has embraced an interdisciplinary approach to entrepreneurship, and I’ve brought on a more diverse team of students across the various colleges,” Desai said on his unique role. Initially, he began as a coach with IDEA, later switching to the operations side, before the opportunity to become CEO was offered.
In high school, Desai started his own non-profit, Technology for Tomorrow, which provides technology literacy classes by connecting high schools and senior living facilities.
During his time at Northeastern, he became involved in social entrepreneurship, participating in a Dialogue of Civilizations program to South Africa as a student, and later returning to a different Dialogue program in India as a TA.
“For me, social entrepreneurship was the outlet through which I could use my formal training in business for social good. I wanted to bring that experience and passion to IDEA,” he said.
As the CEO of IDEA, Desai has led a team of 25 undergraduate students, 35 coaches, as well as faculty and staff, donors and the IDEA board of advisors.
Reflecting on his time as CEO, Desai said, “From being involved with IDEA, one thing I’ve learned is just how difficult starting a successful business can be. Entrepreneurship is glamorized, but seeing how difficult it is to successfully—that’s the key word—start a venture and have a sustaining impact has been eye-opening. A majority of startups fail. That’s the name of the game. But that experience is still valuable for students. For a majority of our ventures, this is not their first concept.”
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