A lot of people used to say that Jere Doyle, BC ’87, didn’t have a real job. When he graduated and went to work for a five-person startup in Spain, his friends all said it. So did his parents. Everybody thought he should go to an established company and work there forever.
But Jere Doyle likes a good, healthy dose of risk, so off he went to run marketing for a small tourism company based in Marbella, a resort city about an hour’s drive from Gibraltar. Within six months, he had expanded marketing efforts from English to Dutch, German, and French. Not bad for a 22-year-old kid from Philly.
Together with Kelsey Kinton, BC ’12, Doyle runs the Shea Center for Entrepreneurship, a new Boston College initiative that debuted last September to give some infrastructure and mentorship to students in BC’s budding startup scene. Doyle is the managing director of Sigma Prime Ventures, a major Boston venture capital firm, so he’s less worried about the logistics and more focused on his vision for the Center. Kinton is the assistant director, handling all the day-to-day stuff like organizing the Center’s packed slate of events and working with Start @ Shea, the Center’s 20-member student board.
They have this sort of mantra that they both told me separately: The Shea Center is like a startup in a 150-year-old company. With that comes a challenge—you have to build it the right way.
“Startups are much more likely to die of indigestion than starvation,” Doyle said. “They try to do too much, too early, and it just kills them. So we’re going to try to make sure we don’t do the same thing here.”
Sure, they won’t starve. But they’re still hungry.
Doyle’s three great loves are literally—perfectly—his family, Boston College, and entrepreneurship, and the Shea Center is very much his baby. Through Sigma Prime Ventures, Doyle is plugged into the Boston startup ecosystem. He also works with a lot of alumni, like Tom Coburn, BC ’13, who founded the online marketing platform Jebbit, for which Doyle is a major investor and mentor.
“He’s a valuable adviser to the Center in the sense that he’s an entrepreneur, too,” said Claudio Quintana, a member of the Start @ Shea board and CSOM ’16. “He brings that passion and that experience, and it’s pretty valuable for students to have access to somebody who’s actively involved in a lot of companies.”
Doyle had done some talks at BC about his experience, judged the BC Venture Competition a couple of times, and he felt like BC needed to be doing more to give students the types of opportunities that could be found at Harvard or MIT, with their centers and innovation labs and countless Cambridge tech startups.
When Doyle went to Dean of CSOM Andy Boynton and University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., with the idea for the Center, they jumped on it. And last spring, following a gift from the family of Edmund H. Shea, Jr., the Center got up and running, though it was largely under wraps for a few months until its official announcement.
That’s about when Kinton came into the picture. She found out about the Center last year, right around when the donation was made, and took the opportunity. After graduation she spent three years at a nonprofit marketing firm for the city of Boston. The firm’s goal is to boost the local economy by promoting hotels and restaurants, and the job gave her a unique perspective on the booming Seaport District. Working at the Center would give her the chance to get BC more involved. Plus, she’s a big fan of Shark Tank.
Doyle is a big ideas kind of guy, hugely ambitious but also pragmatic and results-focused. As they’ve worked together over the past year, he’s become Kinton’s mentor.
“[Jere’s] all over the place,” she said. “But he’s always available and very approachable.”
He pushes her to think bigger and smarter, to be more analytical. Kinton suggested that they start an internship program for this summer, for example, and before agreeing Doyle wanted to know why, how, where, and who—thinking like an entrepreneur, basically. And it’s pretty clear that his thinking tends to be successful.
Even in entrepreneurship, it can very much be male-dominated. I had to become really comfortable with going to events full of BC men. Elyse Bush
Spain was the beginning. Doyle left that small marketing company to get an M.B.A. at Harvard. Then Spain was the middle, too: when the company started struggling, he went back and turned it around. After the company sold in 1997, Doyle started Prospectiv, which helped connect retailers to customers online during the dot-com bubble of the late ’90s. Rather than go under when the bubble burst, as so many companies did, it found a niche and started Eversave.com, one of the largest online retailers at that time. After that sold, too, he struck out on his own, launching Jere Doyle Enterprises and a couple of angel investment funds.
Still, it took about 20 years for Doyle’s mom to come around and decide that he had a real job. One of his companies was featured in The Wall Street Journal, and she figured that was as good a sign as any that he had made it.
Doyle always stuck to his guns, even when everybody questioned his career moves, and that seems to be driving his vision for the Shea Center. It’s about confidence and exploration.
“He knows just how much you can do and the potential that you have when you decide to work for a startup and experience the culture,” said Robbie Li, former co-chair of Start @ Shea and CSOM ’16. “He wants students to be curious enough to try that.”
Doyle and Kinton’s goal is for students to want to go to work for a startup, which they think is the best way to learn about business. With the debut of an entrepreneurship co-concentration in CSOM, they want to combine classroom learning with co-curricular and experiential learning.
“I feel like a lot of BC students feel like they should go to the big consulting or the big finance firm at graduation,” Kinton said. “I think that working for a small business you get to do a lot more than you would at a bigger company.”
The Shea Center doesn’t really care about starting companies, though some great ones, like Jebbit, have come out of BC. Coburn left school early when the company took off, and Doyle made him promise he would come back and finish his degree. Getting a versatile liberal arts education and learning as much as possible about career possibilities is what matters most to Doyle and the Center.
Li said Start @ Shea is an opportunity to spend time around people who think like he does. He’s interested in the culture of the startup, the constant questioning of how things work.
“For me, the learning experience has been that you can disrupt things,” he said. “You can always find problems with the current system and find ways to fix that problem.”
Before the Shea Center, there was always some uncertainty about the status of the entrepreneurial scene at BC. They never knew if the University was going to keep funding events, Li said. But Doyle and Kinton have added a formality to the movement, a vote of confidence from the school that it cares. The BC Venture Competition is now run by the Shea Center, as well as the Elevator Pitch Competition, in which students with business ideas are given one minute to sell their product or service to potential investors. Those programs have big prizes—$10,000 for first place in BCVC, which was awarded on Monday to Emocean, a music-streaming service started by two alumni and two current students.
Another goal of theirs is to open up entrepreneurship to a wider audience, to make the Shea Center a focal point for innovation at BC. One thing that means is making the culture more inclusive by getting a wider range of students involved, particularly people with engineering and computer science interests who may not otherwise consider working for a startup. Quintana said that the Center is definitely moving in the direction of focusing on software, and Doyle said very few startups of any kind exist nowadays that don’t make some use of fairly advanced technology.
There’s a social aspect of this work, too: seeking out more female founders is one of Doyle’s biggest goals.
Elyse Bush, MCAS ’16, is a co-founder of ModilMe, a clothes-sharing service that lets students rent out their unused clothes. ModilMe won for Best Service at this year’s Elevator Pitch Competition and spent several weeks this spring in the Shea Center’s new accelerator program, which gave Bush and her coworkers access to funding and mentors.
The Center hosted a female founders panel this year, which Bush said was encouraging. But she also thinks more needs to be done.
“Even in entrepreneurship, it can very much be male-dominated,” she said. “I had to become really comfortable with going to events full of BC men.”
So there’s work to be done. But who better to do it than Jere Doyle and Kelsey Kinton?
After we talked, Doyle took me downstairs to see the actual center, a brightly lit room with giant whiteboards for walls and a big conference table. It’s easy to imagine as the office for a five-person startup.
Two people were in there working on laptops. One of them was probably an undergrad, the other looked a little older, maybe a grad student or a BC employee.
“What are we doing in here, innovating, studying?” Doyle joked. He’s a magnet, taking over the room, flipping it upside down, making us all think a little harder.
“A little of both,” the kid said.
Doyle smiled. Perfect.
Correction: the article originally stated that the Shea Center for Entrepreneurship was established through a gift from the late Edmund H. Shea, Jr. The article has been corrected to reflect the fact that the gift was from his family.
Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor