InSITE, Renowned Start-up Mentorship Program, Launches in Boston

If you have watched or listened to music on YouTube recently then you have already, without knowing it, interacted with an InSITE company. RightsFlow, which Google acquired in 2011 to help manage royalty payments on its popular video site, is just one of a long list of successful start-ups to graduate from InSITE’s program.

InSITE, which stands for Investments from Student Interaction with Technology and Entrepreneurs, is a New York-based mentorship organization that pairs experienced graduate students, called Fellows, with highly promising early-stage start-ups aiming to receive their first venture funding.

The program, founded in 1999 by business and law school students at Columbia and NYU, has seen its companies raise more than $270 million in venture capital and achieve exits in excess of $130 million over its 13-year history.

Now InSITE has arrived in Boston, and HBS students are leading the inaugural class of Fellows.

Lauren Picasso (NG) is President of the Boston Chapter and is responsible for bringing InSITE to the city. She first heard about the organization while working at Rent the Runway when a colleague and former InSITE Fellow spoke highly of the program’s results and the strength of its network. When Picasso decided to enroll at HBS, she saw an opportunity to replicate InSITE’s success in Boston.

“My goal is for InSITE to be the hub of the thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem in Boston,” she said. “In New York, graduate students, start-ups, and venture capitalists now come together seamlessly. In Boston, InSITE has the potential to bridge the gap between different graduate programs and to bring together students with similar entrepreneurial interests.”

Whereas New York Fellows are sourced primarily from professional schools at Columbia, NYU, and Cornell, the first class of Boston Fellows consists of students from HBS, Harvard Law School, Harvard Kennedy School, and the MIT Sloan School of Management. InSITE is also expanding to Stanford, CA and Washington, D.C. this year.

Since it relies heavily on students, InSITE is specifically structured around the academic calendar. At the beginning of both the Fall and Spring semesters, InSITE runs a highly selective screening process to identify local, early-stage companies with significant potential. It then matches each start-up with a team of five Fellows, who agree to meet with the company once per week leading up to an end-of-semester pitch event in front of venture capitalists. The students, who have often worked in relevant industries prior to returning to school, can offer crucial business or legal advice, while InSITE’s network gives the companies direct access to leading venture capital firms.

The beauty of InSITE, its leaders say, is that everyone benefits. The companies develop stronger business plans and a focused pitch. Students gain hands-on experience tackling the everyday challenges of an entrepreneur, and venture capitalists get access to a ripe pool of tomorrow’s leading companies.

Paul Tumpowsky, who was a member of InSITE’s founding class and has been Chairman of the Board since 2000, emphasized InSITE’s ability to have a diverse impact on a number of different constituents.

“InSITE doesn’t focus on a single outcome, but instead on several,” he said. “Fellows get exposure to starting a career in VC, start-ups learn how to seek funding, and the network continues to support all parties as they start businesses in the future – everyone gets to choose how to take advantage of the organization to meet their needs.”

InSITE, which also hosts speakers and other networking events to supplement its pitch program, funds its own operations through sponsorships from venture capital firms.

Picasso emphasized the attraction for venture capitalists.

“The investors are granted access to highly screened companies with well-developed business plans as well as graduate students who are eager to become entrenched in the venture business,” she said.

Indeed, many former InSITE Fellows have become senior investment professionals at leading venture capital firms, including SV Angel, Battery Ventures, and Millennium Technology Ventures. Others have gone on to successfully lead their own companies, such as Andrew Moss (InSITE ’01), who received funding from Matrix Partners for before selling it to Gilt Groupe.

Other notable InSITE alumni companies include Branch, Dodgeball, Vindigo, Broadview Networks, ON Networks, Hycrete, Recycle Bank, Hopstop, FlavorPill, and Organic Motion.

Still, despite the professional possibilities that may await, Picasso, as a graduate student herself, is perhaps most excited about the current learning opportunity that InSITE offers.

“InSITE provides an incredibly rich experience for graduate students,” she said. “Fellows are exposed to weekly hands-on, real-world interaction, but most importantly, they gain significant intellectual benefit from participating in a diverse team with students from different top graduate schools.”

Tumpowsky echoed the importance of interaction among Fellows.

“In the end, all of the programming that InSITE and its Fellows work on was at one point started by a Fellow,” he said. “I want Fellows to leverage InSITE’s network for their benefit, so that they can create great experiences for themselves and for other Fellows in the future.”

Inaugural InSITE Boston Fellows:

Harvard Business School: Pratik Agarwal, Nicholas Christman, Aysun Demircan, Megan Fischer, Alex Kleiner, Divya Kumaraiah (joint HKS), Juan L. Leung Li, Santiago Ocejo, Kevin Omwega, Gerry Pambo-Awich, Lauren Penneys, Lauren Picasso, Liz Reifsnyder, Molly Rhodes, Chris Sumner, Mike Vaupen; Harvard Law School: Hyeongsu Park, Cristian Robiou, Max Rosen, Nick Whitney; Harvard Kennedy School: Varun Bhandari; MIT Sloan: Bhargav Addala, Greg Fiore, Harish Kamath, Miles Wellesley.