2014 Montle Prize Winners
Danielle Feerst, A16, and Robert Wallace, A15, awarded Paul and Elizabeth Montle Prize for Entrepreneurial Achievement
By Dana Guth, A17
Two School of Arts and Sciences students, Danielle Feerst, A16, and Robert Wallace, A15, were recently named winners of the 2014 Paul and Elizabeth Montle Prize for Entrepreneurial Achievement. The prize, created by Paul Montle, A69, recognizes Tufts students who demonstrate outstanding entrepreneurial skills. The award, divided between the two winners and equal to a full year’s tuition at Tufts, is intended to kick-start their future businesses.
Feerst and Wallace were selected from the competition by a panel of judges, including faculty from Tufts Gordon Institute and professors in the Department of Economics. Before the competition began, both students had demonstrated growth in and ambition for their businesses. Feerst founded and is now CEO of AutismSees, an educational technology company that develops software applications to help young adults on the autism spectrum improve their speaking and interview preparation skills. Wallace co-founded Suisey Fanware, a company whose flagship product is a sports jersey-blazer hybrid that Wallace designed.
“Danielle and Robert both show real innovation and feasibility for their projects,” says Anne Moore, a member of the Scholarship Selection Committee and program specialist in scholar development. “We look for a few things. Is this business going to make money? Is there a clear vision for social impact? And what have you done with it so far?”
AutismSees LLC is developing software to give an engagement score to young adults with higher functioning learning disabilities such as autism spectrum disorders based on their presentation and speaking skills and abilities. The software, iPresentWell, provides feedback to users, helping them to improve their vocabulary and presentation skills and overcome their fear of eye contact and speaking.iPresentwell is currently in the testing and development stage.
A junior majoring in engineering psychology and Entrepreneurial Leadership Studies, Feerst began her research during her first year at Tufts through the Tufts Chapter of the Compass Fellowship, part of a nationwide program that provides mentors for college students with an interest in social entrepreneurship, and inspired Feerst to gear her work towards helping others.
Feerst is volunteering this semester at the 3LPlace, a learning community for young adults with autism in Brookline, Massachusetts. She will teach yoga, help prepare meals, and even bring young adults to Tufts events. In the future, members of the 3LPlace community may pilot the software or help in the development process. Ultimately, AutismSees plans to sell their product to nonprofit organizations and schools that Feerst has been in touch with since the creation of the company.
Wallace’s company, Suisey Fanware, takes a trend-based approach. He dreamt up the Suisey (pronounced “SOO-zee,” a fusion of suit and jersey) with Tufts alumnus Zach Etkind, A10, while the two were studying abroad in China. Wallace and Etkind used the Suisey as a costume in their self-produced YouTube sitcom, “Donnie Does.”
“The main character in the videos wore this combination of a tailor-made suit and sports attire,” recalls Wallace, an International Relations major. “We started getting a ton of demands. Now even women are coming up to me and saying ‘Hey, I want one of those.'”
The Suisey Fanware business plan targets 18-34 year old “die-hard sports fans”—what Wallace and Etkind describe as the “Bro” demographic—seeking classier apparel at games and tailgates. Their YouTube video release announcing the Suisey was featured on prominent blogs including Barstool Sports and Business Insider, yielding almost 2,000 requests from potential buyers.
“Tufts is a very socially conscious school and a lot of people are doing important things for social issues,” Wallace says. “But our product is different, it’s a lifestyle brand, it’s fun. It’s another side of college.”
Wallace’s plans post-graduation involve full immersion into Suisey Fanware, made possible in part by the Montle Prize. “Our team is moving forward and hopefully, after graduating, I can put all my resources towards this and build a company,” says Wallace.
The Montle Prize, established in 1986, is based upon principles of community and philanthropy. Winners have an obligation to give back to Tufts. “We hope alumni who have won the prize will come back and give presentations, integrate into [their chosen] department, or donate to research or financial aid,” Moore says, explaining that applicants for the prize are asked how they will give back to Tufts.
Moore says the process of applying is a valuable experience for many students. “It’s worthwhile for students who are even in the early stages of their business to apply for the prize, because everyone gets feedback,” adds Moore, who hopes for an even larger applicant pool next year.
“AutismSees would not exist without my studies at Tufts,” said Feerst. “From marketing classes to industrial and organizational psychology, leadership development and networking nights, my courses here have shaped the future of our company and my career.”