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Project Lever CEO Svetlana Dostsenko talks to Boston University students about what it takes to get a startup up and running. 

This Tuesday, CEO Svetlana Dotsenko and I met with some aspiring young innovators at Boston University. Professor Amy Slate was kind enough to let Svetlana take over class for the day and give the students a peek into the life and growth of a startup company in the Education sector. The class is entitled "Emerging Technologies in Education," and it is a part of the Education core for undergraduate students.

Professor Slate is very involved in the EdTech industry, meeting with budding entrepreneurs throughout Boston. Slate has visited our shared EdTech office space a couple times to host "Office Hours" - an opportunity for startups to pick the brains of experts, like herself, in the field. Professor Slate thought it would be a great idea to invite entrepreneurs, like our CEO, to guest lecture in her class and "teach students what life is really like out there in the real world for Education startups."

Dotsenko started off the class with a short presentation about Project Lever: its purpose, history, and ultimate goal. She then went on to describe what she thought are the most important elements to focus on in order to build up a startup

  • Streamlined Sales Process
  • Quality Technology 
  • User Feedback

Next came the fun exercise portion of the class: think up your own startup! The students broke off into teams of two or three and developed their own fun idea into a (potentially) growing business. 

6 Steps to Creating a Business:

1. Think of a crazy idea. We heard everything from syndicated city transportation apps (a la Uber) to smart test-taking machines that would take your midterms and finals for you (they ran into some plagiarism issues here!). 

2. Who would be your customers? Who will pay for your service or product?

3. Hold a customer interview. Get some feedback from your customers as well as your users. What is working? What isn't?

4. Draw a rudimentary prototype. This is where some students really worked their creativity bone. What will the interface of your app look like? Professor Slate and I actually participated in this exercise and came up with our own idea: get the T (or Boston trolley) to be more efficient by having riders select their destination when they board the trolley:

An iPad mounted on the wall of the Boston trolley to facilitate rider efficiency. 

 5. What is your business model? Get your first customer! What is your mode of action? Who will you network with and pitch to?

6. Get your team together! What strengths does your team possess? Will you need to hire additional members in order to get your business up and running?

It was exciting to see the students come up with their own ideas and learn how to tackle each issue as they came up. We hope to see some of these young entrepreneurs in the EdTech industry sometime soon! Thank you, Boston University class ED211 for letting us stop by! 

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Kit McDonnell is a sophomore at Tufts University that engages in various types of research every summer in Chicago. “I’ve been working in a genetics lab in a natural history museum, Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History, for the last three summers,” she says. “I love that there is very contemporary research going on in a natural history museum because they have such vast collections. Less than 1% of their collections are on display for the public; the rest is research oriented.”

Kit studied interesting topics that combined evolutionary studies and genetic studies. She says, “the first summer I was there, I was working on developing evolutionary relationships between Peruvian tanagers [a type of bird] and their malarian counterparts. So looking at the evolutionary divergence of one strain of malaria in birds and looking if that correlates with the divergence of another one: the coevolution of malaria in birds.” 

The research that Kit did that summer, and that she continued to do her third summer there, was part of a larger project the museum was working on. She informs us that her research is “part of a big project that the museum is doing in collaboration with the University of Chicago. It’s called the Emerging Pathogens Project and they’re trying to collect as much information as they can about anything from swine flu to malaria.” This research is part of a greater cause to support health amongst human beings. Kit says that the goal of the project is to “stop things in their tracks before they become an epidemic, […] using evolution.”  

McDonnell (pictured above) researched Peruvian Tanagers in an effort to prevent Bird Flu.

 “Two summers ago I was working with ants and I’m obsessed with ants now,” Kit enthusiastically states. During her second summer at the museum, Kit worked on ants and their relationship with a specific kind of tree. She explains, “I was studying these ants called mutualistic acacia ants. The ants live on a certain type of acacia tree and they eat the sap from it and in return they defend the tree from everything: from other ants to an herbivore that’s trying to eat it. They’ll actually go and attack it.” More specifically she clarifies, “I was studying those ants and their metagenomics, which is just all their bacterial content, and seeing if they have a reduced diversity of bacteria in their stomachs compared to non-mutualistic ants.”

One Acacia Ant in the army, defending the tree and its precious sap.

This eager researcher affirms her love for working in a lab: “I love working in a lab not only because of the lab work but because it’s exposing someone to the realities of life in the research field in a much more meaningful way than you can get doing a pre-synthesized lab in a class.” The research process for her is all about discovering new questions and answers. She says, “sometimes you’ll be on one track, and you’ll learn about something else, and another question will come up, and you’ll forget the project you were working on and go on this new tangent and discover something amazing.”

Thanks to her great experience at the museum, Kit knows what she wants to do after her studies: “I want to go into research because of it. I was so lucky to get into a program that was so encouraging of it.”

This article was written by one of Project Lever's guest bloggers - Claire Forgan, an undergraduate from Tufts University. Interested in contributing? This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Divinity school students, you may have spotted us in the Rock Cafe yesterday handing out delicious mini cupcakes and fresh fruit. We want you signed up at Project Lever! Lots of professors, students, and staff members of the Div. school were intrigued by this new partnership they may have been learning about via email and word of mouth around campus. 

Shannon manning the Project Lever table

Shannon Hart from Project Lever awaits eager students.

Buzzing from their miniature confectionary treats, students were motivated to sign up for Project Lever at the table with the convenience of our iPad. Although we have been connecting with users for feedback on a daily basis via phone, it was great to see firsthand what the user experience is like. We received great compliments: "I have friends that always complain, 'Where are all the professors that are interested in what I am interested in?' This website would be great for them!" We also learned that Harvard Divinity School already has a great mentorship program: "I already have a great advisor here, but am looking forward to checking out what the thesis topics are that other students have previously written." It's great that potential users are aware that Project Lever offers way more than just connecting students to faculty members. 

It's so awesome to meet with our users face-to-face and see what an impact we are making. From just a couple minutes using the site, Harvard Divinity students were making connections with new professors. Thank you so much to the faculty and staff of Harvard Divinity School for bringing us on campus and seeing our vision come to fruition. Keep signing up, everyone!

Harvard Divinity School student Niki Patterson registers for Project Lever.

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Services to trace our ancestry have been around for quite some time. If you’re curious enough (and are willing to spring about $100), a genotyping test will tie your molecular blueprint to a specific region on the planet. Last week a technique to determine when geographically different populations met in time was published by a team of European scientists in the journal Science. 

This particular method is based on understanding the mechanics of human reproduction on the molecular level. In the case of a child formed between a Roman soldier and a Gallic woman, this would mean that one chromosome comes from the mother and one from the father. However, chromosomes break and remix. As a result, the child will not end up with only Roman or Gallic chromosomes in its eggs or sperm. For example, some of these sex cells could carry a chromosome that will be 20% from dad and 80% for mom. With each subsequent generation, the fragments from the foreign population continue becoming smaller and more intermixed within the local DNA.

By comparing the fragmentation of foreign DNA within local populations around the globe the bioinformaticians have identified several historical events in which different groups of people came together. For example, the Kalash of Pakistan, who claim they are descendants of Alexander the Great’s army, bear genetic evidence of encountering Europeans around 900-200BCE. Genghis Khan, another conqueror active in the thirteenth century left his mark not only on history but on genetics as well. The populations in his path bear evidence of intermixing with the Mongol people in an event that happened 22 generations ago, or around 1306CE. Other admixture events detected by the scientists are the colonization of the Americas by the Spanish or less violent encounters among the Silk Road such evidence of Greeks coming in contact with the Tu people of China around 1100CE.

These new methods will hopefully lend greater evidence for history or eventually gain the ability to inform new avenues of research about events which are forgotten by man but recorded in genes. For the curious, the results of the study are available with this interactive map

Petar Todorov is a guest contributor to Project Lever Magazine. Petar is an undergraduate student at Tufts University and very involved in research as well as the Tufts iGEM team. 

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Our office space, comprised of dozens of startups in the EdTech industry, got a very special visitor today - the mayor of Boston! Mayor Marty Walsh was able to shake hands with Boston entrepreneurs and learn about how each one of our companies is innovating the industry. 

"We want [your companies] to grow. We want you to get big and then stay here in Boston. We are the center of educational innovation, " Mayor Walsh explained. He mentioned that a certain valley in California is trying to take the cake, but we will not let that happen. Walsh continued, "From Boston's Back Bay, to West Roxbury, to Mattapan, I would love for Boston to have entire buildings dedicated to entrepreneurs and startups."

Our office only comprises one part of a floor in this twelve-story building at 31 St. James Street that we call home in the Back Bay. Imagine if this entire building was buzzing with creative minds, collaborating, brainstorming, and launching new ideas into the cloud! And what if these innovation epicenters were all over Boston? We can't wait to see how the mayor will advocate for EdTech startups even more. 

We are so proud to be part of a cutting-edge environment. We thank the mayor for his words of encouragement and are extremely grateful for his support of our young company. Thank you, Mayor Walsh! 

Mayor Marty Walsh with Project Lever CEO Svetlana Dotsenko

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