“How do we prevent the next pandemic? How do we stop the deforestation of our critical resources? How do we create equality in health systems around the world?” Dr. Andrey Zarur '21HD, the founder and CEO of GreenLight Biosciences, Inc. asked the audience at this year’s Bryant University Northeast Entrepreneurship Conference (BUNEEC) during his keynote address.
His answer was simple. “We can do all of that through entrepreneurship,” he assured the crowd. If we combine innovation, will, problem-solving, and collective action, he suggested, there is no problem too big to tackle.
Zarur’s words helped set the tone for a day of innovation, inspiration, and discovery. BUNEEC 2023, organized by Bryant’s chapter of the Collegiate Entrepreneurship Organization, gathered students, alumni, and industry professionals to consider how they could make a difference—locally, globally, and even in their own lives. Through workshops, speeches delivered by a diverse range of experts, and opportunities to network and share ideas, the conference helped aspiring problem-solvers prepare their toolkit, and mindset, for future success.
Lessons and passions
The March 10 BUNEEC conference, the 12th to carry the BUNEEC name, was organized around the theme of community impact, says John Boccuzzi III ’25 , executive director of BUNEEC 2023. “Issues regarding environmental, social, and governance concerns are topics that are rapidly coming to the forefront of business, so we wanted to find ways to highlight those concerns,” he notes. “These are huge, important issues, but there are also so many ways we can work together to help find solutions.”
The day’s sessions focused on sharing important lessons, both professional and personal, with universal application. Dr. Khadija Owusu, M.D., founder of the Like Her Project, founder CEO of the nonprofit AKAYA organization, and director of programs at Melanin Medics, offered 10 pieces of practical advice based on her own experience in her keynote. One of the most important, she suggested, was never feeling daunted in the face of overwhelming odds. “Start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can,” she advised. “Take small steps daily, act with faith, and you will eventually reach that goal that you've set in mind.”
In his own keynote, Zarur led a discussion about the enormous ecological and societal problems facing the world and noted that finding the will to solve them will be the most important challenge of the 21st century. "Ultimately being an entrepreneur is about doing things that other people consider impossible,” he reflected. “And the only way to do something that is impossible is to believe in your solutions more than you do anything else in your life."
“One of the key lessons that I hope people take away from BUNEEC 2023, is that there is an entire community out there who want to, and are able to, help you. They want to work with you to achieve your goals and your dream."
There were also elements of the conference designed to hone real world-ready skills. Aaron Olsen, Ph.D., founder of 3D Anatomy Studios, led the attendees in a “customer discovery” workshop, where they worked through the best practices of human-centered research. Only by truly understanding the problems people face, Olsen reminded the attendees, can we begin to solve them. “Always keep asking why and keep digging deeper,” he urged.
“Building and creating success means sharing it and creating opportunities for the whole community. A rising tide raises all boats,” advised Bryant grad Bradley Adams '17, the co-founder of Aerogami. Noting that he wasn’t much older than many of the students in attendance, Adams centered his session on helping fledgling entrepreneurs take their first steps into a larger world.
John Boccuzzi Jr. '90, a partner and chief sales officer at ISG Research and co-founder of BD Provisions, closed the event with a reminder that passion is the force that drives great change, and that finding and sustaining that passion means constantly searching for—and committing to—the things that make you happy. “Just being good at something is no longer sustainable in today’s world, you need to be exceptional,” Boccuzzi observed. “And the only way to be great is to love what you're doing.”
After the speaking portion of the conference concluded, the speakers and attendees networked with one another, sharing ideas, offering assistance, and making important connections. “One of the key lessons that I hope people take away from BUNEEC 2023, is that there is an entire community out there who want to, and are able to, help you,” Boccuzzi III stated. “They want to work with you to achieve your goals and your dreams.”
The conversations that result can be inspiring. “I think what I found most impactful about BUNEEC is the attitude every one of the speakers brought,” said International Business student Natalie Sims ’25, who had a long discussion with Owusu at the conference’s reception. “No matter what they spoke about, they all wanted to change the world. That really inspired a lot of us today, I think.”