Alumni NewsSUNDAY, APRIL 3, 2016 - 4:03 PM
Entrepreneurs Shaun McGrady '03/G'09 and Tom Skypek '05 Selected for Valley Venture Mentors’ Accelerator Program
Two alumni were among four teams of entrepreneurs from Western New England University chosen to take part in the Valley Venture Mentors’ (VVM) Accelerator Program, a non-profit that fast tracks the growth and success of startups and early stage companies by providing expertise and funding. The teams selected were Name Net Worth, founded by Shaun McGrady ’03/G’09; GovBizConnect, founded by Tom Skypek ’05 (pictured); Wine Somme; and AnyCafé.
Name Net Worth is a mobile application that leverages trusted relationships to measure and strengthen a user’s personal and professional networks. McGrady, web marketing manager in the University’s office’s marketing and external affairs Office, is the startup’s CTO. He, along with company president Jeremy Casey and COO Pam Thornton, co-founded Name Net Worth in 2013. The application measures that value and informs users, companies, and networking organizations where their networking efforts are best spent.
“I think the VVM Accelerator is terrific,” said McGrady. “Obviously, it is great that Name Net Worth was accepted, but it is awesome to see the work of others coming from the University. I think it provides great exposure for the University with regards to potential employers and will open doors for internship opportunities.”
GovBizConnect is a premier online professional network for small and large government contractors and government employees and was founded by Skypek in 2015. While working in Washington, DC as a government contractor, he saw first-hand just how broken the process was for matching government contractors for teaming opportunities.
“To bid on government contracts, two or more companies often need to partner in order to compete for the contract—either to satisfy a legal or regulatory requirement or to make their bids more competitive,” said Skypek, GovBizConnect’s CEO.
These inefficient processes bothered him, so he chose to solve an important business problem that he and others are dealing with every day. Skypek said that GovBizConnect is going to make this process more efficient and deliver a host of benefits to its users and the taxpayers as well. He also states that while at Western New England University he had several opportunities to explore and exercise his entrepreneurial interests. Academically, he developed and refined his ability to solve problems and communicate well, which were two skills that positioned him to be able to launch GovBizConnect.
Wine Somme is a unique wine purchasing concept co-founded by Mary Schoonmaker, an assistant professor of marketing at the University, and her husband Jon in 2015. Wine Somme features a mobile app playlist that allows consumers to manage their wine preferences and purchases through favorites and likes, building a wish list for their preferred retailers. Wine Somme, working with the Mass Package Stores Association located in West Springfield, is in active discussions with local retailers anticipating the products launch in 2016. “To my knowledge, no other University has accomplished this feat—having four teams chosen to participate,” she said.
AnyCafe began operations at a three-day entrepreneurial startup event at Western New England University last year. The team conceptualized a travel mug that can brew K-Cups. Team members started with just an idea and came out of the start-up event with a business plan, local contacts who have successful startups, and a roadmap for next steps to take. The students developed a prototype and are currently securing a patent for their product.
The teams are being given four months of intensive training, mentorship, and rounds of competition as they take their ventures to the next level. VVM Accelerator participants are given the opportunity to develop relationships with funders and are eligible to win cash awards for their start-ups. Sponsors of the VVM Accelerator Program include MassMutual, MassDevelopment, The Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation, Mass Tech Collaborative, and the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts.